How to defrost chicken, turkey and duck with defrosting times

defrosting poultry
When you come to defrosting your poultry, it is best to plan ahead, leaving enough time before you prepare your meal, for the safe defrosting of the meat.

Generally there are three different ways in which you can defrost poultry safely: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave.

Poultry should never be defrosted on a work surface or counter at room temperature. Smaller cuts of meat, such as chicken or turkey breasts, can be defrosted overnight in the fridge. However, whole birds, can take several days to defrost, especially if you are going to defrost a large turkey for a Christmas dinner, for example.

How to defrost poultry using the refrigerator method

Probably the most conventional method is to defrost poultry in the fridge. This is the slowest method but probably the safest way to defrost poultry.

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A general rule is to allow five hours per pound of meat (see table below for defrosting times).

The whole bird can either be left in its packaging, placed on a tray or dish and then left in the fridge to defrost, or the packaging can be removed.

If the packaging is removed, the bird must be covered with cling film and placed in a shallow tin in order to catch the juices that will leak from the bird as the poultry thaws.

This is extremely important, as if any water or juices drip onto other foods that are underneath the poultry or nearby in the fridge, these foods can become contaminated and therefore unfit to eat.

Once the poultry has defrosted, it can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 - 2 days before use. Ensure that the meat is properly covered and protected and that it is kept away from other foods.

Defrosting times for the Refrigerator Method
5 lbs -
7 lbs -
10 lbs -
12 lbs -
15 lbs -
24 hours (1 day)
34 hours (1 day 10 hrs)
48 hours (2 days)
58 hours (2 days 10 hrs)
72 hours (3 days)

How to defrost poultry using the Cold Water method

The cold-water method involves submerging the wrapped poultry in a sink full of cold water for a period of time.

This method is much faster than defrosting the poultry in the fridge, nevertheless careful precautions must be taken.

It is vital that the poultry is very securely wrapped, so that the water from the sink is not able to leak through the wrapping and onto the meat.

If you decide to leave the poultry in its original packaging, which is probably best, then ensure that the whole bird is also wrapped with several layers of cling film.

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The poultry must be submerged in a sink full of cold water, with the poultry completely immersed at all times.

The water should always remain cold in order to prevent the growth of bacteria, which is why you should refill the sink every half an hour (30 minutes). Never use warm water, even though the poultry will defrost quicker.

On average you should allow 30 minutes per pound of meat (see table below for defrosting times).

Once the poultry has defrosted, it should be covered and stored in the fridge until required.

Make sure that the sink, surrounding surfaces, any utensils used and your hands are thoroughly washed and cleaned with hot soapy water after coming into contact with the raw poultry.

Defrosting times for the Cold Water Method
4 lbs -
8 lbs -
10 lbs -
12 lbs -
14 lbs -
16 lbs -
2 hours
4 hours
5 hours
6 hours
7 hours
8 hours

How to defrost poultry using the Microwave method

If you decide to defrost your poultry in the microwave, then check the manufacturer's manual for defrosting times beforehand, as the times will vary according to different machines.

To thaw a large bird, it is probably better to use a different method, as in some cases large items do not thaw well in the microwave.

You must also take care that the poultry meat does not start to cook.

For smaller pieces of poultry, ensure that all packaging and wrapping is removed before placing the meat in the microwave.

Place the pieces on a microwave-safe dish that will catch any leaking juices from the meat during defrosting.

If you are unsure of the amount of time needed to defrost the poultry, start off by turning the microwave to the defrosting setting and defrosting the meat for two minutes. Leave the meat to stand for one or two minutes and then check the progress.

This method can be quite tricky and a lot of care should be taken.

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Once the poultry has been properly defrosted in the microwave, it should not be stored in the refrigerator but cooked immediately.

All poultry must be completely defrosted in order to ensure proper cooking. To test that a whole chicken or turkey has been totally defrosted, place your hand inside the body cavity of the bird and check for the presence of ice crystals. If any ice crystals are still present, the poultry must be left to defrost for longer.

Once defrosted, the body should be fairly pliable and the legs can be moved about quite easily.

Do not refreeze poultry once it has been defrosted, although it is completely safe to do so after cooking.

After safely defrosting your whole chicken or turkey, it is ready to clean and prepare before cooking.

Always remember to wash your hands, utensils and surfaces before and after handling raw poultry. It is also a good idea to soak in bleach or wash in the washing machine any towels and sponges that have been used to wipe up juices and water from the poultry meat.
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