This Is The Best Way To Thaw Your Thanksgiving Turkey

Most people who pick up a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner purchase a frozen whole bird (via Delish). That means millions of Americans each year share a common goal: getting their turkey from frozen up to 165 degrees Fahrenheit as safely as possible. That starts with the correct thawing method.

First, a quick tip about how not to defrost your turkey. Don't leave it on the kitchen counter or in the sink at room temperature. The biggest challenge in guiding your bird in its journey is making sure it spends as little time as possible between 40 and 140 degrees. That's the "danger zone" where bacteria can grow quickly, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Setting your bird in the kitchen somewhere (or in the living room so it can watch the Macy's parade) will allow the meat to enter the danger zone during thawing. Even if the center of the bird is still safely cold, the outer portion will become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.

Two safe ways to thaw a turkey: One is easier, and one is faster

The safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is to move it from the freezer to refrigerator, when the time is right (via The Daily Meal). Keep it wrapped and place it on a baking tray deep enough to collect any drippings that leak out. The bird will need to sit one day in the fridge for every four pounds, so you need to think ahead. For a typical 16-pound turkey, which would feed about ten people, that amounts to four full days in the refrigerator. You need to get that bird in the fridge on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

Okay, so maybe it's the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Now what? If you no longer have one day for every four pounds of turkey, the USDA is okay with a second method, which comes with a trade-off. It is faster, but it requires more work from the cook. The turkey can be thawed the day before cooking by submerging it in cold water. The extra work comes in changing the water every 30 minutes to make sure it's not too cold for effective thawing and not so warm that it brings the outer portion of the bird into the danger zone. This method requires a half-hour per pound. So our 16-pounder will need to be in the water for eight hours.

As a last resort, put that frozen turkey straight into the oven

Let's say it's Thanksgiving morning, and an eight-hour bath is a luxury you no longer have time for. What now? Most microwaves have a defrost setting, but we're guessing your turkey is too big to fit.

It turns out you can cook a frozen turkey, and that's really the only option left other than takeout (via The Spruce Eats). Keep in mind that a frozen turkey will take longer to cook. Delish published a handy chart showing cooking times for thawed birds of different sizes. For a mid-sized turkey like our 16-pounder, you need one hour in a 325-degree oven for every four pounds. But if your turkey goes into the oven frozen, then multiply cooking time by one and a half. (A frozen 16-pound turkey will need six hours to cook instead of four.) You'll just need to remember to remove that bag of giblets after a few hours.

No matter how you thaw or cook your turkey, use a meat thermometer to ensure that you get it all the way into the safe zone — 165 degrees.