Every year, one thing sneaks up on me no matter how prepared I am for my holiday dinner: thawing that Thanksgiving turkey. I always forget how long it takes to defrost, and there’s nothing worse than waking up Thanksgiving morning and discovering that your turkey is still frozen! The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has some pretty specific guidelines to safely defrost turkey, and one method that isn’t so safe.
How to Defrost Turkey
A turkey—any size will do!
Option 1: The refrigerator
This is your best option. While it does take up a large amount of space in your refrigerator, it’s also the ideal way to keep your turkey at safe temperatures during the entire thawing process. In fact, it’s so safe, the USDA says you can re-freeze your turkey after defrosting it this way. If you need help making extra space in the fridge, check out these genius fridge organization tips and tricks.
How it works: Place your turkey (in its original packaging) in the refrigerator on a large platter to catch any drippings. If you don’t have a platter large enough, you can use a clean, unscented trash bag—just make sure it doesn’t have any holes in it. You’ll need to defrost the bird for approximately 24 hours for every 4 pounds, so a 16-pound turkey would take about four days.
When you should cook the turkey: Since this method safely thaws poultry, you can wait 1 to 2 days before cooking your turkey.
Option 2: Cold water
If you don’t have a few days, there is a shortcut (with a tiny caveat). You can thaw your turkey in cold water in as little as 30 minutes per pound. That means that 16-pound turkey will be ready to cook in eight hours instead of four days! In order to keep the turkey at a safe temperature, though, you’ll have to change out the water every 30 minutes.
How it works: Place the turkey (in its original packaging) in a leak-proof plastic bag. Submerge the wrapped turkey under cold water and change the water every 30 minutes.
When you should cook the turkey: Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.
Option 3: The microwave
Okay, I’d really only recommend this method in extreme emergencies. That is, of course, assuming you can fit a turkey in your microwave! Since every microwave is different, it’s really hard to set a rule of thumb for this one. So, consult your microwave’s instruction manual for the correct power level and timing.
How it works: Unwrap the turkey from its original packaging and place it in the microwave. Cook it for the amount of time stated in your microwave’s instruction manual.
When you should cook the turkey: This method may start to cook portions of the turkey as it thaws. Because of that, it’s extremely important to cook it immediately after thawing.
If you’re wondering why there isn’t an “On the countertop” method, that’s because it’s never safe to defrost turkey at room temperature. It might be okay to leave your butter on the counter, but these temperatures can cause bacteria to grow on poultry. No one wants to spend Black Friday with a foodborne illness, so just don’t do it!