It’s always a good idea to plan ahead when you have to thaw a large cut of meat—for example, a whole turkey. The key is to avoid going overboard in your preparations.
Can you keep a thawed turkey in the fridge for a week, or is it better to cook it off sooner? Our guide will tell you what you need to know.
Thawed Turkey in Fridge for a Week
After a turkey is thawed, it will start to go downhill in terms of quality within a day or two. Don’t attempt to keep it in the fridge for another week, or you might end up having to discard the bird. When planning your timeline, allow one day of thawing for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat.
A Word About Safe Thawing Practices
Before we talk about how long a thawed turkey can stay in the fridge, let’s discuss some basic guidelines on safe thawing.
The Refrigerator Method
If you want to keep a thawed turkey in the fridge for a while, the only safe way to defrost it is to keep it in the fridge the entire time. If you use any other method, you’ll have to cook the bird off right away.
For whole turkeys, allow one day of thawing for each 4 to 5 pounds of weight. A 20-pound turkey should be fully thawed in 4 or 5 days.
Since the bird will keep for an additional day or two afterward (see section below), we prefer to err on the side of caution. Allow 5 days for a 20-pound bird and 3 days for a 10- to 12-pounder.
Set the turkey on a rimmed plate or baking sheet that’s large enough to hold the entire bird while catching any juices that might leak out of the package. Store on the bottom shelf of the fridge, toward the rear if possible.
You’ll be able to tell if the turkey is thawed by pressing a finger into the breast. A thawed turkey is soft to the touch. If it’s hard and unyielding, the meat is still frozen.
Note that it’s safe to cook a turkey that’s still frozen or partially frozen. You just need to make sure that it reaches a safe internal temperature without spending more than a couple of hours in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees.
When cooking a frozen turkey, add about 50 percent to the estimated cooking time. If your recipe suggests a 4-hour smoke, expect to wait 6 hours before the bird is done.
The Water Method
If you don’t have a lot of time, thaw the turkey in a cold water bath. Fill the sink or another large container with cold water—enough to fully submerge the bird. Keep the turkey in its original packaging, adding another layer if it isn’t watertight.
Submerge the turkey in the cold water, swapping out the water for a fresh batch every 30 minutes, until the bird is thawed. This should happen at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound. Therefore, a 12-pound turkey can be ready for the smoker in 6 hours.
Note that once you’ve thawed meat using this method, you need to cook it right away. It’s not safe to refrigerate or refreeze meat that’s been left in a cold water bath for this long, even if it remained at a safe temperature the entire time.
The Microwave Method
We try to steer clear of the microwave as a defrosting method, especially for large cuts of meat. It’s nearly impossible to ensure even thawing when dealing with a whole turkey. Some parts of the bird might cook through while others are frozen solid.
If you have no alternative, you can use the microwave to defrost your bird, but only if it’s equipped with a defrost setting. While using this setting, defrost at a rate of 6 minutes per pound. This means a 10-pound turkey can be defrosted in just 1 hour.
Be sure to use a microwave-safe container and rotate the bird after every 6-minute interval. You should flip the turkey over about halfway through the process. This will help the bird thaw more evenly.
As soon as the turkey is defrosted, season and cook it right away.
Can You Thaw a Turkey on the Counter?
Never attempt to thaw meat at room temperature, whether it’s a small steak or a whole turkey.
If you leave the meat out at room temperature for longer than a couple of hours, it will invite dangerous bacteria to set up camp. These bacteria leave behind toxins that could lead to food poisoning.
It’s better to cook meat from a frozen state than to leave it out on the counter to thaw. If you’re in a hurry, opt for a cold water bath, or put it on the smoker before it’s had a chance to fully defrost.
Can You Keep Thawed Turkey in Fridge for a Week?
This is an interesting question because the answer depends on your starting point.
If you’re asking whether a turkey can thaw in the fridge for a week, the answer is yes. In fact, larger birds might need to spend more than a week at refrigerator temperature before they’re thawed to your liking.
However, once the turkey is fully defrosted, you only have a few days before the meat starts to deteriorate. Some say you can keep the bird in the fridge for up to 4 days before cooking it, but we wouldn’t recommend waiting that long.
To ensure that the turkey remains at its peak freshness, cook the bird no more than 1 to 2 days after it’s had a chance to thaw completely. If you try to keep it in the fridge for another week, you’ll run the risk of spoilage.
How Long Before a Thawed Turkey Goes Bad?
On the third or fourth day, the thawed turkey will begin its decline. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the meat won’t be safe to eat, but it won’t retain its best qualities after this point.
If you don’t think you’ll get a chance to cook off the turkey within a reasonable time frame, it’s safe to refreeze it instead. Meat that’s been defrosted and refrozen will lose a bit of moisture, but that’s preferable to throwing the whole turkey away.
Most of the time, you can tell if a turkey has gone bad by smelling it. Fresh poultry doesn’t have a strong odor, but when it spoils, it gives off an odor reminiscent of rotten eggs.
Spoiled turkey may also feel overly sticky or slimy beneath your fingers. When there’s a filmy residue on the surface, that’s a sure sign that the bird has spent too long in the refrigerator.
Discolored flesh is another red flag, so to speak. The raw turkey should be peach to pale pink. Any grayish, green, or moldy patches indicate spoilage.
How Long Can You Store Turkey In The Freezer?
When stored at freezer temperatures—that is, at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit—meat products can keep indefinitely. The freezing process stops the growth of bacteria, so you don’t have to worry about the meat going bad while it’s in there.
That said, it’s not a good idea to keep meat in the freezer for too long. Prolonged exposure to low temperatures will cause the meat to lose moisture, so it will be drier and less appetizing once it’s finally cooked off.
For optimum results, whole turkeys should be thawed and cooked within 1 year of being stored in the freezer. Bone-in turkey breasts and other smaller cuts should spend even less time in the freezer—6 months at the most.
The Bottom Line
Although you should be able to keep a whole turkey in the fridge for at least one week after pulling it from the freezer, once the meat is defrosted, it’s a good idea to cook it within a day or two. Fortunately, most birds are large enough to allow you plenty of time to plan ahead.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!