How Long To Defrost Turkey

Frozen whole turkeys and frozen whole turkey breasts need to be thawed completely prior to cooking. While this step does take time, there are some ways to help you out if you find yourself running behind schedule. This can be done in two different ways depending on the time available. Of the two, refrigerator thawing is preferred and the least labor intensive but demands more time.  Cold water thawing requires is an optimal way to defrost turkey fast but needs more attention. There are only a few ways to ensure safe thawing of foods. If you are looking for an answer to the question how long to  defrost turkey with minimal effort, then choose the refrigerator method, but if time is of the essence then opt for the cold water method. 

Regardless of whichever method is used, the turkey should not be thawed at room temperature and common approaches like defrosting turkey on the counter can be unsafe. Neither should it be placed under hot nor warm running water for a quick defrost. Both these techniques can bring internal temperatures of the turkey between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, making it ideal for harmful bacteria to start breeding. Instead, consider the following options to defrost the turkey in a safe manner. 

Both these techniques can bring internal temperatures of the turkey between 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, making it ideal for harmful bacteria to start breeding. Instead, consider the following options to defrost the turkey in a safe manner.

  • Defrost Turkey In The Refrigerator

This is the easiest way to thaw a turkey, but also takes the longest amount of time so you will have to plan ahead. To defrost a whole turkey, set your refrigerator temperature to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.  Keep the frozen turkey in its original, unwrapped condition and place the turkey breast side up on a platter or in a container that will stop the juices from dripping onto other foods in the fridge.

As a rule of the thumb, allow a minimal of one day of thawing for every four lbs. of meat. This means that defrost turkey weighing about 10 lbs. comes to 2 days plus 12 hours while a 15 lb. turkey will defrost in 3 days plus 18 hours. Likewise, a big turkey weighing 20 lbs. will need 5 days of thawing time and a gigantic one weighing 25 lbs. will demand 6 days plus 6 hours of defrosting time.

How to Defrost Turkey in Water

This method allows the completely defrosted turkey to be kept in the fridge for an additional one to two days before cooking. This means you do not need to prepare it as soon as it is thawed.

Another advantage of this method is that should plan change, the defrosted turkey can be refrozen safely within one to two days although there may be some loss of quality.

  • Defrost Turkey in Water

The second method of defrosting turkey involves placing it under cold running water. And while this method in no doubt more suitable if you are in a time crunch, it also demands a lot more attention than the refrigerator method. 

Before placing the turkey under running water, make sure that it is in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. To start, place wrapped turkey under cold tap water; never warm or hot. This is to prevent the outer layer of the turkey heating up to a temperature where bacteria may activate and start to multiply.

Thaw turkey with the breast side facing down, with ample cold water to completely cover the turkey. Change water every half an hour to keep the meat sufficiently chilled. Keep a minimal defrosting time of 30 minutes per lb.

This way can come up to 5 hours for a 10 lb. turkey, 7 hours for a 15 lb. turkey and 10 hours for a 20 lb. turkey. If it is a 25 lb. turkey, then thawing under cold water will take up to 12 hours.

How To Defrost Ground Turkey Fast

The only consideration with this thawing method is that the turkey will need to be cooked as soon as it has been thawed completely and should not be refrozen. Once cooked, however, leftover can always be refrozen as wished.

  • How To Defrost Ground Turkey Fast

In the case of ground turkey, the most hands-off method is once again refrigerator thawing since you do not have to keep checking the turkey repeatedly. But it is also the most time consuming, so may not be the best option when you are in a hurry. Instead, opt for microwave thawing, which is the fastest way to defrost ground turkey quickly. Using the defrost setting on the microwave and the weight of the ground turkey set the microwave to defrost.

With this method, you will need to check the ground turkey frequently as the outer layers can start cooking in the microwave. Simply place the ground turkey in a microwave-safe bowl and scrape off any thawed meat into a separate bowl, returning the frozen meat back to the microwave for further defrosting, until all of it has defrosted. With this method, you will need to prepare the ground turkey as soon as it has been defrosted.

Alternately, ground turkey can also be thawed under cold running water. Keeping in mind all the considerations for cold water thawing, place the packaged ground turkey in a container large enough to cover the ground turkey completely with cold water. Keep changing water every half hour or set the tap in a thin stream of cold running water over the ground turkey. The moving water will safely thaw the meat through convection.

How Long To Defrost Turkey

Turkey breast can also be thawed using any of the methods above. To thaw in refrigerator, place unopened breast in a tray and leave for a day and a half or two days until thawed. For faster thawing, place unopened breast under cold running water for 3-5 hours until completely defrosted and keep changing water every half an hour to keep the meat cold. When completely defrosted, put meat in the refrigerator until ready to cook. Thawed turkey breast should be cooked within four days of thawing.

Image Rights

Images used via the creative commons license – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Image One by Mike DeGuiado – https://www.flickr.com/photos/mydailycommute/306141027/

Image Two by Timothy Vellor – https://www.flickr.com/photos/sixteenmilesofstring/5215290519/

Image Three by Jun Setia – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jseita/6225371810/

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