Turkey is an excellent choice for stocking up a household freezer because it is an economical choice in meat, it freezes well, and it defrosts nicely too, even if you have to thaw a turkey faster than usual. Although the best way to thaw a turkey is to put it in a refrigerator on a tray a few days in advance, if it was somehow overlooked in planning a meal, there are actually other safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey in a pinch quickly.
The best way to thaw a frozen turkey is to submerge it into ice water in a sink, a large cooler, or a clean bucket. Using ice water, or frigid water no more than forty degrees Fahrenheit, is vital for this process to bring the turkey up to the right temperature to avoid bacterial growth.
There are important but also creative ways to tackle this thawing process to work effectively with minimal effort. Some simple tricks and ideas can even help make this water bath method the choice method for thawing a turkey in the future.
The importance of the water
Before setting up the thawing station, clean everything thoroughly, and considerations should be made for the thawing, raw turkey areas. Setting up the water station and following suggestions and safety precautions are essential since the turkey will be in the thawing station for a few hours.
Defrosting Turkey 101: Monitoring the Water Temperature
The water’s temperature needs to be babysat to ensure that it is maintaining a coldness no warmer than forty degrees Fahrenheit for this process to be successful. The water should be monitored every thirty minutes to an hour.
An easy way to do this is to keep a thermometer nearby, check the water’s temperature, and then clean the thermometer thoroughly to avoid bacteria from the raw turkey water to contaminate anything else. Once the water reaches a higher temperature than the safe forty degrees, discard the water, and replace it with fresh water following the same requirements.
Follow these steps as often as necessary throughout the thawing of the turkey.
Do I have to Use Ice Water to Thaw Turkey?
While this method recommends the use of ice water, cold water is safe enough to use. The water used for this fast defrost method will still be warmer than the frozen turkey’s temperature, but not warm enough to damage the meat or cause it to be at an unsafe temperature.
Never thaw a frozen turkey in warm or room temperature water. Doing so allows bacteria to reproduce rapidly, posing a dangerous health hazard.
How long does it take to Thaw a Turkey in Water?
When defrosting in this way, it takes approximately thirty minutes per pound to thaw. For example, a twelve-pound turkey will thaw safely in about six hours. Take into consideration that a bulkier turkey will undoubtedly take longer to defrost, and a smaller turkey less time.
This whole thawing method would also work well to defrost parts of a turkey, such as a full turkey breast, that some local supermarkets sell for the holidays to cater to smaller family gatherings.
Where to Thaw a Frozen Turkey
The kitchen sink might be the most accessible way to thaw a turkey quickly because everyone has a kitchen sink, and considering the need to change the water out when it gets too warm, it makes a lot of sense to try there.
Fill the sink with cold water. Submerge the fully wrapped, frozen turkey in the water, allow it to soak.
Every thirty minutes, remove the drain stopper to allow the water to drain, secure the stopper back in place, then refill the sink with the correct water temperature to continue the thawing process.
However, once the defrosting process is over, the entire sink and surrounding areas in the kitchen will need disinfecting. If you are prepared for this extra level of cleaning, this might be the best situation.
It is arguably the most practical, as long as you recognize the sink will not be available for use while thawing and are comfortable with the extra amount of cleaning. Some experts would claim the food safety fears would outweigh the practicality, but as it is your kitchen, the decision is yours.
Thawing Turkey in a Bucket, Cooler, or other Container
If you are using another vessel such as a bucket, you can place that bucket anywhere; even outside and out of the way of pets and youngsters in the house.
However, this requires a certain level of planning, like considering the ambient temperature of the bucket’s location and getting a covering for the bucket to keep unwanted critters away from the star of the meal.
Thawing Turkey in Brine
One of the tastiest ways to prepare a turkey for cooking is to use a brine. A brine is essentially a liquid that permeates flavorings into the turkey by being submerged for some time, making it juicy and delicious in the final product. Brining a turkey not only ensures good flavor but helps to keep the meat of the turkey juicy and prevents it from drying in the oven when cooking.
To use brine as a step in the water bath method, in the last hour or two of thawing, unwrap the turkey from its packaging, change the plain ice water for a brine that includes flavorings that you enjoy in a turkey. Allow the turkey to soak in the brine solution as thawing completes.
As long as the brine retains the necessary temperature of forty degrees Fahrenheit, it will be a safe sneak of extra flavor.
Turkey Brine Flavoring Ideas:
The addition of one or more of the following items would ultimately add delicious flavor to the meat while simultaneously accomplishing the goal of a defrost.
- apple or orange juice
- a salty liquid like soy sauce
- fresh apples or oranges
- aromatic vegetables
Be sure to discard the items once the brining is complete as they are no longer safe to consume. The turkey is sitting in a water bath anyway for quick defrosting, so why not add some spectacular flavor to it without much extra work.
How Thawing Impacts Cooking
Some cooking methods, specifically deep-frying a turkey, require the meat to be completely thawed before cooking. If that is the cooking method of choice, be extra careful that the bird has thawed throughout, or you will have a potentially hazardous situation on your hands.
People have been known to set fire to their houses on Thanksgiving accidentally, deep frying a turkey still partially frozen inside.
Deep Frying Frozen Turkey
If oven roasting the turkey is the cooking method of choice, the meat can be a bit under-thawed when put into the oven. Still, the cooking times or the oven temperatures would need to be adjusted to appropriately cook the turkey.
The water bath method is the safest way to quickly thaw a turkey because it is a gradual process in a controlled situation. Parts of the meat would not be getting too warm before they need to be, allowing for an even thawing of the bird for optimal cooking.
It is undoubtedly better than the unsafe alternative, where according to the USDA, “a package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter for more than two hours is not [doing so] at a safe temperature.”
More Rapid Defrosting Methods for Frozen Turkey
You may be contemplating thawing your turkey using other methods. A turkey can also be safely defrosted using the microwave.
According to the USDA, it is safe to thaw a turkey in the microwave. Figure 6-minutes per pound using the defrost function. Be sure to use a dish large enough to contain the juice as the turkey thaws. To ensure even thawing, the turkey should be rotated and periodically flipped during the defrost cycle.
Generally speaking, this is not the method we’d personally recommend, as some areas tend to start cooking prematurely and cause drying of the bird. Some folks swear by this method though. If you opt to thaw the turkey in the microwave, place the unwrapped frozen bird in a microwave casserole dish (with sides).
Use the defrost function to thaw the bird, which takes an average of 6-minutes per pound. That’s about an hour and fifteen minutes for a 12-pound turkey. Keep in mind that this is not a hands-off method, you’ll need to frequently flip the bird over to ensure even defrosting.