Don’t get stuck with a turkey that’s too small for the feast or one that’s still frozen solid on Thanksgiving morning.
Buying the right size turkey and planning for defrost time can prevent Thanksgiving Day disasters.
“If you want to have leftovers after Thanksgiving, make sure you buy one pound of whole turkey per person,” said Tammy Roberts, nutrition specialist for University of Missouri Extension.
A rule of thumb is 3/4 pound of turkey per person if you don’t want leftovers or if you’re cooking a turkey breast, Roberts said. For a boneless turkey breast, you’ll need a half pound per person.
In the grocery store, turkeys might be labeled “hens” or “toms.” Many believe hens are tenderer, but Roberts said that’s not true. Hen and tom just refer to the size of the bird, and hens are smaller than toms.
Once you’ve picked an appropriately proportioned bird, make sure you give yourself enough time to defrost it.
“The safest way to defrost a turkey is in the refrigerator,” Roberts said. “You need to allow one day of thawing for every five pounds of turkey.”
That means you need to start defrosting the average bird four to five days before Thanksgiving. If time is short, a quicker but still safe way to defrost a turkey is with a cold-water bath, she said. Completely submerge the wrapped turkey in cold water, and change the water every half hour. This method requires about 30 minutes of thawing for every pound of turkey.
Most importantly, never defrost a turkey on the countertop at room temperature. “Just get the thought out of your mind, because it’s not safe,” Roberts said.
When you leave a whole frozen turkey out at room temperature, the outside will reach 40 degrees Fahrenheit while the inside is still frozen. At that temperature, harmful bacteria can grow.
You can defrost a turkey in a microwave, but parts of the turkey will get warmer than others. “Once it’s finished in the microwave, you need to put it in the oven immediately,” Roberts said.