Whether you’re a seasoned professional when it comes to serving up Christmas dinner, or if this year is your first go, it’s absolutely imperative that you defrost your turkey properly before cooking if you’ve bought a frozen bird.
There are a number of different methods you can use when it comes to defrosting a turkey - this is what you need to know.
How to defrost a turkey in the fridge?
Defrosting a turkey in the fridge is considered the easiest and safest method of defrosting, however it is also the longest, so make sure you’ve left yourself enough time if this is the method you’re wanting to use.
When defrosting your turkey in the fridge, you should keep it separate from other foods and in a container large enough to catch any defrosted liquids to ensure there is no cross contamination.
It can take days to defrost a large turkey, so make sure and calculate how long your bird needs to defrost so make sure you’re not caught out on the big day.
Check the guidance on your packaging for directions on how to defrost - if there are no defrosting instructions, the general rule of thumb says that you should allow roughly 24 hours per every two kilograms of turkey.
Most turkeys in the UK are roughly five to six kilograms, so those will take roughly three full days to defrost in the fridge.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing the maths yourself, you can use an online calculator to help you figure out your timings.
Once your turkey has fully defrosted, you can keep it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it.
How to defrost a turkey in the microwave?
The microwave is the fastest method for defrosting a turkey, however this method will only really be suitable for smaller turkeys, and you’ll need to thoroughly clean the microwave after it’s been used.
The first step here is to check that your turkey actually fits the microwave. Remove all of its packaging, any metal clips and the bag of giblets from its cavity.
Place the bird in the microwave breast side up and set your microwave to the defrost function for 30 minutes, then for five minute bursts until it’s defrosted.
This method can take up to an hour.
How to defrost a turkey in cold water?
The upside to this method is that it is faster than fridge defrosting, however it can be a bit tricky and potentially unhygienic if the turkey packaging isn’t sealed properly.
You’ll need a container large enough to fit your turkey, filled with cold water. Place your turkey in the water and keep an eye on it. Periodically check the temperature of the water - if it doesn’t feel cold, you’ll need to refresh it with cold water.
Issues might crop up if the packaging isn’t fully sealed as it means the water and everything that it touches will be contaminated with raw turkey juices.
When done safely, this method should take around an hour for every kilogram of turkey.
Can I defrost my turkey on the kitchen counter?
While you may be tempted just to take your turkey out the freezer and leave it on your kitchen counter, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) says that you should “not defrost your turkey at room temperature”.
The FSA explains: “Foods will defrost quite quickly at room temperature, but harmful bacteria could grow in food if it gets too warm while defrosting.”
How do I know if my turkey is fully defrosted?
It’s important to ensure that your turkey is thoroughly defrosted before cooking - if it isn’t, the turkey might not cook evenly and, the NHS warns, “harmful bacteria could survive the cooking process”.
The best way to check if your turkey has defrosted fully is to use a probe thermometer inserted into the thickest part of leg or breast - if the temperature reads as anything below 1C, the turkey is still frozen.
If you don’t have a probe thermometer, you can check if the bird has defrosted by feeling the inside of the cavity with your hand. Touch the inside of the breast bone - it shouldn’t feel frozen. Additionally, touch the breast meat. The breast meat should feel soft. If it’s still solid, it means the bird needs longer to defrost.
You can try wiggling the legs of the turkey as well. If they feel loose then that’s a good sign - if they are stiff or cannot be moved at all, the turkey is still frozen.
How long will turkey leftovers keep in the fridge?
The good news is that if you don’t make your way through all of the turkey on Christmas is that you can keep leftovers in the fridge or even the freezer.
After you’ve carved up the bird, make sure and try to cool your leftovers as quickly as possible - ideally within one to two hours - cover them and put them in the fridge or freezer.
The FSA says: “When you’re serving cold turkey, try to take out only as much as you’re going to use and leave the rest in the fridge.
“Don’t leave a plate of turkey or cold meats out all day at room temperature on a buffet, for example, because food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply. Put it back in the fridge as soon as you can, ideally within an hour.
“You can also freeze leftover cooked turkey meat and other cooked meats and then take out as much as you need and defrost it in the fridge.
“This can be reheated but only do this once and make sure it’s steaming hot all the way through before you eat it. Remember it can’t be re-frozen.
“Once defrosted you should eat within 24 hours. This applies to any meals made from leftovers too.”
If you’re choosing to store your leftovers in the fridge, the NHS says that you should consume any leftovers within 48 hours.
If you’re opting for freezing instead, the FSA says that freezing cooked turkey, and other cooked meats, “will be safe to eat for a long time, but you may see a deterioration in quality after three to six months”.
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