How To Thaw Ground Turkey (Easy!)

Ground turkey is a versatile and healthy choice for a quick weekday meal when you are on the go. It’s an excellent idea to have some on hand in your freezer, ready to pull out at a moment’s notice. You’ll want to be sure to defrost the turkey safely to prevent bacteria from forming on the meat.   

Here is how to thaw ground turkey:

  1. Thaw the meat in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. Defrost the meat in the microwave.
  3. Put it in a bowl of cold water for a quick thaw.  

Each of these methods is a reliable way to thaw your ground turkey. Which process you decide on will depend on how quickly you need to defrost it and how you plan on cooking it. Continue reading for more detailed instructions on how to perform each method speedily and safely, so let’s get started right now.  

1. Thaw the Meat in the Refrigerator Overnight

If you have planned ahead and will not need the ground turkey for another day or two, you can defrost it by placing it in the refrigerator and allowing it to thaw there. Defrosting in the fridge is your best bet when you have time to wait for it to thaw properly before cooking.  

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service says this is the safest and best method of thawing frozen meat because it remains at a constant temperature of 40°F (4.44°C) or less.

It prevents the meat from reaching the “danger zone” of between 40-140°F (4.44-60°C) when bacteria are more likely to multiply. Step-by-step instructions are listed below: 

  1. Place the meat in a leak-proof dish or container. You can also use a zipper-enclosure food storage bag.  
  2. Position the dish or container in the refrigerator on a shelf or in a drawer. Keep the meat away from all fruits and veggies to avoid contamination.  
  3. Allow the ground turkey to remain in the refrigerator for around 12-24 hours. The time will vary according to the temperature of your refrigerator. A general rule of thumb is that 1 lb (0.45 kg) of meat will take 12-24 hours to defrost thoroughly. Remember that the back and the bottom of the refrigerator are the coldest areas since cold air flows downward and warm air enters each time you open the door.  
  4. Be sure to cook the meat one to two days after it thaws. Your meat will stay fresh for up to two days. After that time, the chance of bacterial growth increases.  

Some tips to remember when using this overnight refrigerator method:

  • Even small amounts of meat, such as a pound of ground turkey, will require a whole day to thaw thoroughly. 
  • You can always cook your meat when it is frozen or half-frozen, but it takes about 50% longer. 
  • Once you have partially defrosted your meat in the refrigerator, you can finish thawing it in a dish of cold water or the microwave to speed up the process. 
  • The more you thaw or refreeze your meat, the lower the quality of it.  

2. Defrost the Meat in the Microwave

This technique is quicker than the refrigerator method, and you can use it when you need your meat in a hurry.

Remember that the microwave distributes heat unevenly, and therefore, your meat may be partially cooked when you take it out. You should cook it immediately after thawing with this method to avoid bacteria growth.    

  1. Place the meat in a dish or container. Remove your ground turkey from its original packaging and place it in a microwave-safe plate or dish. Do not microwave it in its packaging, as it can melt or burn.  
  2. Ensure there is space between the meat and the dish. It is essential to leave about 1” (2.5 cm) between the meat and the sides of the plate or container to prevent spillage. 
  3. Thaw the meat. Set your microwave to 50% power or defrost setting and heat it for a total of 2 minutes per 1 lb (0.45 kg).  
  4. Continue in 1-minute increments until done. If the ground turkey is not completely thawed, continue on defrost in additional 1-minute increments.  
  5. Cook right away to avoid bacteria growth. The turkey will begin cooking while it thaws. If your meat is already partially thawed, you may start by defrosting it for 1 minute per 1 lb (0.45 kg) and not 2 minutes. Remember to refrigerate or freeze leftovers after cooking.  

3. Put It in a Bowl of Cold Water for a Quick Thaw

This method is faster than the refrigerator thaw method. 

However, you must watch the meat more closely. This technique thaws more evenly than the microwave method because the temperature is more consistent throughout the meat.  

The key to performing this quick thawing method is to allow steady water to drip over the submerged meat. The constant drip keeps the water moving, and the temperature is distributed evenly throughout the meat.

Below is a YouTube video that demonstrates how to use this method effectively: 

The following are instructions for the cold water thaw method:

  1. Take the meat out of its original packaging and place it in a sealed plastic bag. It is essential to close the bag thoroughly to avoid water seeping into the bag and prevent bacteria growth.  
  2. Fill a large, clean container or bowl with cold water. Ensure that the bowl or container is large and deep enough for the water to cover the meat entirely. 
  3. Submerge the ground turkey in the water. Be sure that the water entirely covers the meat. Set the container on the counter or in the sink. You should never use hot water because this will increase the possibility of bacteria growth.  
  4. Allow a steady drip of water over the bowl. Running water over the bowl keeps the water moving and distributes the temperature throughout the meat, thawing it more evenly. 
  5. Leave the turkey in the water for one hour per 1 lb (0.45 kg) of turkey. Change the water every 30 minutes, as this ensures that it stays cold and decreases the risk of bacteria growth. Set a timer to remind you to replace the water. 
  6. If your meat is already partially thawed, it will take less time to thaw completely. In this case, set your timer for 30 minutes instead of 1 hour and check it at this point. 
  7. Cook the meat immediately. Remember to put any leftovers in the refrigerator or freezer. It is acceptable to cook the turkey if you have only partially thawed it, but it will take a little longer. You also may transfer partially-thawed meat to the microwave to speed up the process.  

Tips to remember when using the cold water method:

  • Running cold water over the ground turkey submerged in the bowl will help the meat defrost faster and more evenly.  
  • It does not have to be a heavy stream. Even a gradual drip will keep the water moving and make the process go more quickly.  

Things To Remember When Thawing Ground Turkey

  • Never thaw perishable foods on the counter or in hot water. You should not leave meat and other perishable foods out at room temperature for greater than 2 hours, or put it in hot water. 
  • You should immediately cook partially thawed meat. Although the inside of the meat may still be solid when you have partially thawed it, the outer edge may have reached the “danger zone” of 40-140°F (4.44-60°C) when bacteria multiply.
  • When you find yourself in a pinch for time and can’t wait for the thawing process, it is safe to cook the turkey while it is still frozen. You will, however, have to cook it around 50% longer than fresh or thoroughly thawed meat.