Can Frozen Turkey be Thawed on the Counter?

If you’re planning a big family meal that involves turkey, you may be tempted to take it out of the freezer the night before and let it thaw on the counter. However, is this really a safe practice? Should turkey be thawed on the counter or some other location?

Thawing Turkey on the Counter

While you may think it’s perfectly safe to thaw your turkey on the counter, it’s actually rather dangerous. Turkey takes a long time to thaw thoroughly and while the inside of the turkey thaws, the outside will be slightly warm and exposed to the elements. Bacteria may be present in the turkey and spread. Bacteria are a danger in any food at temperatures from 40 degrees to 140 degrees. Any food left in these temperatures should only be left there for 2 hours—and this is much longer than it will take your turkey to thaw.

How to Safely Thaw Your Turkey

While these methods are more time consuming than thawing a turkey on your counter, they are much safer and healthier.

  • Thawing in the refrigerator. This is the longest method of thawing a turkey, but the most recommended. In addition, a turkey thawed in this manner can continue to be stored for up to 2 days before you should reconsider freezing it. When thawing in the refrigerator, make sure the turkey is in a container that can catch any juices that may leak.
  • Thawing in cold water. By thawing your turkey in cold water, you can keep it below 40 degrees and keep bacteria from spreading. Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes or you will be unable to control the temperature. In addition, you’ll want to cover the turkey in a waterproof bag to prevent it from absorbing the water.
  • Thawing in the microwave. Your microwave should come with instructions on how to thaw a turkey in it. When thawing a turkey in the microwave, the outer layers of it may begin to cook, so you’ll need to cook it immediately upon thawing.

How Long Will These Methods Take?

It’s important to know how long it will take to thaw your turkey using these methods. By not allowing yourself enough time, you may not have your turkey fully prepared when you want it. Planning is important.

  • A 4 to 12 pound turkey will thaw in 1 to 3 days in the refrigerator and 2 to 6 hours in cold water.
  • A 12 to 16 pound turkey will thaw in 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator and 6 to 8 hours in cold water.
  • A 16 to 20 pound turkey will thaw in 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator and 8 to 10 hours in cold water.
  • A 20 to 24 pound turkey will thaw in 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator and 10 to 12 hours in cold water.
  • Microwave thaw times will vary. Refer to your microwave manual for more information.

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