For the Birds – A Simple Formula for Thawing a Thanksgiving Turkey
Ahhh, Thanksgiving. A day for gathering with friends and family by sharing a big meal and taking time to be thankful for what we have. It's a day so many of us love either because we enjoy being around our friends and family, or because of the big meal. Despite the fact some believe the pilgrims didn't feature turkey as the main dish of the first Thanksgiving, the fat, juicy bird has become the centerpiece of the traditional Thanksgiving meal since Abraham Lincoln made the fourth Thursday of every November Thanksgiving Day in 1863. According to Mental Floss, turkey became the protein of choice because it was unique to North America during colonial times and often large enough to feed big groups of people.
Unlike our colonial ancestors, most of us don't hunt down our Thanksgiving turkey in the woods. We go to the grocery store a week or so before Thanksgiving and buy one that has been pre-prepared, packaged, and frozen for us. Saving us the hassle of removing all the feathers and the bullet it was killed with. What we have to concern ourselves with is how long will it take to get it out of its frozen state. Fortunately, a little simple math helps us solve that problem.
For the record, math and I don't typically get along. That's why I chose radio as a career. I only needed one college math course to get my Communications degree, but even then I had to take it twice after failing it my first go-around. Thankfully, this "formula" for figuring out how far in advance of Thanksgiving you need to start thawing your bird doesn't require finding the square root of "x" or knowing the Pythagorean Theorem. You don't need to know how to find the circumference of a circle or calculate the volume of your turkey. All you need to know is how much your bird weighs which is conveniently told to you on the label. Once you have that bit of info, simply plug it into this formula provided by Butterball:
Weight of turkey divided by 4 x 24 hours = how long it will take to fully thaw
According to Butterball, it takes about 24 hours to thaw four pounds of bird. So, if you aren't feeding many people and have a four to six-pound turkey, it should take roughly a day and a half to fully thaw meaning you should move it from the freezer to the fridge Tuesday evening.
Let's say you have a larger bird. We'll keep it easy and say it's 20 pounds. 20 divided by 4 is 5 meaning it will take five days to fully thaw in the fridge, so you need to get it in there by early Saturday.
A Quicker Method
Butterball says you should never thaw a turkey at room temperature. Like with any raw meat, it's filled with bacteria (that you kill when cooking it) which could get in the air or on the countertop. What you could do instead is thaw it in cold water. This will require a container not only large enough to hold your bird, but also have enough room where you can completely cover it in cold water (like a cooler, for example).
According to their calculations, this method thaws turkeys at a rate of one pound every 30 minutes, meaning that 20-pound bird would be where you need it to be in about 10 hours.
However, there is a catch. The water needs to be changed every 30 minutes. Unless you put someone else in charge of it, I imagine you don't have time to change turkey bath water every half an hour while you're trying to get everything else prepared for the meal.
An Even Quicker Method
If any type of math makes your head hurt, Butterball offers a convenient calculator on their website. Just punch in the weight of your turkey, then select "Refrigerator" or "Cold Water Thawing" to find out exactly how long it will take to get that bird ready for the oven or smoker.
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