AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Ahead of Thanksgiving day, many households across the United States will be preparing a turkey as a centerpiece dish for festive family gatherings. However, some may be confused about how to budget time to thaw and prepare a 10-plus pound bird.

Here’s a look at turkey-prep timing for Thanksgiving 2022, as well as a few other safety tips for celebrating the holiday season.

Refrigerator thawing

According to the US Department of Agriculture, cooks should allow for about one day of thawing per 4-5 pounds of a turkey’s weight, in a refrigerator set at or below 40°F. With that in mind, an average 16-20 pound turkey will likely need about four or five days in a refrigerator to thaw before cooking.

In regard to the days leading up to Thanksgiving, cooks who choose to thaw a frozen turkey in a refrigerator should likely have their bird set up by these dates:

  • Nov. 17-18: 20 to 24 pounds
  • Nov. 18-19: 16 to 20 pounds
  • Nov. 19-20: 12 to 16 pounds
  • Nov. 20-21: 4 to 12 pounds

The USDA noted that a thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days before cooking. Further, turkeys should be placed in a drip-proof container while thawing in the refrigerator to protect other food items.

Cold water thawing

Some cooks who don’t set aside multiple days for a turkey to thaw in the fridge instead choose to use cold water. The USDA recommended that turkeys thawed using this method be put into a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and extra water absorption and that they be submerged in cold tap water for about 30 minutes per pound.

The timing for a cold water thawing strategy could look like this:

  • 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

The USDA also noted that the water should be changed out about every 30 minutes, and turkeys thawed using this method should be cooked immediately.

Microwave thawing

The USDA recommended that those aiming to thaw a turkey in a microwave check the microwave owner’s manual for guidelines regarding the size of a turkey that will fit into the microwave, as well as the minutes per pound and power level needed to defrost a turkey.

As a few general rules, the USDA suggests:

  • Removing all outside wrapping and placing the turkey in a microwave-safe dish to prevent dripping;
  • Allow for about 6 minutes per pound when thawing a turkey in the microwave;
  • Remember to rotate, and even flip, the turkey several times while thawing;
  • If a turkey begins to cook instead of defrosting, let it rest for about 5 minutes before resuming the thawing process.

However, the USDA also noted that frozen turkeys can also be cooked. While it is safe to cook a turkey in its frozen state when it is not being deep-fried, cooking times will likely increase by about 50%.

Cooking safety tips

After a turkey is ready to cook, a common method of preparation is deep-frying. However, as noted by fire officials and other experts, lapses in deep-frying safety lead to thousands of fires and injuries each year.

For those deep-frying their Thanksgiving turkeys, fire experts reminded:

  • Set up the turkey fryer more than 10 feet away from the home and keep children and pets away from the area. Deep fryers should never be left unattended.
  • Fryers should be placed on a flat, level surface and the amount of oil needed should be carefully monitored.
  • Turkeys that will be deep-fried need to be dry and totally thawed. Extra water could cause oil to bubble and spill over, and oil spilling onto burners can cause a fire.
  • The lid and handle of a deep-fryer can become very hot and cause burns while in use. The temperatures of the deep-fryer and the oil inside should be closely monitored.
  • Fire extinguishing supplies, such as Class B fire extinguishers, should be on standby in case of a fire.
    • If a fire does ignite inside a deep-fryer, the heat should be turned off and the metal lid put on the pot. Baking soda can also be used for small grease fires.

No matter the method, the USDA advised that cooks be careful to use food thermometers to check that turkeys are fully cooked. Turkeys should measure 165˚F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast to be considered safe for consumption.

Storing leftovers

After the Thanksgiving festivities are over, many homes across the country will have piles of leftover food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered a few tips for safely storing and reheating leftovers, including;

  • Leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking, and those exposed to higher temperatures should be refrigerated within one hour.
  • Big cuts of meat, such as turkey or roast, should be cut into smaller pieces so they cool more quickly.
  • Refrigerated turkey and dishes made with it should be consumed within four days. Other leftovers should be frozen.
  • Leftovers should be reheated to at least 165°F before serving.

Other turkey-related questions and tips can be directed to the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 or the Butterball Turkey Talk Line at 1-800-288-8372.

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