What do a refrigerator, cold water and a microwave oven have in common?

They are three safe ways to thaw food, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website.

The site suggests putting the Thanksgiving Day turkey in the freezer as soon as possible after purchasing it. And to thaw it, well, that takes a little planning to make sure the bird doesn’t reach the “Danger Zone” — the temperature where food-borne bacteria can quickly multiply. That “zone” is between 40 and 140 degrees F.

To escape from the Danger Zone, follow these directions from the FSIS.

Refrigerator thawing

For every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey, allow approximately 24 hours in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees F. or below. And be sure to place the turkey in a pan that can catch the juices so they don’t drip on any other food.

A thawed turkey can sit in the fridge for up to two days before it must be cooked. The site says “foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking, but there may be some loss of quality.” I prefer not to re-freeze previously frozen meats.

  • 4-12 pounds: 1-3 days
  • 12-16 pounds: 3-4 days
  • 16-20 pounds: 4-5 days
  • 20-24 pounds: 5-6 days

Cold water thawing

For each pound a turkey weighs, allow 30 minutes for thawing. To prevent any cross-contamination and to stop the turkey from absorbing water, the bird should be in a leak-proof plastic bag.

Place the turkey in enough cold tap water to totally cover it. Change the water every half-hour until the turkey is thawed. The turkey must be cooked right away after it is thawed.

  • 4-12 pounds: 2-6 hours
  • 12-16 pounds: 6-8 hours
  • 16-20 pounds: 8-10 hours
  • 20-24 pounds: 10-12 hours

Microwave thawing

To thaw a turkey in a microwave, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

The turkey must be cooked immediately after thawing. Some of it may begin to cook during the thawing process. If you set the turkey aside for a while, bacteria present will not have been destroyed.

And what about roasting the turkey? How long should you cook it? Follow these suggestions from foodsafety.gov.

Whole turkeys should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. Use a meat thermometer stuck in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.

Turkey roasting chart

For a fresh or thawed turkey, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

  • 8-12 pounds: 3-3 1/2 hours, stuffed; 2 3/4-3 hours, unstuffed
  • 12-14 pounds: 3 1/2-4 hours, stuffed; 3-3 3/4 hours, unstuffed
  • 14-18 pounds: 4-4 1/4 hours, stuffed; 3 3/4-4/14 hours unstuffed
  • 18-20 pounds: 4 1/4-4 3/4 hours, stuffed; 4 1/4-4/12 hours, unstuffed
  • 20-24 pounds: 4 3/4-5 1/4 hours, stuffed; 4 1/2-5 hours, unstuffed

Alternative ways to cook turkey

Electric roaster oven: Generally, for an 8- to 24-pound turkey, follow the same guidelines as roasting in the oven.

Grilling (covered charcoal grill or covered gas grill): Cook 15 to 18 minutes per pound for 8- to 16-pound birds. The air in the grill must maintain a temperature between 225 and 300 degrees F. Use a drip pan and do not stuff the turkey.

Smoking: Cook 20 to 30 minutes per pound for 8- to 12-pound birds. The air in the smoker must maintain a temperature between 225 and 300 degrees F. Use a drip pan and do not stuff.

Deep fat frying: Cook 3 to 5 minutes per pound for an 8- to 12-pound turkey. The oil must maintain a 350 degree F. temperature. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and do not stuff the bird.

Microwaving: 9 to 10 minutes per pound on medium (50 percent power) for an 8- to 14-pound turkey. Use a microwave safe oven bag. Rotate during cooking if the microwave does not have a rotating plate and do not stuff the turkey.

For more information

The USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline is up year-round from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Pacific Time. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. The phone number is 888-674-6854.

Questions also can be emailed to MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov.

Visit AskKaren.gov for automated responses 24 hours a day and a live chat during the hotline hours.

The Butterball hotline is available from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Pacific Time at 800-288-8372.

Visit butterball.com and click on “contact us” in the upper left-hand corner.

Nancy A. Edwards in Community News Editor for The Daily News. Reach her at 360-577-2544 or nedwards@tdn.com.

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