As you’re putting the finishing touches on Thanksgiving plans this holiday season, don’t forget one of the most important steps of all: thawing your turkey!

While it may sound obvious, forgetting to the thaw the turkey is one of the most common Thanksgiving mishaps. Thawing your turkey correctly can help keep your family healthy and save you the trouble of last-minute improvisation at mealtime.

The USDA recommended method of safely thawing a turkey is in the refrigerator. Refrigeration allows the turkey to defrost at a consistent, safe temperature and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. However, this method takes some time. For every 4-5 pounds of weight, you will need to allow one full day (24 hours) for thawing. Based on the size of your bird, this may take a few days before it is ready to cook. Mark the calendar ahead of time to avoid last minute stress! To thaw your turkey in the fridge, leave it in its original wrapping and place the turkey on the lowest shelf in a large tray or pan to catch any juices that may leak.

If you’re pressed for time, another method to defrost your turkey is submerging it in a cold-water bath. To thaw, leave the turkey in its original wrapping and submerge it in a sink or container full of cold water (approximately 40 degrees). Make sure water is not able to leak through the wrapping. A cold-water bath will thaw a whole turkey quicker than refrigeration (30 minutes per pound), but it is important to change the water every half hour. Once thawed, your turkey is ready to cook immediately.  

Preparing for the big feast does not have to be difficult, but it may require some planning. Save the meltdown for the butter you’re slathering on the bird and make sure to allow yourself the right amount of time to see that your Thanksgiving celebration goes right according to schedule.

Note: It is perfectly safe to cook a frozen turkey. Just be sure to allow for 50 percent more cooking time and make sure the internal temperature reaches 165 ˚F! Also, don’t forget to factor any time you need to brine or marinade your turkey, which may require starting “The Great Thaw” a day early!