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Thawing a Turkey ...

How to Defrost a Turkey: Fast, Slow, Microwave, and Cook Safely From Frozen?

Thawing a turkey, or defrosting a turkey is actually not necessary - see how to roast a turkey without defrosting below.

But turkeys are usually defrosted before they are cooked to allow giblets to be easily removed, to allow flavors and other preparations such as stuffing 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 will probably want to follow the traditional procedure of defrosting.

Turkeys may also 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 may be ready to prepair for roasting without defrosting. But some "fresh" turkeys can slow you down a bit if you are in a hurry.



Methods for 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 product in your freezer, or you just picked up a frozen bird at your grocer, you will need to defrost it before seasoning it. You have choices.

Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator:

The preferred method of thawing a turkey is in the refrigerator. This takes up a lot of refrigerator space and it takes a lot of time. The larger your bird the more time it takes. With a very big turkey this can take days.

While thawing a turkey, leave your bird in its original wrap and place it on a tray in the refrigerator. Make sure the thawing turkey doesn't drip on other food items and contaminate them.

One of the good things about using the refrigerator method is that you can keep the defrosted bird in the refrigerator for an extra day or two until it's time to cook it. Click here for your defrosting time table.

Turkey Defrosting in Refrigerator


Thawing a Turkey in Ice Cold Water:

The next best method of defrosting is to thaw the bird in ice cold water - breast side down. Keep the turkey in its wrapper and place it in a tub or sink full of ice cold water. Change the water every half hour.

The general rule is that defrosting takes 5 hours per lb. per 1/2 kg) in the refrigerator or 30 min per lb.(per 1/2 kg) in cold water.

Weight Defrosting Time in Refrigerator Defrosting Time in Cold Water

6 - 8 pounds

(2.5 - 3.5 kg)

30 - 40 hours 3 - 4 hours

10 - 12 pounds

(4.5 - 5.5 kg)

50 - 60 hours 5 - 6 hours

14 - 18 pounds

(6.5 - 8 kg)

70 - 90 hours 7 - 9 hours

18 pounds+

(8 + kg)

90 hours + going on 4 - 5 days 9 hours +

Even though the refrigerator defrosting times listed in the chart above seem long, many people find that at the end of this period the turkey is still not totally defrosted. If you find that your bird is not completely thawed when needed, you can finish defrosting it in cold water before brining, seasoning, or cooking it, or you could begin cooking the almost defrosted bird in the oven and know that it will take longer. Just watch the meat temperature carefully. Do not undercook your turkey!.

Microwaving to Defrost a Turkey

Turkey in Microwave

We can't tell you how long to microwave a turkey to defrost it because microwaves vary so much. Of course this only works with smaller turkeys because of the size of the microwave. Consult your microwave user guide for information about using it to defrost a turkey.

The important point here is that a turkey defrosted in a microwave must be cooked immediately after it is thawed. Microwaves do not defrost evenly, and some of the meat will heat so that it is in the danger zone for bacteria growth. This is not an unsafe procedure if you follow the guidelines from your specific microwave and if you finish roasting it as soon as it is defrosted. Do not defrost in a microwave and return the turkey to the refrigerator.



How to Roast a Turkey without Defrosting:

Cooking a frozen turkey is possible. The drawback to this method is that the bird must remain in the oven longer than normal potentially giving it more time to dry out. But, some cooks have found that because the legs defrost more quickly than the breast they begin cooking sooner. So, the whole turkey gets done closer to the same time. (With a defrosted commercial turkey, the breast cooks faster and reaches temperature before the legs where they attach to the body are done cooking.)

This method is ONLY for ROASTING at 325 F. - never grill or deep fry or use the high heat method for a frozen bird.

To use this method of cooking while thawing a turkey, simply place the frozen turkey in the oven at 325 degrees F. on a rack over a roasting pan. Take the amount of time the turkey would usually take to cook and add an extra fifty percent. If a turkey was to take four hours if thawed, it will take about six hours if cooked from the frozen state.

Remember to remove the giblet packet when the turkey is thawed enough to get it out. This is especially important if the packet is plastic. If a plastic packet deforms or melts, chemicals may leech into the giblets and the surrounding turkey meat. Neither the giblets nor the turkey should be eaten in this case. If the plastic packet is intact the meat should be okay. If the giblet packet is paper there is no harm in leaving the packet in the bird during the cooking process - but you probably want the giblets in advance for making the gravy.

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

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