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CALS Weekly

5 Tips for Thawing Your Thanksgiving Turkey

raw turkey on a cutting board with vegetables

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s almost turkey time. Ben Chapman, head of the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences and director of the NC State Extension’s Safe Plates program, offers up tips on buying and thawing your Thanksgiving bird to ensure a safe and healthy feast for the entire family.

Tips for Defrosting Your Turkey Safely:

  1. When defrosting a frozen turkey, estimate one day of thawing for every five pounds of turkey. So, if you have a 25-pound turkey, it will take about five days to thaw in the refrigerator.
  2. To avoid contamination in the refrigerator, use a large basin under a thawing turkey to catch any liquid as it thaws.
  3. If you’re buying a fresh turkey, buy it as close to the holiday as possible – preferably two-three days before for best quality.
  4. When defrosting a turkey in water, make sure to change the water regularly so it doesn’t get too warm. And use a thermometer to make sure the turkey stays below 41 degrees. 
  5. Be sure to clean and sanitize the basin/container you thaw your turkey in. Juices from thawing can contain foodborne pathogens like Salmonella or Campylobacter.

Regardless of how you thaw your turkey, Chapman says cooks should be sure to use a digital food thermometer to ensure it reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit when cooking (roasting, frying or smoking).

Check out more videos from Extension’s Homegrown Thanksgiving food safety series to get tips on everything from brining and frying your turkey to storing your holiday meal leftovers.