I am nominally a pescatarian and almost never cook meat at home. But I’ve at times hosted a traditional Thanksgiving at home for my extended family. Well, this crummy year, we’re hosting my parents so I got a smallish fresh turkey (~13.5 lbs). I bought the turkey this past Friday and for some reason unbeknownst to me, I stuck the fresh bird in the freezer. This morning I announced to B, “ well I guess I better start thawing that thing.” B stated, “oh I thought it was frozen to begin with.” And then I start reading that it will take one day for every 4-5 lbs of bird, which equates to about 3 days of fridge thawing. My plan was to dry brine starting tomorrow (Tues) until Thursday. But that doesn’t seem feasible anymore. My questions are: (1) is it safe to thaw at room temp (or maybe even outside since it’s still in the 45-50F range here in Boston) at least for one day, or if I don’t do that, 2) can I still dry brine a partially frozen bird? And if all else fails, (3) can I just roast it, unbrined but thawed, on Thursday with good results?
Just to provide a frame of reference of my knowledge about roasting meat, last year I was charged with Thanksgiving as well and I inadvertently roasted it upside down which I found out was a “thing.”
Please help. Thank you.
Take it out of the freezer now, remove all packaging and anything in the cavity, cover it with plastic wrap, and leave it overnight on the counter (assuming your counter is safe from cats, dogs, etc.). Make sure the cavity is empty and air can get into it. It won’t spoil in one night. You can put your dry brine on tomorrow and stick it in the fridge. Check it on Wednesday evening—if the center is still frozen, take it out of the fridge again and leave it on the counter until it goes into the oven on Thursday.
If you have ever lived in a developing country and shopped in a meat/vegetable market (as I have), you will know that meat does not spoil that fast. If it’s been frozen first, it takes even longer to spoil.
Alternatively, @digga, you can safely thaw in cold water, successfully. This method really shortens the process. You would want to flip it over from time to time.
Seconding the cold water method. Sink or bathtub.
This. Dry brine from frozen. You’ll still need to get stuff out of the cavity.
You’ll be fine, don’t worry. Even if it was Tday tomorrow, you’d be ok. A bit more stressed, but ok. And it’s only Monday, so you’re good.
Thanks to everyone who responded to my SOS call. I will try dry-brining the defrosting bird, as spelled out in the LA Times article that @shrinkrap kindly provided.
I was paralyzed but I’m better now. I’ll start prep today on my side dishes so I can focus on the bird on Thursday.
I love reading all of this advice here! It’s better than the Butterball Turkey line! With all of our experience, we’ve got it covered. Make sure to take some photos and share your results with us. Even if it’s not perfect, it will still be delicious!
You should check the label. Many turkeys are injected with a salt solution. If that’s the case with your bird you might want to cut back on the salt in whatever brining you do.
I will say that before I was given that information we salt brined our turkeys and never noticed a problem.
I read your message too late to be of practical use just now, but another tactic for the record: if you have a double sink that is adequately level, you can put the bird in its sealed packaging or watertight bag into one plugged sink, fill with cold water, and retain a little stream of water constantly from the faucet over the immersed bird. Eventually, the sink will overflow, but only into the adjacent (unplugged) sink, not onto your countertop. I expect a 13lb bird would thaw in about 5-6 hours.
This is some kind Alton-Browny, food-geeky technique I heard years ago. I don’t know the physics of it all, but the moving water defrosts more evenly and quickly than any other viable technique. Something to do with convection maybe. This method works for anything, big or small–frozen shoulder roast, chicken, etc. Thaws small things super fast.
Good luck, in any case!
This technique is very similar to one used routinely in biology labs to gently thaw out cells from deep-freeze so I can attest to the rationale.
I committed a little taboo - I left it out on the counter in original packaging for a few hours on Monday, put it back in the fridge until yesterday, flipping it periodically. By yesterday, it was thawed so I dry-brined early in the day. It’s sitting out on my counter now for 1 hour. I’ll use Melissa Clark’s method (obviously leaving out the wet-brine step). It’s seems most straight-forward to me. This may be behind paywall.
Thankful for all the advice. And for this board. Happy American Thanksgiving, Onions!
How’d it turn out, @digga?
Also late to the party. I have stuck a frozen turkey in a 5 gallon (clean) plastic bucket in a wet brine and done brining and thawing at once. This works great outdoors with temps between about 40 and 55F.
All of this is about thermodynamics, including the Alton Brown method cited by @BadaBing. First, the heat transfer coefficient between the turkey and a liquid is better (faster) than between the turkey and air. The liquid right around the turkey cools from the frozen turkey and forms an insulating layer. Circulation of the liquid in any way breaks up that layer and defrosting happens more quickly. This is exactly why convection ovens heat faster than conventional ovens (the same thermal barrier develops in air) and why sous vide uses circulators. It doesn’t have to be fancy - I just stirred my turkey in a bucket once in a while. You could in fact use a sous vide circulator to good effect. This is why soups scorch on the bottom if you don’t stir them. Thermal gradients.
Isn’t science wonderful? grin
Along with 5 gallon buckets!
You can’t have too many 5 gallon buckets!
I am in the middle of planting garlic in some!
Reporting back now…Hosting mom and dad is tough lately due to health issues so I needed a day to recover. The turkey was fine - I had only a small portion of breast meat but it was sadly a bit overcooked. Importantly, no one got salmonella poisoning and everyone was happy. Sides included mashed potatoes with butter/milk/touch of cream cheese; Stove Top stuffing that was doctored with sauteed carrots, celery, and onion/TJ’s Omega 3 nut mix (which has nuts and dried cranberries)/celery salt; gravy; Smitten Kitchen’s leek galette (to which I added chickpeas and mushroom); SK’s cabbage and farro soup. Dessert was a delicious and not-too-sweet apple and almond paste galette from a wonderful local Bakery (Butternut Bakehouse). Wine. Lots of wine.
Lots of leftover turkey went home with mom and dad yesterday and some of ours went into a second leek galette (I had another pie crust to use and leftover veggie filling). Huge pot of turkey soup with carrots, celery, onion, and rice.
So interesting thread, I want to know it too. Also, if you can, share with us your result, I want to see what can I do with it and how it must to look.
Thanks for all recommendations!
Last night I made some stoopidly easy fresh smoked turkey legs from Villari I got at Kroger. I got a recipe that called for roasting uncovered in water but I used low sodium chicken broth.
It called for being rubbed with butter which I did and covered one in foil for an hour or so before uncovering.
They’re just laid flat in the pan, 350 for 1 3/4 to two hours and came out tender and flavorful. The one wrapped in foil was best.