Anyone who’s ever purchased a frozen turkey knows the importance of planning ahead. You want to give yourself plenty of time when removing the bird from the freezer. But is there such a thing as pulling it too early? How long can a thawed turkey stay in the fridge before the meat begins to turn?
How Long Can a Thawed Turkey Stay in the Fridge?
A fully thawed turkey will keep safely in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. Plan to cook it off within this time frame. If your plans change, you can refreeze the bird, as long as it’s been thawed in the fridge. Just be sure to put it back in the freezer before those 2 days are up.
How Long Can You Store a Turkey in the Freezer?
In theory, frozen turkey will keep indefinitely. In practice, it’s a good idea to thaw and cook the bird within a year. If you wait any longer, the meat will still be fine, but the quality might start to deteriorate. You also may have to deal with a thick layer of ice on the packaging, which can lead to a messy fridge during the thawing period.
How Long Does It Take To Thaw a Turkey?
When thawing a turkey, keep it in the refrigerator in its original packaging. For the most consistent results, leave it undisturbed on a lower shelf. Set it on a tray with sides high enough to catch any juices that might leak out.
Try to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 pounds. For example, plan on thawing a 12-pound turkey for 3 days. A 15- to 16-pound turkey would take around 4 days, whereas a 24-pounder might need 6 days in the fridge before it’s fully thawed.
How Long Can a Thawed Turkey Stay in the Fridge?
Once the meat has fully thawed, you should cook off the turkey within 2 days. Keep this in mind when making a turkey dinner, and try to plan as far ahead as possible.
Of course, there’s no need to eat it right away. If you’re running out of time, you can always cook the turkey and save the meat for sandwiches. Cooked turkey meat also makes a superb base for savory soups, stews, and pot pies.
Can You Refreeze a Thawed Turkey?
It depends on the thawing method. If you thawed the turkey in the fridge, keeping it at the proper temperature, then it’s safe to refreeze it without cooking it first.
On the other hand, any meat that’s been thawed using either the cold-water method or the microwave (see Other Methods for Thawing, below) needs to be cooked off right away. Don’t attempt to refreeze the turkey unless it was thawed in the refrigerator over the prescribed length of time.
Will Fresh Turkey Keep Longer in the Fridge?
Unfortunately, no. A fresh turkey will only keep for 1 to 2 days in the fridge as well. While you might appreciate the other benefits of buying fresh, you won’t be buying yourself any time by replacing your thawed turkey with a fresh one.
Also, note that if you are in the market for fresh turkey, you should steer clear of the pre-stuffed ones. These are potential breeding grounds for the type of bacteria that causes food poisoning.
Other Methods for Thawing
For optimum results, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator using the protocol we suggested earlier. If you don’t have time for that, consider using the cold water method instead.
When thawing a whole turkey in cold water, make sure the packaging is wrapped securely. No water should be permitted to touch the surface of the meat. If necessary, swaddle the turkey in a few extra layers of plastic wrap before you submerge it.
Allow the turkey to remain in the cold water bath for about 30 minutes per pound. You should swap out the water every 30 minutes to ensure that the water stays cold. If it gets too warm, the bird might cross the threshold into the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees, which could make it unsafe to eat.
For similar reasons, you should never thaw a turkey at room temperature, nor should you be tempted to use hot water instead. Doing so would raise the meat’s temperature to dangerous levels, and spoiled meat is the last thing you want to deal with, especially when you’re trying to save time.
Again, turkey that’s been thawed in cold water should be cooked off immediately. Don’t leave it in the refrigerator or attempt to freeze it again after it’s fully thawed.
As a last resort, you can use the microwave oven to thaw the turkey. We don’t recommend this method for large cuts, as it’s too difficult for the meat to thaw evenly. However, if you have no other choice and your microwave is big enough, be sure to follow the correct procedure.
First, take a look at the owner’s manual for the recommended power settings and time frames for whole poultry. When you’ve found the settings, unwrap the turkey and place it in a microwave-safe dish. The sides of the dish should be high enough to catch any drippings.
Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for thawing, using the lowest possible setting and checking the bird often for hot spots. Once the turkey is thoroughly defrosted, cook it off immediately.
Other Tips for Safe Food Handling
- Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling raw poultry.
- Immediately wash all utensils and plates that have come in contact with the raw turkey.
- Make sure to use separate plates for raw and cooked turkey. Ditto for any tongs, serving forks, or other utensils.
- Cook the turkey to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Disinfect the sink, countertops, refrigerator shelves, and any other areas that have come in contact with raw poultry during preparation.
Try to have your turkey fully thawed within 48 hours of your projected start time. Since most turkeys are on the larger side, you should have a broad time frame with which to work. If the bird isn’t quite ready yet on the day you plan to cook it, you can always finish the job using a cold water bath.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!