How to Tell if a Turkey Is Thawed? (3 Methods to Identify)

Iva Carter
Published by Iva Carter
Last Updated On: May 6, 2024

As an award-winning pitmaster, I've spent many years perfecting my turkey cooking skills.

I have learned that thawing a turkey may seem trivial, but it can make a huge difference between a juicy and succulent meal plated on time or a disaster served late.

Here, I will share my expert insights and techniques on telling if your turkey is thawed and ways to defrost a turkey safely and efficiently.

Quick Summary

  • Touch, movement, and temperature are all ways to determine if a turkey is fully defrosted.
  • Three safe thawing methods include the fridge, cold water bath, and microwave.
  • You can cook a turkey that is not entirely thawed; it just will take longer.

3 Ways to Tell If a Turkey Is Thawed

A frozen turkey should be thawed completely before putting it in the oven, smoker, or deep fryer to ensure it cooks evenly and thoroughly.

Here’s what you need to do.

1. Touch

A person checks the turkey to see if it is thawed by touching it

One way to tell if a turkey is thawed is by touch. When a turkey is still frozen, it will feel stiff and solid to the touch. As it defrosts, it will start to feel softer and more pliable.

To test if your bird is completely thawed, gently press on the turkey's breast and thigh.

The turkey is likely to be thawed if they feel soft and give a little when you press on them.

You also can feel inside the body cavity and see if there are still ice crystals.

2. Movement

Another way to tell if a turkey is thawed is by movement. A frozen bird will be stiff and immobile but become more flexible as it defrosts.

Try moving the wings and legs to test if your bird is thawed enough. If they move easily and without resistance, the turkey is likely ready to start the cooking process.

3. Temperature

A chef checks the temperature to see if a turkey is thawed

The most accurate way to tell if a turkey is completely thawed is by using a meat thermometer.

Insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey's thigh and breast without touching the bone. If the temperature reads 33°F or higher, the turkey is fully thawed and ready to cook.

It is important to note that if you use an internal thermometer to check the temp of a turkey that has been defrosted in the microwave or fridge, you should check it in several places to ensure it has thawed evenly.

"All frozen, stuffed, raw poultry products should be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F."
- U.S. Department of Agriculture

3 Ways To Thaw a Turkey

Thawing turkey inside the fridge

Refrigerator, cold water, and microwave are the three easiest methods to thaw a turkey.

1. Refrigerator

Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator requires the least amount of effort, but it does take the longest amount of time.

Plan ahead and allow enough time for the turkey to defrost in the fridge, as it can take several days.

Here’s how:

  1. Keep the turkey in its original packaging and place it on a tray in the fridge to catch any juices.
  2. Place the pan on a bottom shelf so it does not drip onto other foods.
  3. Allow 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. For example, a 20-pound turkey will take approximately 4-5 days to thaw in the fridge.

Once you have a thawed turkey, it can be kept in the fridge for 1-2 days before preparation.

2. Cold Water Bath

The cold water method is faster than the refrigerator method but requires more attention and effort.

This method is best for those who need to defrost a turkey quickly but do not want to risk the microwave partially cooking the bird.

  1. Fill a large container, cooler, or sink with enough cold water to cover the whole turkey. Remove the original packaging and submerge the turkey breast.
  2. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure that it stays at a safe temperature. This will help to prevent bacteria from growing in warm water during the defrosting process.
  3. Allow 1 hour of defrosting time for every 2 pounds of turkey weight. For example, using cold water, a 20-pound turkey will take approximately 10 hours to defrost.

This method works best if the turkey is only partially frozen and not fully frozen. It also only works if the bird fits in your sink or cooler.

3. Microwave

A woman using a microwave to thaw turkey

The microwave method is the fastest way to defrost smaller turkeys from the freezer, but it should be the last resort as it may begin to cook your bird.

  1. Remove the turkey from the freezer and its packaging and place it in a microwave-safe dish.
  2. Use the defrost function on your microwave’s controls to defrost the turkey. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for your specific unit. It can take anywhere from minutes to a few hours to safely defrost the bird.
  3. Use a meat thermometer to check the turkey's temperature in several places to ensure it defrosts evenly.
  4. Cook the thawed turkey immediately after it is defrosted, as it may have started to cook during the defrosting process.

3 Tips in Cooking a Frozen Turkey

Frozen turkey being cooked in an oven

You can cook a frozen turkey in the oven, but it is not recommended. It can be challenging to ensure that the entire bird is cooked evenly, and it can also be dangerous if the meat is not cooked to the proper temperature.

If you must cook a fully or partially frozen turkey in the oven, here are some tips:

  • Start cooking earlier and allow extra cooking time. Frozen meat will have an approximately 50% longer cooking time than a thawed turkey [1].
  • Use a probe thermometer to check the turkey's wing, thigh, and breast temperature. The cooked meat should still reach the same temperature as any other turkey - 165°F.
  • Do not stuff the turkey if it is frozen solid. The stuffing may not cook properly, and it can also contribute to uneven cooking.

Related Articles:

5 Turkey Tips For Safe Thawing

A close up shot of raw turkey meat together with different ingredients

It is vital to thaw a turkey properly to avoid the risk of bacteria growth.

  1. Always thaw a turkey in the fridge if possible. Plan well to make sure you have enough time to defrost completely.
  2. If you must use the cold water method, use enough water to fully submerge the bird. Wash the sink or container thoroughly when done.
  3. Do not defrost the turkey on the counter or in hot water. Though it would speed things up, pathogens can quickly multiply in temperatures between 40°F and 140°F [2].
  4. Do not refreeze the turkey if you have thawed it using the cold water method or the microwave. Cook it immediately.
  5. Always wash your hands and surfaces that come into contact with raw turkey to avoid cross-contamination.

Also Read: How to Defrost Hamburger Meat

FAQs

Is Turkey Thawed if It Floats?

No, turkey is not thawed if it floats. Most frozen turkeys float, and you need to place some weight on them to keep them submerged when using a water bath.

What if My Turkey Is Not Thawing in the Fridge?

If your turkey is not thawing in the fridge, it could be due to several factors, such as a malfunctioning fridge, a large turkey, or improper placement of the turkey. If your turkey is still frozen, I recommend thawing it using the cold water bath or microwave method.

Will a Frozen Turkey Contain Bacteria if You Thaw It Completely?

If you thaw a frozen turkey completely, it can still contain bacteria. However, since they never got warm enough to reproduce efficiently, they are unlikely to cause illness. That said, do not let raw turkey meat touch other food; otherwise, those pathogens may transfer.


References:

  1. https://ask.usda.gov/s/article/Can-you-cook-meat-or-poultry-from-the-frozen-state
  2. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/danger-zone-40f-140f
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About the author

Iva Carter
Associate Editor
Iva Carter is a FBP certified foodie and influencer who loves to share delicious yet quick dinner recipes. When she's not in the kitchen concocting meaty delights, you'll find her playing with her dog, Sylvie.
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