Today is November 18, 2012, and Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday. If you plan to cook a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner, you are running out of time for properly thawing your bird, especially to thaw it in the refrigerator.
Refrigerator thawing is really the easiest method, but requires some preplanning. When you think ahead about thawing, you should allow around 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird that you will be cooking. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service website has detailed instructions with a special focus on safe food handling to avoid illness.
Here are a few guidelines that they suggest for refrigerator thawing:
1. The refrigerator should be set on 40 degrees F or less.
2. The turkey should be in a container that will prohibit juices from contaminating other foods.
3. They give the following thawing times for a whole turkey
- 4 to 12 pounds …… 1 to 3 days
- 12 to 16 pounds …… 3 to 4 days
- 16 to 20 pounds …… 4 to 5 days
- 20 to 24 pounds …… 5 to 6 days
Many of us don’t know how to thaw a turkey if we have not allowed the recommended time to do it in the refrigerator. Here is where many people get in trouble with unsafe and unsanitary practices without realizing it. Turkey can be a very dangerous food if not handled properly due to salmonella.
The USDA explains how to thaw a turkey using cold water, but this method requires almost constant attention. You don’t just set the turkey in the sink and come back later. Time wise, cold water thawing requires around 30 minutes per pound.
Place the turkey in a plastic bag that is absolutely leak-proof. Cross-contamination is a problem, and you don’t want water to seep into the turkey either. Put the turkey under cold tap water, and change the water every 30 minutes until it is completely thawed. You must cook the turkey immediately when using this thawing method, but if you have thawed in the refrigerator, you can wait for a day or two to cook.
How long will it take to use this method? The USDA gives these guidelines for cold water thawing of a turkey:
- 4 to 12 pounds …… 2 to 6 hours
- 12 to 16 pounds …… 6 to 8 hours
- 16 to 20 pounds …… 8 to 10 hours
- 20 to 24 pounds …… 10 to 12 hours
In an emergency, you could always use your microwave, following the directions with your specific microwave.