The Turkey Thaw and COVID Safety Check—2020 Countdown to Turkey Day

Under normal circumstances, today’s mission would be to determine how long your turkey needs to thaw if it is frozen and your cooking timetable.

This year, we, unfortunately, have to add another big task to today. This task will be revisited over the next few days. If anyone who is not in your pandemic bubble will be participating in your Thanksgiving dinner, the following are minimum safety bars to meet: If the meal is to be held indoors, participating households need to have been isolating for two weeks. Testing is not perfect and is not enough for two reasons.

  1. False negatives do occur, this is more common with the antigen test versus the PCR test.
  2. Timing, a negative test a couple of days prior to Thanksgiving is a good idea but is not foolproof. If you contracted COVID just prior to your test, your viral load could reach contagious levels after your test and before you feel symptoms.

If you have not been isolating, do not dine indoors.

If you are eating outdoors with another household how can you keep risk levels as low as possible?

  • Don’t sit shoulder to shoulder, keep the six-foot rule in place between households, even outdoors.
  • Use a table to hold drinks and flatware (pre-wrapped in disposable napkins).
  • Have guests serve their own food, while masked.
  • Keep windows open and fans on indoors to increase airflow, to reduce potential virus load from anyone who came indoors to use the restroom.
  • If you serve alcohol, be aware of lowered inhibitions and people drifting closer. We’re social, we miss each other, it’s natural.

For transparency, after a lot of thought, we’re not having my mother and stepfather over for even an outdoor meal. We’re just going to drop off some of their favorite food and my mother is making pies for us to take home.

On to the turkey portion of today’s countdown.

A note about thawing your frozen turkeys:

Frozen turkeys need a full 24 hours per 4lbs to thaw in a 40°F refrigerator. Once thawed the turkey can be held for up to 72 hours.

For example, an 18lb turkey will take 4 days to thaw and be used by the 7th day. Your 18 pounder should be in the fridge today.

20 lb turkeys should have started their thaw on Thursday.

But don’t worry if you didn’t do that; you can safely use the water bath method tomorrow or Tuesday and be ready to go on Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to keep that turkey in the very bottom of the refrigerator and in a pot or pan to prevent any cross-contamination through drips and spills.

If you are picking up a fresh turkey, it should be cooked within 3 days of pick-up, so play it safe and pick it up on Tuesday or Wednesday.

What is the water bath method to thaw a turkey?

I am so glad you asked.

Grab a bucket or a cooler and check the plastic wrap of the turkey for any tears or obvious holes. If you see any get yourself one of those giant zippered bags or a plastic bag that you’d use to cook a turkey or large roast. Make sure you seal the bag tightly. The goal isn’t to create a soggy turkey, it’s to thaw the turkey safely.

Place the cooler or bucket in the tub and fill with cool water. You have the choice of either dripping water into the bucket or cooler and allowing it to overflow into the tub (keep the drain open) or change the water every 30 minutes. Either method is safe.

You’ll need to allow at least 30 minutes a pound for the water bath thaw. Once your turkey has thawed, store it in the refrigerator for Thanksgiving. (You’ll want to cook the turkey within 72 hours of its being fully thawed.

So now you know what is happening with your turkey. What about everything else you’ll be making?

Grab your menu from the 5th. How did this month fly when all the others have crawled?

Get out a fresh sheet of paper and make two columns. In the first column you are going to take menu items (or necessary homemade ingredients) that can be made prior to Thursday.

Now, what time do you plan on eating? What time should your turkey be done cooking (30 minutes prior in most cases)? How big is your turkey? With your cooking method, how long will that take? What time does it need to go in the oven (or smoker, fryer, roaster, or InstantPot, I know this year is a bit different)?

Which of your other menu items are the most time-sensitive? Give them priority and decide when they need to be started and finished. Also, think about which items are dependent on what. If you use pan drippings for your gravy, don’t try to make it at 9 am, it’s just not going to happen unless you’re having brunch and started about 2 am. If you are, more power to you!

Work your other items around those.

Now you have your Thanksgiving timetable and you will be so much less stressed on Thursday knowing what needs to be made when.

One last to do: go do a quick pantry check to make sure you aren’t missing any key ingredients.


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2 thoughts on “The Turkey Thaw and COVID Safety Check—2020 Countdown to Turkey Day”

  1. Since there’s never been room in my refrigerator to thaw a big turkey and the water bath is a mess, I thaw my turkey in my insulated picnic cooler with a couple of blue ice paks.


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