It’s time to take that turkey out of the freezer and get it defrosted in time for the holidays. It seems like every family has their own tradition for the best way to thaw out a frozen bird. Some of them work, some of them are safe, some of them…not-so-much.

What is the best (and safest way to thaw a turkey?)

Defrosting is not just letting the bird sit for a while, if you thaw a turkey incorrectly bacteria will grow and you have a chance of making you and your dinner guests sick.

Many kinds of bad bacteria grow best right around room temperature. So, if you’re thawing your turkey on the kitchen counter, the outside of the bird will reach those temperatures pretty quickly, allowing for bacteria to thrive, but the inside will still be frozen solid. And those bacteria can stay in your meat, or be easily transfered to countertops, dishes, and eating utensils.

According to TLC The ideal temperatures for thawing a turkey is around 40 degrees and there are three main ways of doing it safely.

In the Refrigerator:

Keep the turkey in its original wrapping and then put it a pan or platter than will catch everything the drips off of it. They recommend 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey.

In Cold Water:

Submerge your packaged turkey in cold water. This is a much faster method as you only need to allow about 30 minutes per pound while defrosting. But you do need to diligently change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold and bacteria free.

In the Microwave:

Note this will only work with a very small turkey or a very large microwave. A microwave should have it’s thawing times listed in your owner’s manual, but you can expect an hour to an hour-and-a-half on it’s defrost cycle should do the trick.


So, if you have a 14 pound turkey and a huge microwave you can defrost it in as little as 90 minutes. The same turkey would take about 7  hours to defrost in cold water, or a little under 3 days in the fridge.

How long is a turkey good in my freezer?

The answer to that is pretty much, forever. Seriously, the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service says that “Poultry, uncooked, whole” should keep well for up to 12 months and that “[f]reezer storage is for quality only. Frozen foods remain safe indefinitely.”

So, it you do find a turkey stuffed in the bottom of your freezer from 2009, it’s probably safe to eat. It might might taste as lovely as a fresh one, but it won’t kill you.

Click here for the USDA’s complete chart listing freezer storage for various kinds of meat, plus a lot more information on how to store, freeze and thaw foods.

You can also cook a turkey while is it is still frozen solid. It takes a little longer, but it does the trick. Check it out, I tried it out for myself.