There are plenty of horror stories surrounding the thawing of meat, especially lean or white meats like poultry, fish, and shellfish.
Certainly, many of us have had a bad experience with food poisoning at least once in our lives and may have wondered whether it was caused by a poor attempt at defrosting.
Thankfully, there are plenty of safe, healthy options for thawing ground turkey, which will ensure that however soon you need your meat, you’ll have it defrosted, properly.
Before we get started, the most important thing to remember when defrosting any meat, including when defrosting turkey mince, is to keep that meat out of the ‘Danger Zone’.
The Danger Zone When Defrosting Ground Turkey
The so-called ‘Danger Zone’ is the temperature range at which bacteria thrive. It’s between 4 and 60 degrees Celsius, or 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Thus, you should always attempt to thaw your ground turkey using one of the ‘cold’ methods (refrigeration, or the cold bowl of water, preferably) described below.
There are, of course, other methods, which we’ll also touch on.
However, any method which takes meat into the ‘Danger Zone’ for any length of time, puts your meat at risk of accruing bacteria, which may, in turn, make you ill.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the five very best methods for defrosting ground turkey: how to use them, their pros, cons, and defrosting times.
Method One: Refrigeration
Approximate defrost time: 12-24 hours
Without a doubt, the safest, highest-quality method of thawing ground turkey is to do so in the fridge overnight, or during the day (if for an evening meal).
Here’s how to thaw ground turkey in a fridge:
Step One: Take the ground turkey out of the freezer, leaving it in its packaging.
Step Two: Place the packaged ground turkey in a leak-proof Tupperware, dish, or additional freezer bag, and place this on the lowest shelf of your fridge, away from any opened foods.
Step Three: Leave the bag, box, or dish with the turkey mince in it for at least twelve hours, but aim for closer to twenty-four hours to be doubly sure that you’ve fully defrosted it.
Step Four: Cook the now-thawed ground turkey within 2-3 days of defrosting it, or refreeze it within this time.
This is my preferred method for defrosting any meat (as you’ll see if you read our other articles on thawing cuts such as bacon, sausages, scallops, and more!).
However, sometimes you might defrost ground turkey for a meal, and then change the meal plan at the last minute.
So, how long does fridge-thawed ground turkey keep? The answer depends on how long before its ‘use by’ date you froze it. Generally, ground turkey thawed in the fridge can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days before it starts to turn. However, if you froze the turkey 5 days before its ‘use by’ date, you can add 2-3 days to this, and keep it in the fridge for up to 7-8 days, instead.
- Safest, most hygienic method of thawing ground turkey (least chance of bacteria forming).
- Nice, even thaw right throughout the ground meat.
- Very simple, doesn’t take any further attention from you.
- Longest defrost time of all available methods.
- Fridge space can be limited, and defrosting large amounts of turkey mince in a fridge for twenty-four hours may be an inconvenience to you.
Method Two: Microwave
Approximate defrost time: 2-5 minutes
If you’re really pressed for time, and you need your ground turkey prepped for cooking in a matter of minutes, rather than hours, then the microwave is your last-ditch option.
I would generally advise avoiding defrosting meat in a microwave, because it can impair the overall texture and taste. However, sometimes there are no other options!
Here’s how to defrost ground turkey in a microwave:
Step One: Remove the turkey mince from its packaging and place it in a microwave bowl, or on a microwaveable plate, leaving space between the ground meat and edge of the plate to avoid leakage dirtying your microwave.
Note: Do not put the turkey mince in the microwave in its original packaging.
Step Two: If your microwave has a defrost setting, use that, otherwise put it on 30-50% power, and cook the turkey mince for two minutes.
Note: If the ground turkey is already partially-thawed, start the microwave process on one minute, instead of two.
Step Three: Test the ground turkey to determine its thaw, and then return to the microwave for further defrosting in one-minute increments, checking after each minute.
Step Four: Cook the defrosted ground turkey immediately after defrosting in a microwave. Unlike turkey mince defrosted overnight in a fridge, microwave-defrosted meat will not keep for any length of time.
Reading the last step you might ask, so, can I refreeze the thawed turkey? The answer is: only if you have thawed it in a fridge, and then only within the first 2-3 days of thawing it there. Ground turkey defrosted in a microwave should under no circumstances be refrozen.
- Quickest, most convenient method of defrosting ground turkey.
- Microwave will almost certainly start to partially-cook the turkey meat, which is unideal when it comes to the actual cooking phase.
- Uneven thaw, with the outside of the meat being more thawed/cooked than the interior/center.
- May impair the taste and/or texture of the ground turkey, and may even give off an unpleasant smell.
- Ground turkey defrosted in a microwave must be cooked immediately, and will not keep for any length of time.
Method Three: Cold Water Bath
Approximate defrosting time: 1 hour per 1lb of ground turkey
The ‘cold water bath’ is a method of thawing meat which you’ll see crop up in every single one of our defrosting articles.
It is one of the best, safest options for defrosting ground turkey, second only to the fridge method.
Here’s how to thaw ground turkey in a cold water bath:
Step One: Remove the ground turkey from its packaging, and transfer it to a ziplocked bag. Try to get as much air out of the bag as possible. Ensure that the bag is fully sealed against water ingress.
Step Two: Place the bag of ground turkey into a bowl, and fill the bowl with cold water. (Never use hot water with ground turkey.) Make sure that the bag of ground turkey is completely submerged (you can weigh it down with something if not).
Step Three: Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure the bowl of water stays nice and cold. Leave the bag of turkey mince in the cold water for 1 hour per pound of turkey (i.e. 3 hours for 3lbs).
Step Four: Cook the turkey right away, once thawed in this manner.
- Second quickest method, after the microwave-thawing method.
- Safe and hygienic method of defrosting ground turkey, second only to the refrigeration method, with very little chance of bacteria forming.
- Delivers an even thaw, right throughout the turkey meat.
- Requires a fair amount of attention to ensure that the water doesn’t run warm.
- Meat must be cooked right away as it will not keep for any length of time.
Method Four: Cook From Frozen
Approximate defrosting time: 50% of overall cooking time
So, can you cook ground turkey from frozen/partial-thaw? Yes, you can, however, you have to be careful to cook it thoroughly. You also have to allow for extra time (about 50% of the overall cooking time) for the turkey mince to defrost, before it starts to cook.
Here’s how to defrost ground turkey during the cooking process:
Step One: Take your ground turkey out of the freezer, then prep the rest of the ingredients for your dish. Begin cooking the dish, and when it comes to adding the turkey, do so as normal.
Step Two: Ensure that you cook the turkey for 150% of the time your recipe suggests, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you do. (50% extra time is to allow time for thawing.)
Note: Excess water will come from the frozen ground turkey when cooking, so do prepare for this.
Step Three: Keep the heat nice and even, so as to ensure that the turkey can defrost without burning. Finish cooking the recipe.
Step Four: Enjoy your meal!
- Gives you the greatest flexibility in terms of time, as you can cook a turkey mince-based meal despite forgetting to take your turkey out of the freezer earlier.
- Perfectly safe method, provided you take your time and follow our instructions carefully.
- Frozen turkey gives off lots of excess water when cooked directly from the freezer.
- Lengthens cooking time by at least 50% more than the recipe would normally take.
- Not applicable for all ground turkey recipes, such as turning ground turkey into turkey burgers, and so on.
Method Five: Countertop Thawing
Approximate defrosting time: 12-24 hours
If you’re pressed for space in the fridge and don’t have the appropriate materials to defrost your turkey using our other methods, then you may be wondering:
Can I leave ground turkey out to thaw on the countertop?
It’s really recommended you avoid thawing meat at room temperature. However, if you have a countertop in a room or outbuilding (such as a garage) where the temperature is not likely to rise above 4 Celsius/40 Fahrenheit, then yes, you can leave turkey out to thaw.
Here’s how to thaw turkey on a countertop outside the fridge:
Step One: Place the frozen ground turkey in its packaging inside another ziplocked freezer bag, Tupperware, or leak-proof dish. Remove as much air from the container as possible.
Step Two: Put the dish/box/bag containing the turkey on a countertop in the coldest room or building on your property. The room temperature should preferably be below 40F or 4C.
Step Three: Leave the ground turkey to defrost on the countertop overnight, for at least 12 hours, but preferably closer to 24 hours.
Step Four: Cook immediately once the turkey is fully thawed. (In other words, don’t put it back in the fridge, and certainly don’t refreeze it: use it straight away.)
- Allows you to defrost ground turkey if none of the other options are viable.
- Provides an even thaw, right throughout the turkey meat.
- The riskiest thawing method without a doubt, offering the greatest opportunities for bacteria to spoil the meat.
- A long process: takes just as long as defrosting ground turkey in the fridge, whilst being less safe.
If you’re going to be defrosting ground turkey, then it’s best to thaw the mince overnight in the fridge. However, if you’ve forgotten to do so, then the next best option is to thaw it in a cold water bath.
Alternatively, you could cook it directly from frozen.
Your very last possible options, if you’re out of time, or have no room in the fridge, are to thaw the ground turkey in the microwave, or on a countertop in a cold room.
Just remember, if you’re going to do either of the latter, these are the least preferable methods for hygiene, taste, and texture.