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Ask the Test Cooks
Ask Matthew: When Do I Need to Start Thawing My Frozen Turkey?
This series answers all your cooking questions. And yes, by all we mean the wild, silly, and "stupid" ones, too.
11-19-2019
Matthew Fairman

Before Matthew Fairman joined Cook's Country as a test cook, he cooked in many restaurants and taught college literature and writing. When he’s not pitching a new take on fried rice to his editors or whispering to his slow cookers, Matthew is usually scaling plastic mountains at the climbing gym or running food experiments on his wife, Lauren, and cat, Daisy. One day, he hopes to pay for climbing trips by selling fried rice from a food truck to hungry people stumbling out of bars after last call.

Have a food-related question? Fill out this form or shoot Matthew a message at askthetestcooks@americastestkitchen.com

Last year, I gave myself a full two days, but my turkey was still frozen on the day of. When do I need to start thawing my frozen turkey?

— Vita G., Hackensack, New Jersey

MY DEAR VITA,

Stop what you’re doing, grab your cryogenic turkey, and get it into the fridge! There’s no time!

OK, OK. Sorry. I’m calm now. You’ve definitely still got some time. Depending on the size of your ostrich—I mean, turkey—it might take only a few days. You need 24 hours for every 4 pounds of pterodactyl—sorry, turkey.

So, let’s solve this with some good old-fashioned arithmetic. Consider the following word problem.

Your aunt Avis (who’s allergic to cats) and her Lhasa Apso, Terrance, both get on a train leaving Seattle for your place in New Jersey. Simultaneously, your brother Hayden and his two tuxedo cats, Big Ed and Norma, leave Valdosta, Georgia, traveling north at 95 miles per hour. Given these parameters, how long will it take you to fully thaw your 22-pound, pasture-raised, hormone-free gobbler?

Oh, man. Why do they always fill these things with useless details? Let’s see: Carry the one . . . bring up the remainder . . . they don’t even say how much the cats weigh! Does anyone have a protractor?

Wait—I got it! If my calculations are correct, then the answer is . . .

Oh, no! Now! Get the bird into the fridge now! There’s no time!

TAKEAWAY: We recommend thawing your frozen bird slowly in the refrigerator. You need 24 hours of fridge time for every 4 pounds of turkey, so a 16-pound bird will take a full four days to thaw. Add the overnight salting or brining step and you might need a full workweek. Give yourself time. For answers to all your feast-planning questions and for true Turkey Day peace of mind, check out our guide to a foolproof Thanksgiving at Americastestkitchen.com.

Good night (and good luck),

  • Matthew Fairman

P.S. If you goof and wake up to a frozen turkey on the big day, don’t panic. Grab your biggest stockpot, plunk the bird in there (still wrapped in its original packaging, if possible), and run cold tap water over it for as long as you can spare. This cold-water method is the most efficient way to defrost your turkey aside from nuking (which is hard with a big bird). In Cook’s Illustrated’s encyclopedic Meat Bookthey recommended planning on 30 minutes of defrosting for every pound of meat; a 12-pound turkey will take 6 hours.

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Have a food-related question? Fill out this form or shoot Matthew a direct message at askthetestcooks@americastestkitchen.com

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