Each year, the experts at 1-800-Butterball receive thousands of phone calls from frantic once-a-year turkey chefs. These home cooks come to realize at the last minute — no less — that their turkeys often need days to thaw properly. Today, we will share tips on how to thaw a frozen turkey, and how long it needs to cook, so that you can save your Thanksgiving dinner from becoming a disaster — and you won’t have to call any 1-800-Turkey-Expert.
The recommended and safest way to thaw your bird is to thaw it in the fridge. You need 24 hours of time in the fridge for every 5 pounds of frozen turkey. So, a fifteen pound bird will take three days to thaw in your refrigerator. Keep in mind that you should leave the turkey in the original wrapping and stick it on a pan to catch any juices that escape. The most important thing is to keep your turkey at the bottom of the fridge, so it won’t contaminate any food stored below it. If you have a secondary fridge, storing it there would be an even better option. The turkey must be stored at 40 degrees F or lower, so check the temperature of your fridge. Do not try thawing it overnight at room temperature. This allows bacteria to grow and can be harmful enough to potentially cause food poisoning.
Let’s say you have run out of days before Thanksgiving to thaw it in the fridge, what can you do then?
One option is to thaw it in cold water, but be sure to change out the water every 30 minutes. Sometimes tap water won’t be cold enough, so you will need to add ice to the water to keep it at a safe temperature. This method of thawing is much more intensive than simply leaving it in the fridge. For turkeys up to 12 pounds, you will need to thaw it in cold water for up to 6 hours. Twelve to 16 pounds and you will need up to 8 hours to thaw, while 16 to 20 pounds needs 8 to 10 hours, and 20 to 24 pounds needs 10 to 12 hours. If you are trying to thaw your turkey the day before Thanksgiving, that means you should switch out the water up to 24 times. Talk about a sleepless night!
Here is the good news for last minute planners, though. Turkeys actually can turn out okay if they start cooking from a frozen solid state. This takes about 50% more time than if a turkey is thawed, but at least you can still attempt to salvage your Thanksgiving meal. A 325 degree oven is a suitable temperature to cook the turkey thoroughly. The safe temperature reading for every part of the turkey has to be at 165 degrees F, no exceptions. Sometimes the thighs will be at 175 degrees, for example, but that is just fine as long as everything else has reached the internal temperature of 165. For a frozen 14 to 18 pound turkey, it has to be cooked for about 7 hours. Hopefully, you own a double oven or at least a countertop toaster oven to cook everything else you need to prepare, though, because a turkey takes up most of the usable space inside the average oven.
One good thing that you may find with the frozen turkey method is that the white meat will end up staying more moist than usual. However, don’t expect to be able to stuff your turkey if you are cooking it from a frozen state. After two full hours of cooking it at 325 degrees F, you will most likely be able to pull out the giblets bag from the inside. At any rate, do not leave that bag of giblets inside the turkey during the whole cooking process. Once the turkey skin and part of the outside isn’t completely frozen, that is when you can add your seasonings and insert a digital thermometer into the thigh before putting it back in the oven. Take into account the half-hour recommended after it is cooked to let the meat rest, too, so your guests don’t get too restless for mealtime. A good tip is to cover the bird with tin foil during the resting period and start making the gravy from the pan drippings while you wait.
This is a word of caution to those who want to deep fry their turkey. Do not attempt to deep fry a frozen turkey. There have been plenty of videos showing people attempting to do this and it always ends in disaster. Please learn from the mistakes of others and do NOT do that.
So, what about how to roast a traditional, fully-thawed turkey?
First, to achieve a nice, crispy skin, thoroughly dry the turkey skin before it goes in the oven. Put it in a roasting pan with a roasting rack underneath to keep it from getting soggy. Keep those drippings, though, as they will help you create that flavorful gravy!
Next, use a meat thermometer. Turkeys usually come with pop up timers these days, but you shouldn’t depend on those to help you determine when the turkey is actually done. As we said before, the safe temperature that each part of the turkey should be at is 165 degrees. It is always safer to cook the stuffing outside of the turkey, but if you insist on stuffing the turkey you have to add on to your total cooking time. Here are approximate roasting times for a stuffed turkey in a conventional oven (convection ovens will take less time):
|6 to 8 lbs||3 to 3 ½ hrs|
|8 to 12 lbs||3 ½ to 4 ½ hrs|
|12 to 16 lbs||4 ½ to 5 ½ hrs|
|16 to 20 lbs||5 ½ to 6 hrs|
|20 to 24 lbs||6 to 6 ½ hrs|
Planning for a Thanksgiving dinner is stressful and time-consuming, but hopefully these tips have answered your questions about the biggest part of your meal: the turkey.
The Lintonian wishes you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!
The author of this article, Christopher M. Wathen, is a life-long Lintonian, having been born and raised in Linton, Indiana, and he is a regular contributor to The Lintonian. As a community writer for The Lintonian, he writes a wide variety of articles here. Chris also has written an eclectic mix of short books, as well. His latest book, YOUR HEALTH IS CRAP: You Are What You Excrete, is now available on Amazon.