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How Long to Defrost a Turkey

Asked by Migavie. Answered on 20th December 2012

Full question

For the last few years I have cooked Nigella's Christmas turkey soaked in brine recipe from the Christmas book with great success. Last year, just after Christmas, I bought a (vastly reduced in price) Norfolk Black free range turkey and froze it. It weighs 6kg. I have not got round to using it and wonder if you think it would have enough flavour to use this Christmas? Also how long would I need to defrost it for prior to soaking? Thanks!

I'd like to use a frozen turkey for the Nigella's Spiced and Superjuicy Roast Turkey. Do I have to defrost the turkey fully before soaking it in the brine or could it defrost slowly whilst marinating? Thanks, Nicky.

Our answer

Theoretically a turkey that has been frozen for a year should be safe to eat, the USDA suggests that a whole frozen turkey can be kept for up to 12 months. The issue is really one of quality. Freezer burn can occur when the food becomes exposed to the cold air of the freezer and dehydrates in the dry environment of the freezer. It can make the food look discoloured and the food can be dry and slightly unpalatable, though freezer burn does not make the food unsafe to eat.

If your turkey has been tightly wrapped (preferably vacuum packed) then it should not have been exposed and should be fine, particularly after brining. If there are spots of freezer burn then it is likely that these are on the surface only, due to the size of the bird, and again you may like to use the turkey. It is very much up to you to decide if you are happy to slightly compromise on quality if there are signs of freezer burn.

For thawing times, the UK's NHS suggests allowing the turkey to thaw in a fridge (at 4c/39F) for 10 to 12 hours per kilogram (6 to 6 1/2 hours per pound). If at cool room temperature (below 17.5c/64F) than allow 3 to 4 hours per kilogram (2 to 2 1/2 hours per pound), though the time may be longer if the room is particularly cold and make sure you refrigerate the turkey as soon as it has thawed. Always check that the turkey is fully thawed before brining or cooking.

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