When should you start thawing a Thanksgiving turkey? Experts say size matters

·2 min read

There’s no better time to stuff your face with tender, juicy turkey than on Thanksgiving. And with the holiday just one week away, families are turning their attention to the star of Thanksgiving dinner.

So when is the best time to take your bird out to thaw? Experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture say defrosting times largely depend on the size of the turkey.

Refrigerator thawing is considered the safest because it allows the turkey to thaw “at a consistent, safe temperature,” according to the agency’s website. This can be a lengthy process, however, so experts recommend at least 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat.

For instance, a smaller 12 pound turkey will take about three days to thaw completely. 

“Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during ‘the big thaw,’ “ according to the USDA. “While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.”

A turkey can be stored in the fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for up to two days once thawed.

If you need your bird free of frost a bit sooner, cold water thawing or zapping it in the microwave are also options — though it will need to be cooked immediately afterward.

Some may choose to cook their turkey from frozen, which is safe but takes about double the amount of time to cook through, the agency’s website states.

To ensure your holiday isn’t ruined by food poisoning or another foodborne illness, experts said it’s best to avoid any method that’s not the refrigerator, cold water or microwave. They include:

  • Leaving your turkey out on the counter to thaw

  • Using the dishwasher to thaw your turkey

  • Thawing your turkey in a paper or plastic trash bag

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