T minus 2 – Defrost that turkey!
November 22nd, 2011
03:45 PM ET
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We're sharing our time-tested Thanksgiving hosting tips and recipes, as well as plenty from chefs, hospitality experts, celebrities, hosts and home cooks we love. Our goal – sending you into Thanksgiving with a confident smile on your face, and seeing you emerge on the other side with your sanity intact.

From the comments:

Sweet mother of poultry, the turkey isn't thawed all the way! WHYYYYYYYYY MEEEEEEE?!?!? How long does it take to defrost a turkey?

If you're reading this at any point in the week before Thanksgiving, you have no reason to panic. Sez the USDA's website:

Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.

Easy peasy, no? But hey - stuff happens to all of us. You may suddenly recall that Netflix on Demand is streaming every season of Friday Night Lights and lose all concept of reality for a while (speaking from personal experience). You may get distracted by a sick dog or the sniffles or work and suddenly wake up on Thanksgiving morning in a cold sweat, realizing that your meal bird is still in the deep freeze.

All is not lost - just slowed down a tad.

That same, handy USDA site suggests a cold water thaw.

Allow about 30 minutes per pound.

First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Last ditch? The microwave - if you've got a bitty bird and a bodacious cooking chamber.

Follow the microwave oven manufacturer's instruction when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn't have been destroyed.

A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.

But just for a sec, let's imagine that the doomsday scenario should strike. The bird could be used to hammer in tent stakes, your guests were so underfed, they had to make a White Castle run - and they tripped over Uncle Stu where he'd tumbled down pantsless by the hydrangeas. Are these people, your friends and family, really going to love you any less?

They are, ideally, rooting for you and ready to pitch in at a moment's notice - even if you end up as the butt of most of their Thanksgiving jokes for the next decade or two. If they give you any lip, just sweetly, politely let 'em know that they're more than welcome to go right ahead and Tofurky themselves next year.

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soundoff (51 Responses)
  1. leoer

    When I was little , I lived in Honduras and I remember my dad buying two live turkeys sometime in November. We tried to play with the big DINO birds but were unsuccessful, since all they wanted to do was chase and pluck after us....scary stuff. Then Navidad/Christmas came and we lost one to the diner plate ...soon came new years and there went the male. YIKES! so u mean u made us get familiar then took them both away?? Needless to say we never asked for a dog after that, since none of us kids wanted to try that meat. LOL. never really liked turkey until I came to the USA and HAD to eat it at Thanksgiving.

    November 26, 2013 at 11:54 pm |
  2. cj

    Brine that bird if you want it moist

    November 26, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  3. Intelligence

    Fresh, never frozen, 50lb turkey, stuffed with bread cubes, sage, lots of onion, celery and boiling chicken stock to moisten it both in the body cavity and the neck skin at the top of the breast till it is bulging. Season between the skin and flesh as much as you can and all over the outside with salt, pepper, sage, onion powder. Tie up legs and close stuffing cavities. Place on rake in roasting pan in 325 degree oven until skin is golden brown for about 7 hours,... if it browns too early, place foil over browned area as quickly as possible and then shut oven door. DO NOT OPEN OVEN. DO NOT BASTE. opening oven dries the meat out, basting hastens the dehydration of the flesh so DO NOT OPEN OVEN unless it is an emergency ( the skin is burning and you have to place foil on it to stop it from burning ). Immediately remove from oven and wrap tightly with foil and let sit for at least one hour, while you prepare all the rest of the veggies and such. Meat will be cooked through, juicier than you have ever had, no pink or under cooked meat but it will be SO juicy. The trick is not opening the oven, every time you open the oven and baste you drop the temp in the oven and the meat loses moisture as it leaks out from the cool air let in when you open the oven. Keeping the oven closed cooks the meat faster, seals the outside so the juice stays in and doesn't require basting.

    November 26, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
  4. ElizabethB

    I like Martha's suggestion, Get a live turkey, put an airline bottle of your liquor of choice down it's gullet, butcher it, clean it, stick it in the oven. No defrosting needed. Of course, I would need a couple of those bottles of vodka down me to kill it, but she has no problem with it.

    November 26, 2013 at 10:34 pm |
  5. stephen48739

    As a single guy, the first time I cooked a turkey, half-way into the cooking time, I smelled paper burning. Curious, I inspected the turkey to discover I had forgotten to remove the paper bag, that contained the neck and innards. Dumb, I know, until my friends, a newly married couple, attempted to cook a turkey, without removing the plastic covering and netting first. "Honey, do you smell plastic burning?"

    November 26, 2013 at 9:49 pm |
  6. Jessica McGwin

    There is no saving T day, the whole family will be here. We are Irish. Everyone will get drunk, someone will cry, there will be a political argument, my mom will pray for all of us to die at some point and my husband will sit with that blank stare that I know means he is wondering if the sex is enough reason to stay.

    November 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm |
  7. CLOWN

    Turkey sucks, I always get one at work from the company and I always give it away.

    November 26, 2013 at 7:31 pm |
  8. Eric

    Liberal Media bias on how to defrost turkey. I will go to Fox news to get the correct way to defrost a turkey. Too funny

    November 26, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
  9. ∞ Weeds ∞

    Why not thaw the bird in its brine/spice bath? Kill 2 birds with 1 stone, so to speak. I am assuming the bird hasn't been "pre-brined" by the packager to increase its net weight for higher profits (water is cheaper than turkey).

    November 26, 2013 at 4:19 pm |
    • GRL

      I always defrost mine, with brine, in a big zip bag. Never had any trouble.

      November 26, 2013 at 8:00 pm |
  10. rubytu

    Is 5 pounds of butter enough for a Thanksgiving dinner?

    November 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
    • stravis2


      November 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • Eric

      LMAO!! Paula Deen recommends 10lbs of butter!!

      November 26, 2013 at 6:59 pm |
    • Steve8271

      Per person? I usually get 6lbs. per person but thats because we have a couple vegans.

      November 27, 2013 at 3:42 pm |
  11. Jenny

    My brother got all up in arms this year about having to pluck the bird since every one wasn't going to be able to come. we're going to have a mini-turkey (only 7 pounds) that was frozen earlier this year but I just found out and he hasn't got it out to thaw yet. This is sure to be a memorable year.

    November 23, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • CLOWN

      How about a chicken, tastes better and don't take near as long to cook.

      November 26, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  12. NODAT1

    Wife and I are having my daughter-in-law parents over for turkey day and we were told this morning that her Mom is a vegetarian no dairy and her Dad is on a low sodium low sugar diet …. good luck at our house even the greens have hamhock/bacon in them with butter and sugar on just about everything. Will try to whip up something (bag of premixed salad from walmart ) but c'mon this is something that should have been told to us a week age veggy/spc diet types need to be a little more responsible speciall when comming over to a Holiday meal.

    November 23, 2011 at 8:34 am |
    • CaptMorgan72

      Wow, extremely disrespectful for not telling you months in advance that they have special diets. What do they expect to eat on Thanksgiving day? I would have zero tolerance for that, but thats just me.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:11 pm |
    • Cosby Sweater

      Sounds like what a typical daughter would do... Forget to mention something major and expect everyone else to jump through hoops to make it happen. I say, sc re w them. They can eat what's offered, or bring their own dish, and blame the daughter for the mix-up.

      November 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm |
    • Mr Credik

      As a thoughtful host, I always ask if people have dietary restrictions

      November 26, 2013 at 7:20 pm |
    • Intelligence

      the veggie person is easy as is the low salt sugar person,.... prepare plain veggies, carrots, corn, broccoli, turnip, whatever by partially cooking them and then put them in the fridge to keep them fresh and then last minute do a quick dump in hot water to finish cooking and heat them up. Do not add salt or sugar. Put in big bowl and put it in front of the special diet guest and say, "Happy Thanksgiving, this has no salt, no sugar and no meat products in it, enjoy and God Bless you." the low salt low sugar person could have some turkey from inside the breast as long as it is not a brine presoaked turkey. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and be thankful you don't have to follow a special diet. LOL

      November 26, 2013 at 10:39 pm |
      • d

        being thankful is too much for most 'Americans' these days.

        November 26, 2013 at 11:40 pm |
        • d

          *too much to ask of*

          November 26, 2013 at 11:41 pm |
  13. bill

    Mine was fresh, never frozen and has been in the brine for 6 days and will brine at room temp starting tomorrow am for at least 24 hrs prior to cooking. Been doing this for many years....the FDA can stick it where the sun don't shine.

    November 23, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • Unlo4

      You're not alone! Lots of other people failed my microbiology class too.

      November 26, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
    • Cosby Sweater

      Sounds nasty. You're not part vulture, are you?

      November 26, 2013 at 6:25 pm |
  14. hisako

    Janet Napolitano says to make sure your turkey is fully defrosted.

    Personally I think she is one big turkey that ought to get stuffed.

    November 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Bill

      Have you SEEN Janet lately? Looks like she's already stuffed pretty well, to me!!

      November 23, 2011 at 7:50 am |
      • Cosby Sweater

        Maybe he want's to stuff her in a different way?

        November 26, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
        • BAJA ARIZONA


          November 26, 2013 at 7:33 pm |
  15. Tricksmom

    I cooked my turkey upside down for hours last year and one of my guests told me that he had seen on a cooking show that you SHOULD do it that way for a little less time than I did. I've since read the same thing, so my face is saved. . . My chandalier also fell off the dining room ceiling last year onto the pickle/relish dishes, butter and my good china right before serving time (thankfully since no one was actually sitting there.) I refused to leave the kitchen but only two crystal wine glasses were broken, the gelatin salad (I'm the only one who eats it) and the butter and pickles had to be thrown out but we had plenty to replace it. Dinner was warmed in the microwave, everyone pitched in on resetting and it worked out fine and will be the most talked about thanksgiving for many years!

    November 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • Wonder Woman

      Now THAT helps put things in perspective. Thank goodness that it was before everyone sat down and so little was actually lost. In years to come everyone will remember that and will remark how wonderfully you handled it! Kudos to you!

      November 22, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
    • Erin

      You've gotta stop swinging on that chandelier!

      November 23, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  16. Wastrel

    What you do is stack up some old tires to about the level of the floor of your trailer, and put an #3 washtub on top. Fill it with water. Take your garden hose and put one end in the toilet tank and the other out the window, and start a siphon going into the washtub. Put the turkey in the tub and the continual water flow will thaw it in about 3 hours, no matter how big it is.

    November 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Matt


      November 26, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
  17. Erin

    I always cook my turkey from frozen. If you cook it for 2-3 hours, you can then remove the innards. Depending upon the poundage, you just add an extra 2-3 hours of cooking. Since it retains all of that moisture from being frozen, the turkey comes out juicy and delicious! Don't fret about a frozen turkey, savor it!

    November 22, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • lroy

      I do not handle raw meat. My mother always thawed the turkey in the fridge a couple of days ahead. My father usually one a turkey (at least a 15 pounder) at the Elks raffle. Always Butterball.

      November 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  18. Josh

    Tofurky is an abomination.

    November 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  19. Todd Runtz

    Just another example of the liberal media. Here we go again.

    November 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Patrick

      My goodness, just another example of a conservative knuckledragging troll not having anything better to do than blame liberals for everything....Keep up the good work moron. Your party is looking really intelligent w/ all those half baked moronic pseudo-candidates they're parading around these days. Slam dunk for the Democrats in 2012...

      November 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Truth™@ Todd, Patrick

      This is a food blog, please do not bring politics into this.

      November 22, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
      • ∞ Weeds ∞

        Hey, they are talking about turkeys :)

        November 26, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • Wonder Woman

      What has THAT got to do with anything!?!? This is about turkey. Troglodyte!

      November 22, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • coflyboy

      Now how does an article about thawing turkey equate to "liberal media"? Do conservatives not thaw their turkeys before Thanksgiving??

      November 26, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
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