If you have already thawed out a frozen turkey, can you put it back in the freezer? Is it safe to do so? Can you refreeze a thawed turkey?
You can refreeze a thawed turkey, but there may be a loss in quality. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that you can refreeze a turkey that has been thawed out in the refrigerator.
You can also refreeze a thawed and cooked turkey if you apply the cold water thawing technique.
Refreezing will likely degrade the quality of the turkey flavor and texture. So keep this in mind before refreezing. I don’t recommend refreezing more than once as the flavor and texture will be significantly degraded.
Read on to learn more about refreezing a thawed turkey and how to do it properly.
Can You Refreeze a Thawed Turkey?
You can refreeze a turkey that has been thawed out in the refrigerator, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). By refreezing a thawed turkey, the flavor and texture quality might decrease.
According to USDA, the safety of refreezing a thawed turkey depends on the thawing technique you apply. So, let’s first talk about the different thawing techniques to understand the safety further — and the danger — of refreezing a thawed turkey.
Three Safe Techniques for Thawing a Turkey
If the turkey is included in your grocery list, make sure you don’t have any other itinerary right after visiting the grocery store. This is because you have to immediately bring it home and keep it in the freezer while it is still frozen. It is also better to bring with you a cooler filled with ice wherein you can store your turkey until you get home.
By keeping your turkey frozen, the quality of the flavor and texture will stay at a high level.
Unless you keep it in an ice-filled cooler while on the road, don’t leave your frozen turkey in the car. Once you get home, please don’t leave it on your kitchen counter or any other place where you can’t constantly monitor temperatures. Always keep in mind to put it straight in the freezer right after you get home from the grocery store.
Now, in terms of thawing, there are three techniques you can apply according to the USDA rules:
- Refrigerator thawing technique
- Cold-water thawing technique
- Microwave thawing technique
However, not all these techniques allow you to refreeze thawed turkey safely. Let’s discuss each one of them:
1. Refrigerator Thawing Technique
If you plan to cook a turkey for dinner, then thawing must be included in your schedule. This is because thawing by way of the refrigerator technique will take you at least 24 hours to complete. But this still depends on the weight of the turkey you bought.
24 hours of thawing is needed only if your frozen turkey weighs four to five pounds. Also, the refrigerator’s temperature must be set at approximately 40 °F. It can be lower than 40 °F but avoid setting it higher than that.
Follow these steps to do this thawing technique:
- Take out your frozen turkey and place it straight in the fridge to start the thawing process;
- Make sure to place your frozen turkey in a container. That way, its juices will not drip on other food stored in the fridge; and
- Make sure you know the weight of the turkey you bought. If it is your first time to buy one, the weight — and all other details — are indicated in its packaging.
Knowing the weight is important as it will determine your thawing time. And if you feel that 24 hours is such a long time to thaw a turkey weighing four to five pounds, then brace yourself for a longer thawing process for heavier turkeys.
Below I listed the time it’ll take for a turkey to thaw depending on its weight using this technique:
- A whole turkey weighing 4 to 12 pounds may take 24 to 72 hours of thawing;
- A 12 to 16 pounds of the whole turkey may take you 72 to 96 hours to thaw;
- A turkey weighing 16 to 20 pounds might need to be thawed for 96 to 120 hours; and
- A 20 to 24 pounds of turkey must be thawed for 120 to 144 hours.
In other words, it may take you several days before you can finally cook your turkey.
Now, once the turkey is completely thawed while inside the fridge, can you keep it safely there for several days? Well, the answer is yes and no. Yes, you can keep it thawed inside the fridge before finally deciding to cook it. But no, you can’t keep it for too long. You can only keep it up to two days. After this, you have to cook it whether you like it or not.
Can you refreeze a partially thawed turkey or a fully thawed turkey? You can safely refreeze a turkey that has been thawed out in the refrigerator. However, the quality of the turkey flavor and texture might decrease if you refreeze it.
So if you don’t feel like cooking everything, then you can put it back in the freezer and save it for another day of cooking.
2. Cold-Water Thawing Technique
When using the Cold Water Thawing Technique, you do not need to wait for several days before you can finally cook your turkey. This technique only involves hours of waiting. However, it is possible to take you half a day to thaw one whole turkey. But, of course, it all still depends on the weight of the turkey you bought. On average, you allow 30 minutes of thawing for every pound of meat.
- Before you start the thawing process, make sure that the turkey is wrapped in a fully sealed plastic bag;
- Make sure that the bag is leak-proof. This will prevent the occurrence of cross-contamination. It will also prevent water absorption, which might affect your end-product;
- Immerse the turkey — completely sealed in a plastic bag — in cold tap water;
- Every 30 minutes, make sure to change the water; and
- Cook the turkey immediately once thawed.
I listed the time it’ll take you to thaw your turkey depending on its weight using the cold-water technique:
- If your frozen turkey weighs between four and 12 pounds, thawing time must at least be between two and six hours;
- For 12 to 16 pounds of frozen turkey, thawing time must be between six and eight hours;
- If the weight of the turkey is between 16 and 20 pounds, then it needs between eight and ten hours of thawing time; and
- A turkey weighing between 20 and 24 pounds needs to be thawed for ten to 12 hours.
Can I refreeze a thawed turkey? Unfortunately, if you thaw a turkey using this technique, you can’t just place it back in the freezer to refreeze it uncooked. Once thawed using the Cold Water Technique, it has to be cooked immediately.
But once it is cooked, it is safe to refreeze the meat. Perhaps, if you have excess meat that you want to refreeze, it is recommended to boil it first before placing it back in the freezer. However, refrozen meat may also mean a loss of quality.
We have answered the questions: Can you refreeze a thawed turkey? Can you refreeze a turkey that has been bought fresh? You can refreeze a thawed turkey, but there may be a loss in quality. This is according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Next, let’s look at the third thawing technique below, the microwave thawing technique.
3. Microwave Thawing Technique
The Microwave Thawing Technique is another safe technique to apply according to the USDA. Here are the steps:
- Check the manual provided by the manufacturer concerning thawing a turkey;
- You have to confirm whether the turkey you bought can perfectly fit inside your microwave oven;
- Confirm the exact weight of your turkey so you would know how long it must be thawed;
- Next, you have to confirm the ideal power level to use so you can effectively thaw the turkey;
- Once you confirm all the necessary thawing details, remove the turkey from its packaging;
- Place it on a microwave-safe dish;
- Operate the microwave oven using its defrost feature and based on the turkey’s weight. On average, thawing time using the Microwave Technique is approximately six minutes for every pound of turkey; and
- Make sure that you rotate and flip the turkey several times to allow it to thaw evenly.
When applying the Microwave Thawing Technique, you have to be careful not to overdo it lest you unintentionally cook it. Let the turkey rest for five minutes if it appears that it starts cooking instead of thawing. Then, you resume thawing once again.
When you’re halfway through the process, cover the turkey’s thin parts, such as the tips of both wings and drumsticks. This way, these parts will not start cooking.
Once thawed, make sure that you cook it immediately. You have to do this since you aren’t sure if the turkey is fully thawed or partially cooked.
And in the case of the latter, USDA does not recommend refreezing partially cooked food. If there are any bacteria present in the partially cooked turkey, it would not be destroyed the way it would when the turkey is completely cooked.
Thus, if you use this technique, you have to immediately cook the turkey.
Additional Pointers to Remember
Here are additional pointers you should remember:
1. Safe Temperature for Turkey
During the thawing process, you must ensure that there is a safe temperature set for the turkey. A completely frozen turkey is safe from bacteria.
But when the thawing process begins, there is a possibility that the bacteria present in the turkey before being frozen might regrow. That’s why the USDA has guidelines on how to thaw a frozen turkey correctly.
2. Do Not Leave Turkey on the Kitchen Counter
Please do not leave a frozen turkey on the kitchen counter to thaw on its own. Leaving it for over a couple of hours, unattended, is already enough to make it unsafe for consumption. This is because of the regrowth of bacteria while you leave it at an unsafe temperature.
Even if the turkey is not yet completely thawed and some parts are still frozen, the bacteria may have already started to grow in the thawed areas. Bear in mind that foodborne bacteria rapidly multiply when they get the chance. That’s why you must thaw the turkey evenly and cook it immediately.
3. Consider Cooking Turkey Straight from the Freezer
With all these do’s and don’ts, you might start to consider cooking a turkey straight from the freezer. That way, things will be less complicated for you. However, doing so might also mean that your cooking time will take longer than usual. In fact, your cooking time might have to increase by 50 % or more.
Conclusion – Can You Refreeze a Turkey That Has Been Thawed Out?
You can refreeze a thawed turkey according to the USDA. A thawed and uncooked turkey may be refrozen if it was thawed using the Refrigerator Thawing Technique. But if you thawed a frozen turkey using the Cold Water Thawing Technique, you may only refreeze it after cooking.
If you prefer the Microwave Thawing Technique for a faster thawing process, bear in mind that refreezing is an unsafe practice.
The different thawing techniques entail different thawing times too. The Refrigerator Thawing Technique has the longest process of all, ranging between 24 hours and 144 hours. The time it’ll take to thaw a turkey completely depends on the size of the turkey.
- The Cold Water Thawing Technique will only take you hours, which also highly depends on the turkey’s size. Generally speaking, thawing time ranges between two and 12 hours.
- The Microwave Thawing Technique may be the shortest process among the three. However, when you apply this, you can never put back the thawed turkey in the freezer due to the possibility of contamination.
- The Refrigerator Thawing Technique may be the longest process of all. Nevertheless, if you plan to refreeze your thawed and uncooked turkey, this is the safest among all the available techniques. If you are hesitant to refreeze an uncooked one, you can always opt to cook it first before putting it back in the freezer, pretty much like how the Cold Water Thawing Technique works.
These may be long and complicated processes, but if you want to be sure about your safety, there is definitely no harm following the USDA guidelines. As the saying goes, “There is no shortcut to achievement.”