For times when you have a change in plans and decide not to cook your thawed turkey, what should you do? Your first instinct would be to keep it back in the freezer, but is that recommended? Let’s find out!
So, can you refreeze turkey? Yes, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you can refreeze turkey that has been thawed in the refrigerator. This applies to both raw and cooked turkey meat.
Read on for step-by-step instructions on how to refreeze turkey, how long it can stay frozen, the different ways you can thaw it, and much more:
When To Refreeze Turkey
How safe it is to refreeze a turkey depends mainly on how you store it and the thawing technique you used. You can easily refreeze a thawed turkey as long as it has been thawed out in the refrigerator.
If it is fully thawed, you may leave it in the refrigerator for an additional day or two before refreezing it, or you may put it right back into the freezer.
On the other hand, turkey that has been thawed in cold water or the microwave should not be refrozen and must be cooked immediately.
The reason for this is that using either method, the turkey may have temporarily warmed up to a temperature higher than 40°F.
This is the point at which bacteria begin to grow and multiply, and only cooking it at a higher temperature will destroy it.
Alternatively, if the turkey has been left on the kitchen counter or in hot water to thaw, you mustn’t eat it at all as it may have been allowed to sit at a temperature between 40°F and 140°F for far too long to be safe for consumption.
How To Refreeze Turkey
While it is possible to freeze an entire turkey, including the bones, it is recommended to divide it into smaller meal-sized portions to make it easy to use and handle later on.
Not only will it make thawing much easier but also save a lot of freezer space.
When refreezing thawed turkey, keep in mind that the flavor and texture quality may deteriorate, which is why it is recommended to not refreeze it more than once.
Cut the partially or completely thawed turkey into small pieces for easy handling and transfer in freezer-safe bags to prevent freezer burn and cross-contamination. Label the bags with the date and store them in the freezer.
If stored and handled properly, thawed turkey can be refrozen for a couple of months. However, once it has been defrosted for a second time, it is recommended to consume it without further delay.
The Right Way To Defrost Turkey For Refreezing
There are several ways to defrost turkey; however, if you wish to refreeze it, you must follow the correct method which, according to the USDA, is in the refrigerator.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Keep the turkey in the freezer-safe packaging when transferring it from the freezer to the fridge to prevent cross-contamination.
- Place it on a tray or deep plate to catch the water and juices that may leak from it and to prevent it from dripping onto the other food.
- The temperature of the refrigerator should be at least 40°F. It can go lower but not higher than this point.
- Once thawed, you can leave the turkey in the refrigerator for a day or two before you decide to cook or refreeze it.
- Defrosting an entire average-sized turkey may take you an entire day. The total time, however, will depend on the weight of the turkey.
- Turkey defrosted using this technique can be refrozen once. However, attempting to refreeze it more than once may affect the overall quality of the meat.
The best way to tell whether or not the turkey has fully thawed is by touch and feel. Unwrap the turkey, get rid of the neck and giblets, and have a feel inside the bird’s cavity to make sure it has thawed completely.
Another way is by using a probe thermometer to test the breasts and the thighs. They should either be at least 32°F to 40°F or the same temperature as your refrigerator.
Additional Points To Remember When Refreezing Turkey
Here are a few points to remember when refreezing turkey:
1. Do Not Refreeze Turkey That Has Thawed Anywhere Else But In The Refrigerator
It is safe to refreeze foods that still have ice crystals or are at a temperature of 40°F or less. Since most refrigerators are kept either at or below 40°F, it is okay to refreeze foods that have been thawed in the refrigerator.
Do not refreeze it if it has been thawed in the microwave as it may reach a temperature higher than the safe range.
Even turkey thawed in cold water mustn’t be refrozen as you can’t guarantee the water will remain colder than 40°F.
2. Refreeze Turkey Within 48 Hours Of Thawing
Perishable foods such as turkey have a short life to begin with, and since the thawing process increases the risk of bacterial growth, you must either cook or refreeze it as soon as possible, preferably within 48 hours.
Raw ground meat can last for 1-2 days in the refrigerator and raw whole meat can last for around 3-5 days. However, to remove any doubts, it is best to consume or refreeze it as quickly as possible, preferably within 48 hours.
3. Refreeze Only Once
While it is okay to refreeze foods such as turkey and other types of meat, it isn’t recommended to refreeze them more than once.
The reason for this is that the refreezing and thawing process affects the taste and quality of the meat, and doing it repeatedly can cause the turkey to lose its flavor and texture.
4. You Can Refreeze Cooked Turkey
If you have cooked the turkey to a safe temperature before storing it in the freezer, you can refreeze it to use at a later date.
The best way is to wait for the cooked meat to cool down to room temperature, wrap it tightly in small portions, and freeze it as quickly as possible.
How To Refreeze Cooked Turkey
More than raw turkey, you will find yourself looking to refreeze cooked turkey since almost everyone has leftovers, especially when cooking an entire turkey for parties or during the holidays.
The great news is that cooked turkey refreezes really well and can be used later on in the following months when you feel the need.
Here are step-by-step instructions to refreeze cooked turkey:
- The first step is to allow the turkey to cool before putting it in the freezer. Bring it to room temperature, making sure to not leave it out for too long.
- Although it is completely okay to refreeze your turkey whole, slicing it will help with defrosting when you wish to use a small portion for a recipe.
- The way you slice it depends entirely on you, but it may be helpful to keep in mind how you plan on using it later on and slicing it accordingly.
- Wrap the turkey slices in aluminum foil, not adding more than 2-3 slices per wrap. Wrap them tightly to prevent air from getting to the meat.
- Put the wrapped turkey in a large freezer-safe bag, expelling out as much air from the bag as possible before sealing it.
- Label the bag with the date, along with the use-by date, and freeze it safely for around 4 months.
Tips For Refreezing Cooked Turkey
Here are a few great tips for freezing cooked turkey for the best results:
1. Freeze Quickly
When freezing turkey, or any other type of meat, try to get it in the freezer as quickly as you can after cooking it.
Although it is safe to store cooked turkey in the refrigerator for 3 days, doing so might dry it out, which is something you wouldn’t want. Therefore, for best results, freeze it as soon as it is cool enough.
2. Freeze As A Dish
Turkey is a versatile meat that can be frozen in any form, whether you’ve minced it, added it to a dish, or used in a soup or broth.
Instead of freezing plain cooked turkey meat on its own, you can freeze it as part of a recipe in order to let the meat retain its moisture.
3. Use Gravy
Another great way to make sure the cooked turkey stays moist is to pour a small amount of gravy over it before freezing.
Albeit an effective method, it can work only if you plan on using the turkey in a specific way after defrosting.
Other Defrosting Techniques
In terms of defrosting turkey, there are several effective techniques to do so. However, if you plan on refreezing it, the only way to follow is the refrigeration method, which we have discussed in detail above.
Other than thawing turkey in the refrigerator, you can also use the cold-water technique or defrost it in the microwave.
While these methods are safe to use, you cannot refreeze turkey thawed using them and it must be used quickly. However, once the turkey is cooked, it is safe to refreeze the meat.
Cold-Water Thawing Technique
Compared to the refrigeration method, the cold-water thawing technique is faster, although it does require quite a few hours of waiting.
Here’s what you need to do:
- Make sure the turkey is in a fully sealed, leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and water absorption.
- Immerse the sealed and wrapped turkey in cold tap water.
- Depending on the size of the turkey, it can take anywhere between 2-12 hours.
- Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes.
- Cook the turkey immediately after it has thawed.
Microwave Thawing Technique
Using the microwave is another safe way to defrost turkey. Here’s what you need to do:
- Check the manual for the microwave for instructions for thawing a turkey.
- Make sure the microwave is big enough to fit an entire turkey inside it.
- Confirm the exact weight of your turkey so that you can determine the time it would take to defrost it.
- Confirm the power level needed to effectively thaw it.
- Once all that is done, remove the frozen turkey from its packaging and place it on a microwave-safe dish.
- Start the microwave using the defrost feature based on the turkey’s weight. (The approximate thawing time is 6 minutes for every pound of turkey).
- Make sure to rotate and flip the turkey several times to facilitate even thawing.
- Be careful to not overdo the thawing or you may risk unintentionally cooking it.
- If it appears to be cooking instead of thawing, let it rest for 5 minutes and then resume thawing it.
- When you’re halfway done, cover the thin parts of the turkey, such as the drumsticks and the tips of both the wings, to prevent them from cooking.
- Cook the turkey immediately after it has thawed.
How To Never Defrost A Turkey
You must never defrost your turkey on the kitchen countertop at room temperature or in hot water.
The outer layer of the turkey may sit at the danger zone between 40-140°F for far too long to be safe for consumption.
Therefore, even though the above-mentioned thawing techniques, such as the refrigeration method or the cold-water technique, may take longer, they are much safer.
How Long Can You Keep Thawed Turkey In The Refrigerator?
The time your thawed turkey can be kept in the refrigerator depends on how you thawed it in the first place.
If you defrosted it in the fridge, it can be safely kept there for an additional day or two after it has fully thawed. As discussed above, another bonus of using this defrosting technique is that the turkey remains safe for refreezing as well.
On the other hand, if you plan on thawing the turkey in cold water or the microwave, you must cook it immediately as advised by the USDA.
The reason for this is that when using either of these methods, the turkey could temporarily warm up to a temperature higher than 40°F.
This is the ideal environment for bacteria to begin to multiply rapidly and the only way to destroy it is through prompt cooking.
Can You Cook A Frozen Turkey Without Thawing It First?
Yes, for times when you’re in a hurry or simply forgot to defrost the turkey in time, you can roast it in the oven without defrosting it. However, it is not recommended to grill, smoke, or deep-fry a frozen turkey.
You may need some extra cooking time when using a frozen turkey since it takes about 50% longer compared to a thawed turkey.
For example, it would take around 3-3.5 hours to roast a thawed stuffed turkey weighing about 15 pounds, while it would take about 4.5-5 hours to roast the same sized turkey that is frozen.
To determine whether or not the cooked turkey is safe to eat, check its internal temperature often by inserting a food thermometer in the innermost part of the thigh, wing, or the thickest part of the breast when it has thawed enough.
When the turkey reaches a temperature of 165°F in these regions, it is all cooked and safe to eat.
If you’re looking for some fun new ways to cook your turkey, check out this great video from the folks over at Babish Culinary Universe!
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