It’s that time of year when lots of us begin searching for information on ‘How to defrost a turkey for Christmas Day’.

a roast turkey from frozenFor one thing, many people will forget to defrost their turkey for the big day – and many will not realise just how long it will take to defrost a large frozen turkey safely.

You cannot rush the defrosting of a turkey – and it must be defrosted thoroughly all the way through before being cooked.

If you think that you can simply take a frozen turkey out of the freezer in the evening of Christmas Eve, then you are probably too late!

Also, DO NOT remove the packaging from the turkey while it defrosts – and place it on a large dish to collect any juices.

It is also important that you check that a defrosted turkey has been properly cooked by checking the temperature if you have a cooking temperature probe.

This is not the day to be taking risks when you are cooking for family and friends! Always check:

  • There is no pink meat (check the thickest part)
  • The meat is steaming when you carve it
  • The juices run clear when you prick the meat (if they don’t, do not eat!).

And now the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has issued its annual warning that some very large frozen turkeys will need FOUR DAYS to be defrosted safely at home.

Guidelines on defrosting a frozen turkey

This information is also underlined by the guidelines on defrosting a frozen turkey issued by Tesco to – which we publish later.

The FSA says: “If you have a frozen turkey in your freezer, you need to check the packaging on how long to defrost the turkey.

“This will mean that you give the turkey time to defrost before you cook it.

“A large bird weighing 6-7kg can take four days to defrost fully in a fridge.”

Frozen turkey but no packaging

For those who have a frozen turkey but no packaging showing how long the defrosting period is, there is a simple way to work out how this time.

According to the FSA, you will need to allow 10-12 hours per kg in a fridge that is 4°C.

However, not all fridges will be at this temperature – so check first or add a longer defrost time.

Top tips on how to defrost a turkey for Christmas Day

There are also other top tips on how to defrost a turkey for Christmas Day from the Food Standards Agency:

  • DO NOT defrost a turkey at room temperature
  • ALWAYS use a large container to catch any juices – this will avoid cross-contamination
  • ALWAYS use your fridge to defrost a frozen turkey
  • Ensure your turkey has been defrosted fully before cooking.

There is a very good reason why your frozen turkey needs to defrost thoroughly or risk the turkey not being cooked evenly.

If so, harmful bacteria could then survive cooking – and make you ill.

There are turkeys that can be cooked from frozen, but you will need to check the packaging to see if this includes your turkey.

If it can be cooked from frozen, you will need to follow the producer’s advice.

Defrosting a frozen turkey

defrosting a frozen turkeyThe FSA also warns of avoiding a ‘danger zone’ when defrosting a frozen turkey.

Since bacteria can grow at temperatures that are above 8°C and below 63°C, your fridge is the best place to ensure that the defrosting bird does not enter this danger zone.

This fact rules out defrosting a turkey at room temperature.


How to prepare your turkey for defrosting

You will need to clean thoroughly your hands, surfaces and any equipment to avoid cross-contamination by harmful bacteria.

You can also reduce the risk of spreading bacteria by:

  • Use different plates, utensils and chopping boards for any raw food and food that is cooked/ready to eat
  • Always wash hands after raw food has been handled – and especially before handling ready to eat/cooked food
  • Do not wash your raw turkey as this will splash bacteria onto your clothes, hands and worktops
  • Cooking your turkey thoroughly will kill bacteria that may be in the bird.

And if you have an infectious illness or has suffered from food poisoning, then DO NOT prepare food for other people.

Advice on defrosting a turkey properly

This advice on defrosting a turkey properly comes from our friends at Tesco who have a great range of frozen turkeys to choose from this year. They say:

  • Typically, frozen products will have a best before date of 12-18 months after packing – frozen products should last well into the new year.
  • All storage information is on our packaging and under each product on our GHS website.
  • All of our frozen party food cooks at the same temperature to make it easier to plan for those sharing occasions.
  • Frozen turkeys; the crowns and whole birds have a shelf life of two years and the turkey joints will generally have 12-18 months.
  • Always defrost in the fridge in its packaging in a tray to catch any juices.
  • Do not defrost a frozen turkey above ready to eat food.

Defrosting time for frozen turkeys

According to Tesco, the defrosting time for frozen turkeys are:

  • British Turkey Crown 1kg – 1.4kg – 10-14 hours
  • British Turkey Crown 1.5kg – 1.9kg – 15-19 hours
  • British Turkey Crown 2kg – 2.3kg – 20-23 hours
  • British Turkey Crown 2.4kg – 2.8kg – 24-28 hours
  • British Turkey Crown 2.9 – 3.5kg – 29-35 hours
  • British Turkey Whole Bird 2 – 2.5kg – 20-25 hours
  • British Turkey Whole Bird 2.6 – 3.8kg – 26-38 hours
  • British Turkey Whole Bird 3.9 – 5.2kg – 39-52 hours
  • British Turkey Whole Bird 5.3 – 6.9kg – 53-69 hours
  • British Turkey Whole Bird 7 – 8.8kg – 70-88 hours
  • British Turkey Whole Bird 8.9 – 10.6kg – 89-106 hours
  • Finest FR Bronze 3.2 – 4.8kg – 32-48 hours

Defrosting time for fresh turkeys that customers freeze at home:

For the Tesco Finest range:

  • Large – Defrost thoroughly for a minimum of 52-65 hours
  • Medium – Defrost thoroughly for a minimum of 40-53 hours
  • Small – Defrost thoroughly for a minimum of 30-40 hours

Tesco core frozen turkey products:

  • Extra Large – Defrost thoroughly for a minimum of 75-90 hours
  • Large – Defrost thoroughly for a minimum of 60-75 hours
  • Medium – Defrost thoroughly for a minimum of 45 – 60 hours
  • Small – Defrost thoroughly for a minimum of 30 – 45 hours

How to cook your turkey

Most of us will be looking to sit down to a great big turkey on Christmas Day with vegetables, roast potatoes and tasty gravy.

Firstly, you will need to check the packaging of your frozen turkey to see how long it needs to be cooked for.

Cooking for the correct time and at the right temperature will ensure that the harmful bacteria are killed.

And if you are planning to cook stuffing for Christmas dinner, then use a separate roasting tin – do NOT put the stuffing in the turkey.

One reason for this is that the turkey will then be cooked for the right time if there is no stuffing in the cavity of the turkey.

The stuffing means the turkey will take more time to cook – and you run the risk that the turkey has not been thoroughly cooked.

How long to cook a defrosted turkey for?

Again, to find out how long you should be cooking your turkey for, you should consult that packaging of your frozen turkey.

If you do not have the cooking instructions, then there are some general times to use.

  • Heat your oven to 180°C, 350°F or Gas Mark 4.
  • For a turkey weighing under 4.5kg: Allow 45 mins per kg plus 20 mins
  • For a turkey weighing between 4.5kg and 6.5kg: Allow 40 minutes per kg,
  • For a turkey weighing over 6.5kg: Allow 35 minutes for kg.

Be aware that some fan-assisted ovens may cook your turkey more quickly.

You should also cover the turkey with foil and then with 30 minutes left of the cooking time remove it to brown the skin.

You should also baste the turkey every hour to help prevent the meat from drying out.

What to do with your Christmas turkey leftovers

Christmas turkey leftoversMany of us tend to buy a frozen turkey that is much larger than we need – and then need to know how to deal with the meat that remains.

You should cool left-overs at room temperature for an hour or two.

Cover the meat and place in the fridge or freezer.

You can freeze a cooked turkey – and other cooked meats – but after defrosting them, you should consume the meat within 24 hours.

The previously cooked turkey can also be used in dishes such as turkey curry – which can also be frozen.

Remember that all frozen food will need to be defrosted thoroughly before eating.

You can defrost frozen turkey meat overnight in a fridge or use a microwave with a defrost setting.

If you would like more information about freezing any leftover Christmas food – and great recipe ideas – then the Love Food Hate Waste site is worth a visit.