There are several ways to safely defrost a turkey, but leaving it on the counter isn’t one of them. The USDA is reminding people of this ahead of Thanksgiving, because if the frozen turkey sits out at room temperature for more than two hours, the outer layer will reach the “Danger Zone,” temperature when foodborne bacteria rapidly multiply. You also shouldn’t defrost a turkey in the garage, on the porch, in a grocery bag or in a dishwasher (with or without water) according to the USDA.
They recommend one of two approved methods instead: putting it in the fridge, or a cold-water bath. To safely defrost a frozen turkey, or any other frozen meat, you don’t want it to warm up to temperatures between 40-degrees and 140-degrees Fahrenheit.
There’s some math and time involved whether you choose the fridge or cold water. In the fridge, a frozen turkey will need roughly 24 hours for every four to five pounds to thaw, but a cold-water bath is a lot faster, as it takes about 30 minutes per pound, but you’ll need to cook it right after it’s thawed. With Thanksgiving just 3 days away, you better start thawing your turkey now.