When the holidays roll around, there is something that can be more stressful than traveling, gift-giving, and family tensions combined. This stressful part of the holiday season, for many people, is the cooking. The holiday season means large, lavish meals of ham, roasts, and loads of side dishes. Turkey, of course, plays a starring role in many holiday dinners. If you are like most people, you probably buy your turkey frozen and then defrost it before cooking. The last thing you want to do, however, is to thaw your turkey in a way that is unsafe. So, what is the best, and safest way to thaw a turkey for your holiday meal?
Food Safety Precautions
The United States Department of Agriculture has outlined several guidelines when it comes to food safety, including guidelines for thawing meats safely. Turkey can be frozen indefinitely and maintains its quality, of properly frozen, for up to a year. Thawing your turkey on the counter or in hot water, however, is extremely dangerous. When you thaw your turkey this way, parts of the turkey reach what is known as the “food temperature danger zone,” or 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit. This can happen to portions of the turkey before the rest of it even thaws. When food is left in this temperature zone, any bacteria that was present on the turkey before it was frozen can start to grow rapidly.
For many people, this may come as a surprise. After all, many people have been thawing their frozen meats like this for their entire lives. Unfortunately, this does not make it any safer. Here are a few safe methods for thawing your turkey that are sure to keep you and your family safe during the holidays.
The best way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. Of course, this requires you to plan ahead. So, if you have forgotten to thaw your turkey well in advance, this method is not for you. A completely frozen turkey will take 24 hours or more per 5 pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. Once completely thawed, the turkey can be kept refrigerated for a day or two before it needs to be cooked. Make sure that you put the turkey on a sheet pan on the lowest shelf of your refrigerator to prevent it from dripping dangerous, raw turkey juices onto your other food.
Thawing in Cold Water
If you do not have the time it takes to thaw out your turkey in the refrigerator (who hasn’t forgotten to thaw their turkey on time before?), you can try thawing it in cold water. Find a pot or bucket that is large enough to accommodate your turkey (or clean your sink out thoroughly) and place your turkey in it. Make sure to keep it in its original packaging; this will reduce the risk of airborne bacteria landing on your bird while it thaws. Fill the container or sink with cold water. Never use warm water; this will just put your turkey in the same food temperature danger zone as thawing it on the counter.
Make sure to change the water every thirty minutes; this will ensure that the water does not get too cold and stops thawing your bird. Using this method, you should have a fully thawed turkey within several hours (about 30 minutes per pound of turkey.) If you use this method, be sure to cook your turkey as soon as it has thawed, and do not refreeze the turkey until after you have cooked it.
If your microwave is big enough, and you are really short on time, your best bet is to thaw your turkey in the microwave. All microwaves are different, so follow the directions included with your microwave. Make sure to cook your turkey immediately after thawing it in the microwave; parts of the turkey may become warm during the thawing process, which puts your turkey in the food temperature danger zone. Never plan on thawing your turkey in the microwave; only use it as a last resort. This method may negatively affect the quality of the turkey, and it is not as safe as other methods.