Knowing how to defrost turkey properly is a must in the run up to Christmas – both so that it's as tasty as can be, but also safe to eat. You've probably heard horror stories about turkeys that never cooked through in the middle because they weren't defrosted properly; fortunately, this particular fiasco is easily avoidable. Follow our guidelines to thaw your turkey safely in our simple step-by-step guide.
For more recipes ideas and food know how, see our dedicated page, and browse our Christmas dinner ideas for more festive inspiration.
1. Defrost a turkey in the fridge
This is the ideal because it's certainly the safest way to defrost a turkey. Ensure the fridge temperature is lower than 4ºC, keep the turkey in its packaging, put it in a deep tray to catch any drips, and allow between eight to 12 hours per kilogram.
Once it's defrosted it will keep safely in the fridge for up to two days – so it's better to start defrosting a little early rather than too late.
2. Defrost a turkey in a cool room
If there's absolutely no room to defrost your turkey in a fridge, the next best option is in a cool room (by which we mean below 15ºC). This might be a cool utility, an outhouse or perhaps even a shed; if so, make sure the space isn't accessible to local foxes/the cat/the dog. Allow three to four hours per kilogram to defrost; again, keep it in its packaging and on a tray (or even in a bucket).
3. Defrost a turkey at room temperature
You know what? We wouldn't. You're compromising food safety by doing so. But if it's absolutely your only option, allow no more than two hours per kilogram, keeping it on a tray and in its packaging while it thaws. Once it's thawed it needs to go straight in the oven or into the fridge.
4. How to tell if your turkey has defrosted
There will be no sign of ice on or inside the turkey and you'll be able to wobble its legs and wings if it's thawed properly.
5. What to do once your turkey has defrosted
Remove all its packaging, plus the giblets, which can be stored in the fridge for making stock. Place the turkey back on its deep tray, wash your hands thoroughly and cover it. Put it back into the fridge, ideally in the lower half, and check fridge temperature is no higher than 4ºC.
6. Can frozen turkey be refrozen?
Not unless it's cooked (see below). Once you've defrosted raw turkey, it cannot be refrozen.
7. Can cooked turkey be frozen?
You can keep your leftover turkey in the fridge for up to four days, but if you want to freeze it, first remove the meat from the bone, then put it into a freezer-proof container, pour over some stock or gravy, put on a lid and freeze. Using the stock/gravy in the container will help the meat stay moist while frozen.
To defrost cooked turkey, keep it in its container and place it in the fridge until it's entirely thawed. It can then be reheated thoroughly, but do not refreeze.
8. How to defrost turkey in the microwave
This method is a little finicky, but if you've got no other option and not much time left before the turkey needs to be cooked, then you can defrost your turkey in the microwave – provided it fits, of course.
First, remove all packaging and the giblets. Then, place the turkey onto a microwave-safe tray and heat on the defrost setting for half an hour. After that, you'll need to keep defrosting in five-minute increments until the turkey has completely defrosted in the middle – just be careful not to overdo it, or you'll start cooking your turkey.