Let’s Talk Turkey

— Written By Dee Decker
en Español / em Português

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During this time of year, some of the most frequently asked questions we receive involves cooking a turkey. Often we are asked which is the best way to thaw a turkey. As always, when it comes to food preparation, food safety is important.

When you purchase a turkey, make sure to read the label to better understand what you are buying. “Young turkey” means the bird is four to six months old at slaughtering. “Turkey fryer” means the bird is under four months of age.

Toms are male turkeys and are normally larger in size. They can weigh from 20 to over 30 pounds. Hens are female turkeys and are smaller birds; weighing between 10 and 12 pounds.

Fresh birds are usually a better quality; however, if the birds were properly frozen, they will maintain a good quality for a long period of time.

It is best not to rinse the turkey before cooking because the rinse water could contaminate the sink, and if water is splashed, the counter and other surfaces around the sink or utensils. Cooking the turkey to a safe temperature – 165 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter kills bacteria on the surface of the turkey, so no need to rinse it before cooking.

There are three ways to safely thaw a turkey – in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave oven.

In the refrigerator, keep the turkey in its original wrapper. Place it on a tray or pan to catch any juices that leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Below is a guide for thawing times in the refrigerator:

In the Refrigerator (40°F or below)

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

If you choose to thaw your turkey in cold water, wrap the turkey securely, making sure the water is not able to leak through the wrapping. Submerge your wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

In Cold Water (change the water every 30 minutes to make sure it is cold)

4 to 12 pounds            2 to 6 hours

12 to 16 pounds          6 to 8 hours

16 to 20 pounds          8 to 10 hours

20 to 24 pounds          10 to 12 hours

If you decide to thaw the turkey in the microwave, check the owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound, and power level to use for thawing. Remove all outside wrapping. Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.

Cook the turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate the turkey after thawing in the microwave oven.

Remember, whichever method that you choose, to remove the giblets from the turkey after thawing. Cook separately.

Wash hands, utensils, sink, and everything that has been in contact with the raw turkey. After washing, sanitize the counter, sinks, and any containers or trays that have been used. To sanitize, prepare a solution of 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of warm, not hot water. Immerse the washed items in the solution, remove and let air dry. Any items that cannot be immersed in the bleach solution, such as the countertop, saturate the surface with the bleach solution and allow it to air dry.

The N.C. Cooperative Extension of Swain County’s staff wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving!