The original Plimouth Pilgrims may have roasted fresh wild turkeys for the first Thanksgiving feast, but many modern-day holiday cooks choose frozen poultry instead. Frozen turkeys tend to be more economical, and they come conveniently packaged for advance storage. A frozen turkey will keep in the freezer (at sub-zero temperatures) for up to a year. A fresh turkey, on the other hand, must be cooked or frozen within 24 to 48 hours to prevent spoilage.
However, a frozen turkey must be properly thawed before cooking to ensure food safety.
A frozen turkey that is not fully defrosted before roasting may not fully cook, which can lead to food-borne bacterial risks for everyone at the Thanksgiving table.
If humans consume salmonella-infected turkey or other foods, they may develop salmonellosis, a most unpleasant infection. Salmonellosis can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting, In serious cases, salmonellosis may lead to dehydration or even death. Salmonellosis is most dangerous for infants, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems.
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Salmonella is best avoided, of course. The bacteria do not grow in frozen condition, which is why turkey and many other foods are often stored this way. However, once the turkey leaves the freezer and begins thawing, it must be prepared and fully cooked as soon as possible.
Thanksgiving tips: 3 ways to defrost a frozen turkey safely
Consider these three methods of defrosting a frozen turkey.
This trio of turkey-thawing strategies includes popularly used means of preparing frozen poultry to go from freezer to oven for safe cooking. Times may vary for each method, depending largely on the weight of each particular turkey.
Thanksgiving tips: How to defrost a turkey in the refrigerator
Many a cook chooses to defrost a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, with lots of experienced chefs counting this to be the safest method of all. Follow these steps to thaw a frozen turkey in the fridge.
Thanksgiving tips: How to defrost a turkey in cold water
Often, a cook may decide to defrost a frozen turkey in cold water. This method is somewhat faster than refrigerator thawing. Follow these instructions for cold-water turkey thawing.
Thanksgiving tips: How to defrost a turkey in the microwave
Frozen turkeys may be defrosted by several methods, with the fastest being the use of the microwave oven, although this must be done carefully. Follow these tips to thaw a frozen bird in the microwave.
Warning: Never defrost a frozen turkey at room temperature.
All too often, cooks attempt to speed up the process this way, with dire results. Because a turkey thaws from the outside in, the outer meat may become a haven for bacteria, while the inner parts are still frozen.
Here’s another risk folks face, if they try to thaw a frozen turkey on the kitchen counter, in the garage, or in another open spot. House pets may be unable to resist the temptation to pick and peck at the uncooked meat. This can expose these creatures to possible food-borne infections or splintering bone choking hazards, while also ruining the main attraction of the meal for the host and guests.
What is the top tip for defrosting a frozen turkey?
Plan ahead, allowing plenty of time for the thawing process, so the turkey will be ready to roast properly for Thanksgiving dinner.