How large of a turkey should I buy for Thanksgiving?
To choose the right size turkey for Thanksgiving, or any holiday or family meal, use this guide:
- Whole bird -- 1 pound per person.
- Breast of turkey with bone -- 3/4 pound per person.
- Boneless breast of turkey -- 1/2 pound per person.
- Pre-stuffed frozen turkey -- 1 1/4 pounds per person.
How do I safely thaw my turkey for Thanksgiving?
Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, if the turkey is allowed to thaw at a temperature above 40 degrees, any harmful bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again unless proper thawing methods are used.
A package of frozen meat or poultry thawing on the counter longer than two hours is not safe. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the danger zone, which is between 40 degrees and 140 degrees.
There are three safe ways to thaw food: in the refrigerator, in cold water and in the microwave oven.
After buying a frozen turkey, take it home and store it in the freezer until ready to use. Frozen turkeys should not be thawed on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement, in the garage or on the kitchen counter.
For every five pounds of turkey, allow about 24 hours of thawing time in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees. Even small amounts of frozen food such as a pound of ground meat or boneless chicken breasts require a full day to thaw. When thawing foods in the refrigerator, there are several variables to take into account.
Some areas of an appliance may keep the food colder than other areas. Food placed in the coldest part will require longer defrosting time.
After thawing in the refrigerator, ground meat and poultry should remain useable for an additional day or two before cooking. Red meat can last from three to five days. Foods defrosted in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, although there may be some loss of quality.
Here's about how long it takes to thaw a whole turkey in the refrigerator:
- Eight to 12 pounds -- one to two days.
- 12 to 16 pounds -- two to three days.
- 16 to 20 pounds -- three to four days.
- 20 to 24 pounds -- four to five days.
Cold water thawing
This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. The food must be in a leak-proof package or plastic bag.
If the bag leaks, bacteria from the air or surrounding environment could be introduced into the food. Also, meat tissue can absorb water like a sponge, resulting in a watery product.
The bag should be submerged in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw. About one pound of meat or poultry can defrost in an hour or less.
A three- to four-pound package of meat may take two to three hours. Whole turkeys take about 30 minutes per pound. After defrosting, refrigerate the food and cook it promptly. Foods thawed by the cold water method should be cooked before refreezing.
Here's about how long it takes to thaw a whole turkey in cold water:
- Eight to 12 pounds -- four to six hours.
- 12 to 16 pounds -- six to eight hours.
- 16 to 20 pounds -- eight to 10 hours.
- 20 to 24 pounds -- 10 to 12 hours.
Follow the manufacturer's instructions when thawing a turkey in the microwave. Plan to cook the turkey immediately after thawing because some areas may become warm and begin to cook. Foods thawed in the microwave should be cooked before refreezing.