Cooking a turkey is intimidating, and one of the problems with roasting such a big bird pops up long before you need to season it and put it in to the oven. Every holiday season, home cooks around the country have one burning question: Wait, how do I thaw a frozen turkey? But worry no more! We have two foolproof methods to getting your bird from frozen rock-solid to oven-ready.
The safest and easiest way to thaw a frozen turkey is to put it in the refrigerator. However, this defrosting method does require some forethought and time. To thaw a turkey using this method, take the turkey out of the freezer but keep it in its wrapping. Clear plenty of space on the bottom shelf of your fridge, place a baking tray with sides where your turkey will go, and place the turkey breast-side-up on the tray. Keeping your turkey on the bottom shelf and on a tray will keep the rest of your fridge’s contents safe from any rogue drippings that may escape the wrapper.
You need to allow one day of thawing time for every four pounds of turkey. For instance, an 18-pound bird will need 4 1/2 days in the fridge. When counting how many days you’ll need to keep your turkey in the fridge for, be sure not to count the day on which it will be cooked. That’s a roasting day, not a thawing day! Your turkey will be safe in the fridge for three days after it’s been thawed, so starting the thawing process early will ensure that your bird is 100 percent done before it’s ready to be prepped and cooked.
But if you forgot to put your turkey in the fridge a week before it’s ready to be cooked and you’re still having guests for dinner soon, don’t worry! You can also use the cold water method to thaw your bird.
To properly perform this method, remove your turkey from the freezer and keep it in the wrapper. Fill your sink, bathtub, or cooler with cold water and completely submerge your bird, breast side down, in the cold water. Change the water every half hour, and keep an eye on the temperature. At first, the turkey will chill the water too much and no more defrosting will get done. Eventually, the water will get too warm for the turkey and it will no longer be food-safe. You want to keep the water at about 40 degrees.
For every 1 pound of turkey, you need to keep your turkey submerged underwater for 30 minutes. That 18-pound turkey will need 9 hours to defrost.
Never thaw your turkey in the microwave. Never thaw your turkey at room temperature.
For the answer to this question and many more, check out our interview with a Butterball Talk-Line expert, in which she reveals the answers to her most asked questions.