Defrosting a Pasture Raised Turkey

After I wrote last week’s blog post answering the question of how long a raw turkey can be kept in the fridge, I realized I should have started with a more fundamental topic: how should we defrost a frozen pasture raised turkey?

Defrosting Steps

It doesn’t have to be complicated. Just follow these three steps:

  1. Leave turkey in original packaging. This will prevent the turkey from picking up any odors from other foods in the fridge, especially seafood.
  2. Place turkey, breast side up, in a large pan up to catch any leaks. If a pan is not available, double bag it in a large, heavy duty bag such as a garbage bag.
  3. Store turkey in a refrigerator below 40 degrees to defrost it. 40 degrees is the important number to remember!

Time Requirements

A turkey will require approximately 1 day in the refrigerator for every 4 lbs of weight. This relationship starts to break down for turkeys above 20 pounds, as they normally don’t require much more than 5 days in the refrigerator. But the general guidelines would be:

  • 12 lbs: Allow 3 days
  • 16 lbs: Allow 4 days
  • 20 lbs: Allow 5 days

My default advice is to place the turkey in the fridge the Friday or Saturday before Thanksgiving. This should allow for enough time to have the turkey fully defrosted and ready for baking on Thursday.

Saving Time with Brining

If you are brining your turkey, you can subtract two days of defrosting time by placing a partially thawed turkey in your brining liquid. The turkey will defrost as it brines. I discovered this when preparing whole frozen pigs for pig roasts, and this has become my go-to technique ever since. It works well for turkeys too.

3 thoughts on “Defrosting a Pasture Raised Turkey”

  1. Eileen McInerney

    Thanks for your response! And I enjoyed you & your mom’s video about roasting a turkey. I wish I had one of those old roasting pans! It looks familiar; I think my mom had one back in the day.

  2. Hi Dave, Thanks for the tips. I read somewhere that one shouldn’t brine frozen turkeys, that they are injected with sodium prior to freezing. The article mentioned that some frozen turkeys available at a few grocery stores can be brined because they receive a lower dose of sodium. As you mention brining for saving time, may I assume that your turkeys are fine for brining? Thanks, Eileen

    1. Hi Eileen,
      Our turkeys haven’t been injected with any brine solutions. Conventional turkeys are often injected with “moisture enhanced” solutions to make up for their lackluster characteristics and also to add some weight, but we don’t do any of that. That’s a good topic for a future blog post.
      So yes, our turkeys are fine for brining.
      Thanks for asking.

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