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Properly Thaw Your Holiday Turkey

Properly Thaw Your Holiday Turkey

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – If you are planning to purchase a frozen turkey for your holiday meal, you must thaw it properly before cooking. Depending on the size of the bird, it could take anywhere from several hours to several days to completely thaw. Alabama Extension professionals offers advice on thawing your turkey this holiday season.

Plan Ahead

Dr. Jean Weese, an Auburn University professor of food science, said that thawing a turkey takes time and advanced planning.

“One of the more important steps in preparing a holiday turkey is thawing it,” Weese said. “Turkeys frozen with the neck and giblets inside the body cavity must be thawed before cooking. Turkeys purchased already stuffed need to be cooked from the frozen state, never thawed.”

According to Weese, there are two ways to thaw a turkey; in the refrigerator, or in a microwave.

Thawing in a Refrigerator 

If you plan to thaw it in the refrigerator, Weese suggests leaving the original wrappings on the bird, not allowing the surface of the turkey to exceed 41 F while thawing and to thaw on a pan on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator.

A turkey weighing 8 to 12 pounds can take three to four days to thaw in the refrigerator. To determine thawing time for larger turkeys, add a half day for each additional 4 pounds of turkey.

Thawing in a Microwave

If you choose to thaw a turkey in a microwave, check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing. Place the turkey breast side down and microwave on defrost for one-fourth the suggested thawing time. Then, rotate the turkey a half turn and microwave an additional one-fourth thawing time.

Be sure to check for warm areas, such as wing tips and legs, and shield them. Turn the turkey breast side up and defrost for another one-fourth of the time before rotating again and finishing defrosting. A 12-pound turkey takes about 10 to 12 minutes per pound to thaw in a microwave.

“Larger birds may need up to 30 minutes standing time between each one-fourth thawing time period,” Weese said.

If you thaw a turkey in a microwave, cook it as soon as possible after the thawing process.

Food Safety 

Janet Johnson, an Alabama Extension regional agent of food safety and quality, warns cooks when thawing frozen turkeys 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,” Johnson said. “Setting the oven at a lower temperature and letting a frozen or partially thawed bird cook longer will put it in the temperature danger zone.”

Johnson offers the following tips to prevent food illnesses when preparing a turkey.

  • 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.



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