Frozen turkeys can offer shoppers considerable convenience and cost savings, but proper cooking safety precautions are essential. A frozen bird must be defrosted completely before cooking, as this helps to prevent salmonella and other possible food-borne health issues. Raw, undercooked, or still-frozen poultry can be a prime breeding ground for such bacteria.
Many a cook chooses to defrost a frozen turkey in the refrigerator.
As a general rule, this process requires one full day (24 hours) for each five pounds of turkey (including the bones and skin). A 15-pound frozen turkey, for example, will likely take three days to defrost. A 20-pound bird will probably take four full days.
Certainly, the exact timing will vary, depending upon individual refrigerator temperature settings. For food safety, a refrigerator should be set for 40 degrees (F) or cooler.
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Turkey cooking success depends on a fully thawed bird.
To be on the safe side, a cautious cook will round the turkey’s weight upwards to calculate an approximate defrosting time in the refrigerator. An 18-pound turkey, then, might need four days to thaw in the fridge.
Boneless turkeys defrost significantly faster.
Follow these simple steps to defrost a frozen turkey in the refrigerator.
Do not unwrap the frozen bird until after it has thawed.
First, place the entire turkey in a large baking dish. A flat glass or metal oblong pan works well, as long as the entire bird sits inside the pan nicely. The last thing a cook wants is to find melted turkey drippings all over the inside of the refrigerator, possibly contaminating other foods.
Set the entire pan inside the refrigerator. This may require some rearranging of the items already stored inside the refrigerator to make room for the big bird.
Mark the time and date.
Cook the defrosted turkey as soon as possible after it has thawed.
Ideally, a cook will roast the now-unfrozen bird within a few hours of thawing it. For food safety’s sake, it is important to use a different pan for cooking the turkey. Just think of the many potentially germ-laden spots the outer wrapping may have touched: food warehouse freezers, delivery truck beds, grocery store floors, cashier checkout counters, baggers’ hands, and more.
Certainly, a defrosted turkey must never be refrozen before cooking. Leftover roasted turkey, however, may be frozen.
Hosts of cooks claim defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator is the safest of all poultry thawing methods.