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Best Way to Thaw a Turkey:
Turkey Defrost Times

Looking for the best way to thaw a turkey for a Thanksgiving, Christmas or other special dinner?

When you're preparing for a turkey dinner, one of your biggest considerations needs to be how much time you have to set aside to defrost your holiday turkey for roasting, deep frying or whatever preparation you have in mind.

So... wondering how long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey, and what's the best way to do it? The answer to that question depends on who you ask.

Three "Alternative" Ways to Thaw a Turkey

Best Way to Thaw a turkey

You know how the "normal" way to thaw a turkey is to leave it in the fridge for a few days? Well, I'll talk about that method --and why it's a great one-- at the bottom of this page. But if you're short on time, here you'll read about some popular "alternative" methods for thawing a turkey much faster.

1. Thawed While Cooking in the Oven

Some people say that the best way to thaw a turkey is not to do anything. Instead, they just pop their turkey in the oven frozen and cook it for a much longer period of time, allowing the turkey to defrost while roasting.

This is a relatively safe method and easy method for thawing a turkey breast, and results in a nice breast every time. Just remember to check for doneness throughout the breast using a meat thermometer to insure the bird is cooked evenly (you want to see 170 degrees in the thickest part of the breast).

It can also be used for a whole turkey, though with less consistently good results. The upside? A very moist turkey. The downside? Whether used for a whole turkey or turkey breast, it's difficult to season a turkey well when it's cooked from frozen, so the final result is a bit less flavorful. With a whole turkey, you may sometimes get uneven cooking, as well.

Still, I'd say this is the best way to thaw a turkey if you're very short on time. Learn more about turkey defrost times/cooking times using this method here.

2. Thawed in the Microwave

A second way to thaw turkey --though few consider it the best way to thaw a turkey-- is using the microwave. You need a relatively small bird or turkey breast to do this safely and successfully. There should be room all around the turkey where it sits in the center of the microwave.

Check the machine's owner's manual for information on the proper settings and times based on the turkey's weight. Remember to put a pan under the turkey so any liquid has a place to run off rather than lingering on the microwave plate. Once the turkey is thawed in this manner it should be rinsed, prepared, and cooked right away to avoid any risk of bacterial development.

Need to know the turkey thawing times for this? Check this page for tips on how to thaw a turkey in the microwave.

3. Thawing in a Cold Water Bath

Thawing a turkey in a water bathIs it the night before cooking your turkey and you forgot to take your turkey out in time? Then a cold water bath is the best way to thaw a turkey overnight (though it will require a little bit of babysitting!). Thawing the bird in cold water is safe and effective option because the water pulls the cold away from the bird more effectively than cold air, but it still keeps the turkey cold-- and safe to eat.

The cold water method takes about 30 minutes per pound to thaw completely. Check here for in-depth tips on how to thaw a turkey in cold water, and how long to.

THE Safest, Most Effective Way to Thaw a Turkey

So what is the safest and best way to thaw a turkey according to the US Department of Agriculture? In the refrigerator. Keeping the turkey in the fridge maintains a low, cool temperature in which bacteria won't grow readily. While this takes a lot longer than the other methods discussed, it's also the safest approach.

How long does it take to thaw a frozen turkey this way? You want to allow for one day per every 5 pounds of whole turkey you plan to cook. Remember to put the turkey in a bowl or pan to avoid any gross turkey liquid leaks in the fridge-- it'll help avoid potential cross-contamination to other foods in your refrigerator.

Find more information on how to thaw a turkey --including a detailed turkey thawing times chart-- here.

One Way NOT to Thaw a Turkey

One approach to defrosting a turkey that's not considered the best way to thaw a turkey is letting it sit at room temperature. Why? Safety standards tell us that bacteria grows more readily when the temperature is between 60-70, so defrosting the turkey this way increases the chance of food poisoning. Avoid this method! There are lots of safer alternatives that work perfectly well.

Getting a Great Turkey Every Time

Figured out the best way to thaw a turkey for your particular situation? No matter what method you end up using to defrost your turkey, remember to rinse it inside and out and dry it well before you season it. Also remember to remove the giblets from the core and wash up any kitchen items that come into contact with raw poultry.

And remember that the perfect final result depends most on the recipes you choose. Check out my Holiday Turkey Recipe Guide for a ton of turkey recipes, tips on cooking it perfectly, help on turkey cooking times, and more.

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