How to defrost a turkey or crown: how long it takes and methods explained - from fridge to microwave and water

Defrosting in the fridge is the safest, most hygienic method

Published 22nd Dec 2020
Updated 22 nd Dec 2020

This year, you may be cooking for a smaller crowd, or it might be your first time prepping Christmas lunch.

Preparation is key in all aspects of Christmas, and the highly anticipated dinner may be the crowning glory of December 25.

Defrosting the bird is a crucial part of preparations, as doing it wrongly could result in you being scored off your guests’ Christmas card list next year.

Here is everything you need to know about defrosting your turkey before you roast the bird.

Why is it so important to defrost your turkey properly?

Turkey is poultry, and just like chicken it carries a risk of salmonella food poisoning if you do not defrost it completely and cook it thoroughly.

If you only partially defrost the bird, you could leave yourself and your guests ill, as the correct temperature to kill off bacteria will not be reached at the centre of the meat if it is still frozen when you roast it.

While defrosting your turkey, ensure it is not touching any other food as the juices could run onto them. Also ensure you wipe down any surfaces which your raw turkey touches.

Turkeys and turkey crowns do not tend to vary in the time it takes to defrost them, as the breast is often the thickest part of the bird so requires the longest time.

How to defrost a turkey in the fridge

Defrosting in the fridge is the safest way as there is a controlled temperature and you can leave it until it is completely thawed.

Do not remove any packaging as there is no need to and this will keep the raw meat and juices from spreading bacteria onto other food.

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As a good rule, 24 hours should be given to each 2kg of full turkey, therefore if your turkey is 6 kilos, allow three full days to defrost.

How to defrost a turkey at room temperature

It’s tempting to opt for this method as it means there is less room taken up in the fridge and a room is warmer than the fridge. However, this method is not quite as safe as the controlled fridge temperature.

Most people using this method will opt to defrost their bird in the kitchen, but this can be particularly ill advised as kitchen temperatures vary and the heat of your home can create the perfect breeding conditions for bacteria.

However, if this is your only option then be sure to check your turkey regularly as it will need to be cooked as soon as it is defrosted.

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Ensure you store it in a baking tray or tin out the way of direct heat, such as ovens and kettles.

Allow 24 hours or slightly longer for an average 6kg bird,but check it throughout the defrosting process.

How to defrost a turkey in the microwave

While this is the quickest method and temperature can be kept consistent, you first need to ensure your turkey fits in the microwave.

Remove all packaging and giblets, especially any metal hooks which may have been holding the bag or rope around your bird.

Place your turkey in the microwave breast side up, on a heatproof plate or in a dish.

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Heat on the defrost setting for 30 minutes, followed by shorter five minute bursts until your bird has thawed completely - this could take around an hour.

Be sure to clean your entire microwave at the end and roast the turkey right away.

How to defrost a turkey in cold water

This method is easy in theory, but does require some supervision and changing water.

Make sure the turkey’s packaging is not torn and the turkey is fully sealed before carrying out this method.

Submerge the turkey entirely in cold water, either in your kitchen sink or a basin.

Check the temperature every hour, ensuring that it remains cold to touch.

If the water gets warmer you will need to change it as you want to maintain the same temperature throughout.

This method should take approximately 1 hour per 1kg of turkey.

If the turkey packaging tears at any point, continue to defrost the turkey in this way but be sure to clean down the sink and surrounding area afterwards as everything the water touches will now be contaminated by the juices.

How do I know if the turkey is fully defrosted?

The safest way is to insert a thermometer probe into the thickest part of the turkey leg or breast, if the gauge reads anything below 1C then the bird is not defrosted..

Remove the giblets from the cavity inside the bird and touch the breast bone - it should not feel frozen.

The meat should also be soft and leave a small imprint when you first touch it. If not then the meat is not fully thawed.

The legs and wings should also move relatively freely.

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