A couple of friends have asked me various questions about cooking their Thanksgiving Day turkey. It isn't terribly complicated, but since it is the type of meal that only happens once a year, and since it usually involves family and friends, no one wants to be the one who serves burnt or dried out turkey. So here are some suggestions that I have cobbled together from some sources that I trust the most with this sort of thing. I hope this helps!
First, you have to thaw your bird! Did you take it out of the freezer on Saturday? I hope so. The information below gives you the breakdown on how long that bird will take to thaw in the fridge. Did you forget? No worries, you can still have a perfectly thawed and safe bird, you are just going to work a little harder for it. Cold Water Thawing instructions are included below. This information was sourced from the USDA page dedicated to food safety. Follow these instructions very carefully, and you can be assured of serving a dinner that won't make your guests ill.
Thawing your bird:
I've included the methods and timing for thawing a turkey using a refrigerator and quick thaw by water below. These are the only methods I recommend for thawing a bird. The USDA website includes other methods, such as using a microwave, which I cannot and will not condone!
When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:
- Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
- Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.
Refrigerator Thawing Times
- 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
A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.
Cold Water Thawing
When thawing a turkey quickly in water:
- Allow about 30 minutes per pound.
- First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.
- Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.
Cold Water Thawing Times
- 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
A turkey thawed by the cold-water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.
Time to Cook!
Brining: Alton Brown - Brining a Turkey
Prepping: Alton Brown - Prepping your Turkey
Roasting: Alton Brown - Roasting your turkey
Injection and Rub: Texas Monthly Fried Turkey rub and injection that I use!
Brining: Alton Brown's Turkey Brine Recipe
Testing and Frying: Don't just drop the bird, here's how to NOT burn down your house!
Smoked Turkey - Aaron Franklin:
Part Three: Bringing smoked joy to your table
My personal favorite is the fried turkey variation. Here's my bird from last Thanksgiving, which we cooked and enjoyed while camping on Lake Buchanan.