Turkey Thawing Safety Tips

Coborn's Blog: The Kitchen Detective

With Thanksgiving just a couple days away, I felt it would be good to talk about some food safety tips that apply most appropriately to this time of year especially to that which we enjoy most on Turkey Day…..the turkey! 

For many of you, you probably already have the turkey thawing in the refrigerator because you know that big bird will require several days to thaw.  In fact, it is important to note, that for every 5 pounds of turkey there needs to be 24 hours of thaw time.  So, if you have a 10 pound bird, it would be important to begin thawing that today! If you’ve missed that window of opportunity to thaw in the refrigerator, there are a couple other things you can do:

  • Thaw in cold water. Cold water thaws turkey (wrapped in leak proof plastic) as long as you change the water every 30 minutes. You will need to allow for 30 minutes of thawing per pound of turkey. *Remember, water should be cold not hot.
  • Thaw in microwave. More often than not, the turkey is too large for the microwave; however, if using one, it is important to begin cooking the turkey in the oven as soon as it is thawed. Also, it is best not to use the microwave for the entire cooking process as microwaves have such uneven cooking, this could pose a food safety risk in portions of the bird not getting full cooked.
  • Another option is to purchase several turkey breasts as these will take less time to thaw. I know for some this is not the best option as many look forward to enjoying the turkey legs!…..Although, many of our stores carry this option as well.
  • Cooking the turkey from frozen is not the best option, but it is an option, nonetheless. This option is only appropriate for oven cooking, it is not recommended to grill or deep-fry a frozen turkey. To determine the approximate cooking time for a frozen turkey, follow this guideline from the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture):
    • Take the recommended cooking time for a thawed turkey and multiply it by 1.5 for an unthawed bird. For example, if a thawed turkey needs to cook for 5 hours, then a frozen one needs to cook for 7 1/2 hours.

Most importantly, to ensure the turkey was cooked to the minimum internal temperature, a thermometer MUST be used. No matter how you choose to thaw the turkey. Check the temperature with a thermometer to ensure it reaches at least 165°F. Even if the turkey has a “pop-up” thermometer. 165°F is the minimum internal temperature for safety.  More often than not the temperature of 180°F is used…just to be on the “safest” side.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the stuffing. Especially due to the fact that many choose to cook the stuffing inside the turkey.  It typically is best to prepare stuffing separate from the turkey. Loosely stuff the turkey just before you put it in the oven with ¾ cup stuffing per pound of turkey. And remember your trusty thermometer should be used to ensure that the center of the stuffing reaches 165°F. More often than not the ingredients used in stuffing are all items that could be eaten without a whole lot of heating, but when this is added inside the bird, we need to take into account that the stuffing is now exposed to the raw juices from the turkey.  This then requires that the stuffing reaches at least 165°F to ensure it’s safety.

Enjoy this Thanksgiving Holiday with those most dear!

Eat Safe and Be Healthy!

Coborn’s, Inc, Food Safety & Nutrition Manager, Registered Dietitian

The Kitchen Detective Cobornsblog.com

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