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How To Defrost A Turkey ... let me count the ways

How to defrost a turkey: Fast, Slow, Microwave, and Cook Safely From Frozen?

Jump to links for safe thawing a turkey methods

Why Are Turkeys Frozen and Why Defrosting On a Counter Is Unsafe

Freezing a turkey actually freezes the water in the meat and halts biological processes that would continue at warmer temperatures.

Freezing inhibits the growth of micro-organisms. It does not kill the molds, yeasts, and bacteria already present, so freezing food that is already unsafe does not make it safe.  Freezing does, however, put the bugs that might cause food to spoil or to cause illness into a state of suspended animation. The organisms don’t multiply, and the food does not spoil as long as it is kept frozen at or below 0 F.

Once the thawing begins the organisms wake up and can again begin to grow.

This is the reason that you should not defrost food on a kitchen counter. The outside of the turkey can warm to an unsafe temperature long before the interior of the meat begins to thaw.

Why Are Turkeys Defrosted? Turkeys are usually defrosted before they are cooked to allow giblets to be easily removed, to allow flavors and other preparations such as stuffing and seasoning to be completed, and to reduce the cooking time.

A turkey is usually sold "ready to cook." No butchering and little if any feather removal is necessary. But because the standard is to deliver at least a "chilled," if not a "frozen" product, you may want to follow the traditional procedure of defrosting.

Turkeys may be sold as "hard chilled", or "refrigerated", which means that these birds are between 0 degrees F and 25 degrees F ( - 17.8 to - 3.9 degrees Celsius).

Turkeys labeled "fresh" by definition can never have been chilled below 26 degrees F ( - 3.3 degrees Celsius). As you can see, although they don't meet the US government definition of "frozen", they are still pretty cold birds.

When thawing a "fresh" turkey it won't take as long to defrost it as a solidly frozen bird, and it can be prepared for roasting without defrosting. But some "fresh" turkeys can slow you down a bit if you are in a hurry. Cutting up a "fresh" turkey without giving it time to completely thaw can be difficult.

Methods of Defrosting a Turkey:

If you are planning ahead, and you are getting a frozen turkey you might want to ask your butcher or grocer if they will defrost it for you. Once you have this bird at home, if it hasn't been enhanced, consider brining it.

If you already have the frozen turkey in your freezer, or you just picked up a frozen bird at your grocer, you will need to consider how to defrost a turkey before seasoning it. You have choices.

How to Defrost a Turkey in the Refrigerator:

Refrigerators work because the air in a properly cooled refrigerator keeps the temperature of the turkey at or below 40 F which is the lower end of the danger zone where microorganisms can begin to quickly multiply.

For information about Refrigerator Turkey Defrosting CLICK HERE.

Turkey Defrosting in Refrigerator

Cold Water Turkey Thawing:

The Cold Water method of defrosting a turkey uses the same method as the refrigerator method; the water is kept cold  with ice so the turkey does not heat to danger zone temperatures.

But, water does a much better job of transferring heat than air does, so the defrosting time is much quicker.

For information about thawing a turkey in water CLICK HERE.

thaw turkey in water

How to Defrost a Turkey in a Microwave

The microwave method is different. Microwaves do cause the meat to heat up, and parts of the turkey can easily enter the danger zone – between 40 and 140 F.

For this reason, turkeys defrosted in a microwave are only safe if they are cooked immediately after defrosting. By cooking the turkey right away its temperature continues to rise until, at a safe finish temperature, the bacteria are killed.

For more information about defrosting in a microwave CLICK HERE.

Turkey in Microwave

No Thaw Thawing

The No Thaw defrosting method is to cook the turkey directly from the frozen state.

This method actually thaws the turkey in the oven and then quickly moves the turkey temperature through the danger zone so there is little time for the bugs to party before the turkey reaches the upper end of the danger zone and microorganisms can no longer multiply.

For information about cooking a turkey from the frozen state CLICK HERE.
Cooking Turkey From Frozen


One of our readers gave us information on cooking from frozen you can read it here.

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