USDA Recommendations for thawing a Turkey

Discussion in 'Food Safety' started by scarbelly, Nov 21, 2011.

  1. scarbelly

    scarbelly Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    With Turkey Day right around the corner, I thought I would share the USDA guidelines for thawing  a Turkey. I copied this right off their website

    Refrigerator Thawing
    When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:
    • Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
    • Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.

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    Refrigerator Thawing Times
    Whole turkey:
    •  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

    A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.

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    Cold Water Thawing
    Allow about 30 minutes per pound.

    First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

    Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

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    Cold Water Thawing Times
    •  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

    A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.
  2. kielbasa kid

    kielbasa kid Smoke Blower

    Let me put this out there: regarding "Turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately".

    O.k., so it is now thawed BUT it is brined for an additional 2 days...

    .then drained and patted dry but the brine is NOT rinsed off....

    .then allowed to sit in the refrigerator for an additional 2 days in order to dry.....

    then rinsed completely on cold water....


    a rub applied for another 12+ hours in the refrigerator

    Then smoked with a liquid pan at 325 degrees.

    How does this stack-up?  It's made-up of gathered forum wisdoms.

    Jimmy J, et al; come in on this please or we may be going OUT for Thursday's dinner.

  3. eman

    eman Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    Thaw the turkey, go to brine for 24 hrs , season,  back in fridge  12 - 24 hrs, smoke. don't know anything about all the rinsing and drying. sounds like doing laundry to me???
  4. smokinal

    smokinal Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks Scar for reminding us to be safe!
  5. kielbasa kid

    kielbasa kid Smoke Blower

    "rinse", gets the residue off (especially salt) so it doesn't unduly effect the spices in the rub.

    "dry", gets the water/liquid off, so the oil that is applied with and before the rub, can penetrate. Otherwise, oil rises above water.

    Many spices are NOT water soluable and need oil to desolve them for penetration.

    Spin drying on delicate cycle doesn't pull the drum sticks and wings off. Kapish?[​IMG]

  6. scarbelly

    scarbelly Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    I agree - not sure where you are getting all of the extra steps from. I have never seen those  instructions with any brine recipe
  7. jckdanls 07

    jckdanls 07 Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member

    Thanks Scar... was just getting ready to post that question..
  8. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    USDA Guidelines like these are available, on line, for the Average cook, may very well have No Idea what they are doing....We at the SMF follow and post guidelines because we simply don't know whom is reading our posts...That being Stated...Many techniques have been developed to enhance the, Flavor, Moisture and Tenderness of Poultry...Many of these techniques in and of themselves have Antibacterial Properties or Retard Bacterial Growth...When proper safety measures are combined with any one or more of these techniques, the Suggested TIME Thawed before Cooking Guidelines can be Safely expanded to accommodate the Enhancing Techniques...Example: Guideline states Turkey thawed by cold water method should be cooked immediately...we now add a brine containing sufficient levels of Salt, Sugar and/or Acid to retard or eliminate  bacterial growth for an additional 2 days...SAFE...The bird is removed from the brine, containing similar or reduced levels of Bacteria, patted dry and place under Refrigeration for an additional 2 days at Temperatures that Retard Bacterial Growth...SAFE...The Bird is now removed from refrigeration and Washed, Removing significant quantities of Bacteria that may have multiplied in the last 48 hours... SAFE... A Rub containing any number of Desiccating Ingredients, which include Salt, Sugar (with proven Antibacterial Qualities) and an assortment of Dry Herbs and Spices, are applied to the Bird and placed Back under Refrigeration for 12-24 Hours...SAFE...The Bird is now placed in an Oven or Smoker at the ABOVE Stated 325*F which has been established through testing not only gets the outer 1/2 inch of Exterior and Cavity (unstuffed) meat above 135*F in 30 minutes, which reduces any residual Bacteria by 99%...Can take the entire Muscle Mass of Birds up to 20Lbs to 165*F, causing complete Active Bacteria Destruction...SAFE!   Note: The 325*F is from the example above...Safe cooking of Poultry happens at 225*F and up...JJ

    Thaw properly, Brine under refrigeration with Salt, 1/2 to 1Cup per Gallon of Water, Allow to Dry under Refrigeration to Enhance Pellicle Formation and Support the formation of Crispy Skin during roasting, Apply Rub with or without Fat and refrigerate...Roast or Smoke at sufficient temperatures to get the Turkey IT above 135*F in 4 Hours or less, Roast to 165*F IT in the Breast and 175*F IT in the thickest part of the Thigh and ENJOY YOUR TURKEY.....Watch for little BONES they AREN"T SAFE!!!!...JJ
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  9. kielbasa kid

    kielbasa kid Smoke Blower

    What's not to understand?  It's exactly what our educated professional Chef Jimmy wrote to follow and why it's done.[​IMG]   I'm not a "chef"; I'm only an analytical chemist.[​IMG]

    Thanx Jimbo[​IMG]
  10. eman

    eman Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator OTBS Member

    From what you are saying here MES digital users need to ignore your post as their smokers can't get close to 325 degrees.? Mes says 275 max and i have not seen one yet that will hit that temp.,

     And didn't you post that there are botulism bacteria that can't be destroyed by heat?

     not trying to start problems ,It's just that the method you post only covers smokers that will reach and maintain 325 degrees.

    and some folks may not realize that they can not reach those temps.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  11. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Last edited: Nov 21, 2011
  12. venture

    venture Smoking Guru OTBS Member

    A rib roast is sounding better all the time?

    Good luck and good smoking.
  13. kielbasa kid

    kielbasa kid Smoke Blower

    My MES analog 30 hits higher than 325 degrees.[​IMG]

    I understand the MES analog comes/came with differing coils. Mine is 1500 watt and I sealed the door with a fiberglass rope gasket. The well contained steam within, raises the temp too.

    Jimmy and I discussed this before. I can fast-track ribs @225 in less than 2.5 hrs., by using an overnight marinade I developed and the locked-in vapor from the liquid pan. Tender, moist, smoke ringed and fat free ribs.

    Digital may have marketing features and curb appeal that some are attracted to; like a window. How can one see through smoke and why would one want too?[​IMG]

    The MES analog 30 delivers what I need. Smoking @325 with ease.

    Also, I have a super smoke shed/house for protection from the elements. It all adds up. 

    Buy a low-tech 1500 watt analog. No fire to tend, no LP to replace, no fruit salad add-ons to go on the blink, no charcoal to mess with.

  14. jirodriguez

    jirodriguez Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I guess I'm lazy... lol. I thaw, brine, rinse, pat dry with paper towels, rub with butter and seasonings and toss in the smoker - to lazy to do the fridge drying/pelical step.... lol.

    Thanks for all the breakdowns and safety reminders! Definately don't want to hear of anybody spending Turkey day getting their stomach pumped! [​IMG]
  15. xray

    xray Smoking Fanatic

    Bumping this thread and I would like some opinions, please.

    I have a 12lb turkey that I plan on smoking this Saturday.

    I pulled the bird out of the deep freezer on Sunday and have thawing in the fridge. I'm planning to brine overnight on Friday...and then into the smoker on this too long of a time for the bird to be thawed???

    The chart on the packaging stated 3-4 days to thaw for a 12lb. Turkey. My reasoning to pull the bird that early is because my freezer makes everything a solid block of ice, I have to thaw ice cream before I am able to scoop it!!
  16. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Smoking Guru Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member

    Xray, Put it in the brine on Wed night, it should be thawed or real close. Soak 24 hours then Thurs night, pull and pat dry. Set the bird on a rack in a roasting pan and refer uncovered until smoke time on Saturday. Basically you are getting a 24 hour Brine time and 24 hours of Drying Time. This will still be a juicy bird but the Skin will be a much better quality color wise and will get crispier if you like that sort of thing...JJ

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