INDIANAPOLIS — Thanksgiving Day is almost here and if you haven't moved your turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator, it's time to find a new approach to getting the bird ready for the big day.
According to Butterball, a 10-pound turkey takes about 2 1/2 days to properly thaw in the refrigerator. A five-pound bird will take about a day, plus six hours to be oven-ready.
That means by Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, frozen birds will need a different plan.
The next best option is to soak your turkey in cold water, though it will be a little more complex than "set it and forget it" in a bucket. According to the USDA, fill your sink or another container and submerge the turkey in its original wrapping. The water should be cold enough to keep the turkey at a safe temperature - somewhere below 40 degrees - to avoid bacteria.
"If you thaw out your turkey improperly, say you leave it out on the countertop or some place that's not 40 degrees or below, what that does is that allows your turkey to get into a temperature zone we call the 'danger zone'... that really invites bacteria to multiply," said Wendy Mihm, Director of Food Safety Education at the USDA.
Every 30 minutes, experts say the water should be dumped or drained and replaced with more cold water.
The "cold water method" will thaw a turkey at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound, so a 16-pound turkey will take about eight hours to be ready to cook. For a more specific estimate for your particular bird, check out Butterball's calculator here.
Once it has thawed, the USDA says it's important to start cooking your turkey immediately.
Microwave that bird!
If you're really in a pinch, your microwave may even do the trick!
As long as your turkey can fit inside the microwave oven, you should be able to defrost it. The USDA says you should take off the wrapping and put the bird on a microwave-safe plate that can catch any juices. Set your microwave to "defrost," based on the weight of your turkey.
Generally speaking, the USDA says, a turkey should thaw at about six minutes per pound. That gets your 16-pound turkey ready in 96 minutes - a little over an hour-and-a-half. A ten-pound bird will be ready for the conventional oven in an hour and even the biggest of turkeys, those in the 25-pound range, provided your microwave can hold it, will be thawed in 2 1/2 hours.
Make sure as your turkey defrosts in the microwave it's being rotated several times and possibly even flipped to thaw evenly. If it starts to cook instead of thaw, the USDA recommends letting it rest for five minutes and consider covering the tips of the wings and drumsticks partway through to keep them from cooking.
Like with the cold water method, get the turkey in the oven as soon as it's thawed.
Of course, since it's already in the microwave, did you know you can cook it there, too?
If you've gone through all of these steps and still have a frozen turkey, don't despair. The USDA says partially frozen turkeys can still cook in the oven, it will just take 50 percent longer to get done. Keep a food thermometer handy and make sure the thickest parts of the turkey reach an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees before serving.