October 23, 2018

Thanksgiving: The Big Thaw

Thanksgiving is this Thursday; are you ready? If you purchased a frozen turkey, it should already be thawing in your refrigerator. The USDA offers food safety information for thawing poultry.

Raw TurkeyNever ever thaw meats at room temperature. As soon as any part of meat gets warmer than 40 degrees F, bacteria will start to multiply and grow well before the interior thaws. Remember that the “danger zone” where bacteria grow rapidly is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F. It’s almost a guarantee that there will be pathogenic bacteria on the turkey you buy.

For refrigerator thawing, you need at least one day for every five pounds of weight. Make sure that you know where your refrigerator is coldest and warmest for best results. Foods take longer to thaw in a fridge that is set at 35 degrees F than one set at 40 degrees F. After thawing, any meat is safe for an additional day or two if kept in the refrigerator. You can refreeze meats that have been thawed in the fridge, but some loss of taste or texture is to be expected.

You can also thaw the turkey in cold water. NEVER thaw the turkey in hot water, or again, some parts will warm up too quickly and bacteria will grow. The turkey must be in a leak proof package, otherwise bacteria from the surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Place it in cold tap water to cover. Change the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. For whole turkeys, thawing will take about 30 minutes per pound. When thawed in this manner, the turkey should be cooked immediately; don’t hold it in the fridge.

Microwave thawing is also possible, but once again, you must cook it immediately when it is thawed. Some of the turkey could partially cook in the microwave, bringing it into the danger zone. Never hold partially cooked meats for later cooking.

Never thaw foods in the garage, basement, car, dishwasher, or plastic garbage bag, on the kitchen counter, or outdoors or on a porch. Those methods can make your food unsafe.

And you can cook the turkey frozen! That’s how I do it. Just make sure that you place the turkey in the roasting pan breast side up. This takes 50% longer than cooking a thawed or fresh bird. The physics of the turkey and how it heats means the meat will be moist and juicy and perfectly cooked with this method; the breast is a larger mass and takes longer to thaw and cook than the thighs and wings. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

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