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What to do if you forgot to thaw your turkey

Posted at 9:18 PM, Nov 21, 2019

Did you forget to thaw your turkey for Thanksgiving? Depending on how large your turkey is, you may have needed to thaw your turkey days ago.

If you forgot to thaw, or did so too late, do not worry. Here are some helpful tips from the USDA for thawing a turkey.

According to the USDA, after placing the turkey in a water-tight bag, submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Then, change the water every 30 minutes until thawed.

Here is how long it takes to thaw a turkey using water.:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

Once a turkey is thawed, the USDA says that a turkey must be cooked within one to two days before becoming contaminated.
Perhaps you'll be enjoying your turkey later in the weekend.

Here is a general rule of thumb on when to move your turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator, according to the USDA:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

Here are some other tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for preparing a turkey:

  • Safely Handle Your Turkey

Although turkey is a popular entree this time of year, it is also easy to improperly cook a turkey. And while it would be easy to leave a turkey in the oven for a long period of time, it could also cause a turkey to dry out and lose flavor.

Bacteria from raw poultry can contaminate anything that it touches. Follow the four steps to food safety – cook, clean, chill and separate – to prevent the spread of bacteria to your food and family.

  • Safely Stuff Your Turkey

Cook stuffing in a casserole dish to make sure it is thoroughly cooked. If you stuff the turkey, do so just before cooking. Use a food thermometer to make sure the stuffing's center reaches 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F and possibly cause food poisoning. If the stuffing is inside a whole turkey, take the bird out of the oven and let it stand 20 minutes before removing the stuffing.

  • Safely Cook Your Turkey

Set the oven temperature to at least 325°F. Place the completely thawed turkey with the breast side up in a roasting pan that is 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Cooking times will vary depending on the weight of the turkey. To make sure the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F, check by inserting a food thermometer into the center of the stuffing and the thickest portions of the breast, thigh, and wing joint.

Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. Learn more about safe minimum cooking temperatures and how to use and calibrate a food thermometer for turkey and other foods.

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook .