With Thanksgiving less than a week away, dinner prep is top of mind for many who plan on stuffing their face with turkey on the big day.
So how soon should you take your frozen bird out to thaw? Defrosting times will largely depend on the size of the turkey, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Experts suggest thawing under refrigeration, allowing at least 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat. That means a larger 20-pound turkey would need at least five days of thawing time in a fridge set to 40 degrees.
“Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during ‘the big thaw,’“ the USDA said. “While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.”
Once fully defrosted, turkey can continue to be stored safely in the fridge for another two days.
If you’re short on time and need your turkey frost-free sooner, cold water thawing or microwave thawing are also safe options, according to officials.
Water should be emptied and replaced every 30 minutes if you choose to go the cold water route, experts say. Planning to zap it the microwave? Experts recommend using the defrost function based on the bird’s weight, allowing six minutes per pound.
With either of these methods, your turkey will need to be cooked immediately afterward, experts say.
Others may choose to cook their bird from frozen, which is safe but requires nearly double the time to cook completely, according to the department’s website.
To ensure food-borne illness doesn’t put a dent in your holiday plans, the USDA suggests avoiding thawing methods that don’t involve a refrigerator, cold water or a microwave. So don’t think about:
Leaving your turkey out on the counter to thaw Using the dishwasher to thaw your turkey Thawing your turkey in a paper or plastic trash bag