Here's Exactly When To Take Your Thanksgiving Turkey Out Of The Freezer

If you're hosting Thanksgiving this year, you're likely in charge of appetizers, sauces and gravies, place settings, sides, and, of course, the turkey itself. Even if you delegate several tasks — which you definitely should — you still bear the responsibility of creating a warm atmosphere and ensuring that nothing goes awry. While it may be tempting to focus solely on the big day, your Thanksgiving planning should actually start much earlier —  at least three days in advance.

One task you absolutely must not forget is to defrost the turkey, and doing so safely requires several days of planning. While buying a fresh or deeply chilled turkey avoids this issue, frozen turkeys are more commonly available. A high-quality frozen turkey can be just as delicious, as they are frozen at their freshest. The only real downside is the time needed to thaw that solid block of poultry. Allocate 24 hours of thawing time for every four pounds of turkey. This means a turkey weighing between 12 and 16 pounds will require three to four days to fully thaw. A turkey that's 16 to 20 pounds will need up to five days, and one larger than 20 pounds will require between five and six days.

How to thaw a turkey in the fridge

According to the Center for Disease Control, raw turkey can contain salmonella and other germs that can cause food poisoning, so it's imperative to store and thaw your bird carefully. Keep your turkey frozen at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and then defrost it in the refrigerator, set to cool at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping and place it in a deep sheet pan or baking dish to catch any leaking liquids. It's also a good idea to store the thawing turkey on the lowest shelf to prevent any accidental spills from contaminating the entire contents of your fridge.

If you overlooked this crucial step, you can also defrost your turkey more quickly in cold water. This method is more cumbersome, so it's best to do as much defrosting in the refrigerator as possible. Minimize water splashing by placing the whole turkey in a large resealable bag and then putting it in the sink. Completely cover it with cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. Use an instant-read thermometer to ensure the water temperature does not rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit and add ice if your tap water runs warm. This method will take about 30 minutes per pound, totaling around eight hours for a fully frozen 16-pound bird. Although it is possible to speed up the process, the easiest and safest way to defrost your Thanksgiving turkey remains using the refrigerator.