Last minute Thanksgiving hack: How to quickly and safely defrost a turkey

Thanksgiving is one of the most beautiful holidays. Since I got with my American partner, I have gleefully embraced this day, as it stands for everything that I deeply value and cherish: family, gratitude, joyful get togethers and great soul food that fills your stomach AND your heart in equal measure. While I believe that it’s actually the side dishes of the Thanksgiving meal that are the unsung heroes of the day, the most prominent element of this holiday is without a doubt the turkey. It’s certainly the piece of the whole preparation process that entails the most hassle and requires the most planning.

Yet, you can be the most organized person in the world, but that doesn’t save you from the occasional, “Oh no, how could this happen?” when you realize you bought a wonderful frozen turkey but, given its weight or all the other day-to-day stuff going on in your life, you just didn’t manage to start the defrosting process enough in advance to make sure the bird is thawed in time to prepare it for cooking. Don’t worry – we’ve all been there and had to get creative to ensure we had everything ready in time for the big meal.

Since we are talking about meat, it means you need to proceed carefully, as you want to avoid giving your guests food poisoning because you mishandled the process and allowed unwanted bacteria to develop.

Under normal defrosting conditions (a.k.a., keeping the bird in the fridge), this is the USDA guideline for how long it will take to thaw a turkey based on its weight in pounds:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

Here are some hacks to help you defrost your turkey fast if you didn’t manage to stay within the timeline mentioned above. This is what worked for us, while being cautious enough about food safety and allowing you to serve the bird with your Thanksgiving dinner:

When you have one day to go (24 hours):

Fill your kitchen sink with cold (but not ice-cold) water and place the turkey in it (give your sink an extra good cleaning scrub prior). Exchange the water every 30 minutes. This method defrosts your bird in 30 minutes per pound. If you have a turkey weighing 10 pounds, you will need 5 hours to thaw it completely. The average turkey American families serve on Thanksgiving is 15 pounds, which means your defrosting process will take you approximately 7.5 hours. Make sure, your turkey is actually fully submerged in the water. If it floats, hold it down by placing an upside down casserole dish on it to serve as a counterweight.

When it’s Thanksgiving morning:

You wake up on Thanksgiving morning only to find that your turkey is still rock solid. You curse the day you were born and start catastrophizing about the ruined meal (trust me, I know, I’ve been there myself). But don’t worry, you got this. You can actually cook a frozen turkey. In that case, the time you give the turkey in the oven when cooking it at 325°F will increase by about 50 percent. So if non-frozen would take 4 hours to be done, the frozen bird will take 6 hours, i.e., normal time plus 50 percent.

What you should NOT do (i.e., which may lead to food poisoning):

Due to the development of bacteria, while you might want to give your guest a goodie bag of leftovers to take home, it shouldn’t include food poisoning. Therefore, NEVER try to thaw a frozen turkey (or any frozen meat for that matter) at room temperature.

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