Party on my porch: how I thawed my turkey

Much has been written about how to properly defrost a turkey for the Thanksgiving food orgy. Sure, some buy fresh birds – I did a couple of times in the 1990s and decided it wasn’t worth it — or cook directly from frozen (which actually works, thanks, Pete), but U.S. government advice is to defrost the turkey, in the fridge, in cold water, or in the microwave.

I don’t like any of those options.

I purchased a 15-pound a Jennie-O frozen turkey on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at 6 p.m. from Dillons in Manhattan (that’s in Kansas). At $0.68 a pound, it was a protein centerpiece bargain.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a 15-pound bird should take 36-48 hours to defrost in the refrigerator, or 6-8 hours in cold water in the sink. The later is a potential cross-contamination nightmare so no water is going near my bird. And I don’t have room in the fridge.

Instead I left the bird in its plastic wrapper and put it directly into the roasting pan, with a lid. It was so frozen and so solid, I left the bird at room temperature – about 66 F – overnight for 13 hours. It was still frozen in the morning.

On Nov. 21, at 8 p.m., I placed the bird in the covered roasting pan on front porch overnight where the ambient temp varied from 45F – 30F. On Nov. 22 at 8 a.m., 36 hours after purchasing the frozen bird, with an ambient temp 38F, the surface of the bird was 35F and the interior 29 F.

This is not for food service, this is for the home cook. And while I was initially concerned about cats and ‘coons, neither had penetrated the lid on the roasting pan.

On Nov. 23 at 8 a.m., the surface of the bird was 35 F and the interior, 29 F.

Same thing this morning, Nov. 24, 2010, at 8 a.m. I’ll probably leave it on the porch another night, and then bring the bird inside first thing Thursday morning so it starts to warm up and the center actually thaws.

Depending on where you live, a garage can work equally well for a long, slow thaw.

Pete Snyder at the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a summary available demonstrating the safety of thawing poultry at room temperature at http://www.hi-tm.com/Documents/Thaw-counter.html.??

My group wrote a review note on the topic a few years ago, and it is included in its entirety at http://barfblog.foodsafety.ksu.edu/2007/10/articles/food-safety-communication/how-to-thaw-poultry-ignore-government/??.

And however the bird is thawed (or not) verify the temperature using a tip-sensitive digital thermometer and cool the leftovers within two hours.