Bone up on turkey terms

I know you’ve told me before but I can’t remember how to thaw my turkey for Thanksgiving. Can you help?

You’re not the only one that has that question. Let’s go over the options.

First, after you purchase the frozen turkey, it should be placed in a freezer until ready to be thawed. Frozen turkeys should not be left on the back porch, in the car trunk, in the basement or anyplace else where temperatures cannot be constantly monitored.

There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey:


When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:

Plan ahead. Allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees or colder.

Here are the refrigerator thawing times for a whole turkey:

4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days

12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days

16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days

20 to 24 pounds — 5 to 6 days

Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water

Allow about 30 minutes per pound. First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Here are the cold water thawing times for a whole turkey:

4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours

12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours

16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours

20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.


Follow the microwave oven manufacturer’s instruction when defrosting a turkey. Plan to cook it immediately after thawing because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving. Holding partially cooked food is not recommended because any bacteria present wouldn’t have been destroyed.

A turkey thawed in the microwave must be cooked immediately.

Q: Have turkeys that are sold “fresh” ever been frozen? How long can a fresh turkey be refrigerated after I purchase it?

A: Turkeys to be sold fresh are quick-chilled to 40 degrees or colder, but must not go below a temperature of 26 degrees. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, fresh turkeys should be refrigerated and used within 1 to 2 days from purchase, or they can be frozen for safekeeping.

Q: I’m confused by all of the different terms that are on turkey packages. What do they all mean?

A: There are many options available today when purchasing turkeys. Here’s what you may see offered:

l Basted or Self-Basted — Bone-in turkey products (such as whole birds) that are injected or marinated with a solution containing butter or other edible fat, broth, stock or water, plus spices, flavor enhancers and other approved substances should be labeled as “basted” or “self-basted.” The maximum added weight of approximately 3 percent solution before processing is included in the net weight on the label. Labels must include a statement identifying the total quantity and common or usual name of all ingredients in the solution. When using the terms “basted” or “self-basted” on boneless turkey products (such as turkey breasts), the solution is limited to 8 percent of the weight of the raw turkey before processing.

  • Free Range or Free Roaming — In order to use these terms on a label, poultry producers must provide a brief description of the bird’s housing conditions with the label when it is submitted for approval. The written description of the housing conditions is evaluated to ensure the birds have continuous, free access to the outdoors for more than 51 percent of their lives.
  • Fresh Poultry — Turkeys to be sold as “fresh” must be stored at a temperature no colder than 26 degrees.
  • Frozen Poultry — Turkeys sold as “frozen” must be stored at 0 degrees or below.
  • Fryer-Roaster Turkey — A young turkey, usually less than 16 weeks of age and of either sex.
  • Hen or Tom Turkey — The sex designation of hen (female) or tom (male) turkey is optional on the label and is an indication of size rather than tenderness.
  • Kosher — Kosher may be used only on the labels of turkeys that are prepared under rabbinical supervision.
  • Minimal Processing — Minimally processed could include: traditional processes used to make food edible or to preserve it or to make it safe for human consumption, e.g., smoking, roasting, freezing, drying, and fermenting. These physical processes must not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or separate a whole turkey into parts or grinding of the turkey.
  • Natural, All Natural — The term “natural” may be used in the labeling of meat and poultry products provided that the product does not contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredients, chemical preservatives or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient. The label also indicates that the product is not more than minimally processed.
  • No Added Antibiotics — The phrase “no antibiotics added” or “raised without the use of antibiotics” may be used on labels for poultry products if the producer sufficiently documents to the Food Safety and Inspection Service that the animals were raised without antibiotics in feed and water, or intra-muscular.
  • No Hormones Added — Hormones are not allowed in raising poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” or “raised without the use of hormones” cannot be used on the labels of poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says, “Federal regulations do not permit the use of hormones in poultry.”
  • Organic — Before a product can be labeled organic, a certifying entity that meets the requirements of the National Organic Program conducts an on-site audit for the requesting company and issues approval in the form of an organic certificate. The organic certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. The USDA Final Rule specifically prohibits the use of genetic engineering methods, ionizing radiation, and sewage sludge for fertilization. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to the supermarket must be certified, too.

— Susan Krumm is an Extension agent in family and consumer sciences with K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County, 2110 Harper St. She can be reached at 843-7058


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