How to defrost a turkey and check it's ready to cook

The big day and the all-important Christmas dinner are almost upon us.

Preparing the traditional turkey is a high stakes endeavour, what with the fact that it’s the focal point of a meal we’ve all been looking forward to for weeks.

On top of that, turkey is a bird that can make people very sick if it’s not prepared safely, so it deserves your utmost attention.

If your turkey is frozen, the process of thawing it needs to be a careful one.

Here’s what you need to know about how to thaw that bird and keep everybody happy and healthy for Christmas.

How to thaw a turkey

The safest and simplest way to defrost the bird is in the fridge, where the temperature is easily controlled.

All you need to do is put the bird in a bowl or container large enough to collect the juices as it thaws.

Be careful not to get the juices on any surfaces – whatever the juices and raw meat touch will need to be washed thoroughly to get rid of bacteria. This includes hands and clothes.

If you can set the temperature of your fridge, 4°C is a good temperature to thaw the bird and keep it safe.

How to check when a turkey is defrosted

You can test whether your turkey is totally defrosted by putting your hand inside the cavity to see if it still feels frozen.

If it’s thawed, the breast meat should feel soft.

If you’ve got a probe thermometer, stick that into the thickest part of the bird’s breast and check that it reads above 1°C – anything below that and it’s still frozen.

How long does it take to defrost a turkey?

If your turkey doesn’t come with thawing instructions on the packaging, then a good rule of thumb is that it takes 12 hours per one kg.

So, for example, if your turkey is two and a half kg, then it will likely take around 36 hours to thaw.

This is if a fridge is at 4°C – but it’s important to know that not all of them will be set to this temperature, so be sure to double check and adjust accordingly.

Turkey safety tips:

  • Bacteria found on raw turkey and its juices can cause sickness – so when you handle raw turkey, wash your hands well in hot, soapy water before touching anything else.
  • Make sure raw turkey juices don’t come into contact with anything cooked in the fridge.
  • Ensure any surfaces, boards, containers or cloths that have touched raw turkey, or its juices, are washed well before using again.
  • Make sure the packaging on the turkey is intact when you buy it – any rips or tears will mean there’s more chance of the turkey being exposed to other foods and surfaces as it defrosts.

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