Home / Food / Thawing Your Thanksgiving Turkey
Thawing Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Thawing Your Thanksgiving Turkey

AUBURN, Ala. —Thanksgiving Day is quickly approaching. One of the biggest problems cooks face is how to properly thaw their turkey.

An improperly thawed bird can result in not just a partially thawed bird but food safety issues as well.


photo by ulegundo at Shutterstock.com

Janet Johnson, a regional agent in food safety and quality with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, has a few quick and easy steps to ensure a properly thawed turkey.

When to Begin Thawing the Turkey

When to buy and when to start thawing the turkey is different for fresh and frozen birds.

  • Buy fresh turkeys no earlier than one or two days before Thanksgiving.
  • Keep it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator on a tray to catch any meat juices.
  • For a frozen bird, allow 24 hours for every 5 pounds to thaw.
  • It can take longer for it to thaw in the refrigerator if the refrigerator is full and the temperature is below 40 degrees.
  • Do not let it sit on the counter at room temperature.

The Best Ways to Thaw the Bird

According to Johnson, there are several ways to properly thaw the turkey.

  • Purchase the turkey early enough to allow for proper thawing in the refrigerator.
  • Another option is to place the packaged turkey in a container of cold water, but you must change the water out every 30 minutes.
  • Always use cold water because this prevents dangerous bacteria from growing.

“The best way to ensure proper thawing is to use correct thawing methods which take time and consideration,” Johnson said.

Food Safety Problems

Thanksgiving cooks should always be aware of possible food safety problems when preparing turkey.

Johnson warns cooks to beware of the temperature danger zone, which is between 41 and 135 degrees F.

  • Dangerous bacteria can grow if the turkey is not thawed properly.
  • Setting the oven at a temperature lower than 325 degrees and letting a frozen or partially thawed bird cook longer will put it in the temperature danger zone.
  • Cross contamination between raw and cooked foods can cause food-borne illness.

Avoid Food Illness

Prevent food illnesses by preparing turkey properly and keeping work spaces clean.

  • Thaw the turkey completely before you begin to cook it.
  • The internal temperature of the bird must reach 165 degrees to make sure all the bacteria is killed.
  • Always check the internal temperature with a calibrated thermometer. Do not rely on the “pop-up” thermometer.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Use hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. Wash cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
  • Use a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water to sanitize surfaces and utensils.
  • Keep cold foods at a temperature of 41 degrees or lower to prevent bacterial growth.
  • Maintain hot foods at a temperature of 135 degrees or higher to keep bacteria from growing.




Featured photo by RoJo Images/Shutterstock.com

About Mary Kendall Dixon


  1. Some great tips Mary!
    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks a lot for sharing this with all people you actually understand what you are speaking about!