The Scary Reason You Shouldn't Leave Your Turkey Out To Thaw Overnight

If you're hosting Thanksgiving this year (or Friendsgiving, for that matter), you likely have a long list of groceries you need to buy before the big feast, from potatoes for mashing to bread crumbs for stuffing. But at the top of list is the real star of Thanksgiving dinner: the turkey. It's a tradition that really took off in the late 1800s when Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday (via TIME). And our love of poultry come November hasn't slowed down since — according to the National Turkey Federation, Americans eat some 45 to 46 million turkeys every year on Thanksgiving alone (via CNBC).

While many people love loading up their Turkey Day plate with a big hunk of juicy meat, anyone who has ever been tasked with actually preparing said turkey knows it's no easy feat. There are so many things to keep in mind when roasting a turkey — and so many mistakes to avoid — from the temperature of the oven to the cooking time to the seasonings. And if you've opted for a frozen turkey, the process all begins with thawing it out. Here's why you shouldn't let it thaw overnight, and how to defrost it safely. 

It could increase the chance of foodborne bacteria

If you plan on popping your turkey in the oven early Thanksgiving morning, you may be tempted to leave it out on the kitchen counter to thaw overnight so it's ready to go when you wake up. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) cautions that any meat left at room temperature for two hours or more may no longer be safe to eat. "Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the 'Danger Zone' between 40 and 140 °F — at a temperature where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly," the FSIS explains.

Instead, you should thaw your frozen turkey in the refrigerator. The Kitchn claims that this is the safest method of defrosting and that you should allow for about 24 hours of thawing time per five pounds of turkey. That means that if you have a 16-pound bird, you'll want to transfer it to the fridge about four days prior to Thanksgiving dinner. The USDA also explains that you can skip the defrosting process altogether and put your turkey in the oven still frozen. Just note that it will take about 50% longer to cook.