It’s the stuff of Thanksgiving Day nightmares: waking up to put the turkey in the oven and realizing that the bird isn’t thawed entirely — or at all.
Along with that nightmare may come the realization that there’s not the three-plus hours needed to roast a turkey the traditional way.
Now what to do?
Are dreams of leftover turkey sandwiches and turkey soup completely dashed?
A variety of food experts shared advice for how to safely and efficiently thaw (and cook) a turkey in time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Thawing a turkey on a kitchen counter could lead to the growth of dangerous bacteria and the risk of food poisoning — read on for key advice to thaw a turkey safely and effectively.
Here’s what they shared.
Cold water is key to a safe, fast thaw
While the preferred way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator, says the Butterball website, there simply won’t be enough time to do this on Thanksgiving Day and still get a turkey on the table for dinner.
The next best method, curiously enough, is to use cold water.
The cold water will thaw the turkey “at around 30 minutes per pound.”
“To quickly and safely thaw a turkey, fill your kitchen sink with cold water and place the turkey breast-side down into the water and submerge it,” said Matt Johnson, co-author of the food blog Cook Like A Master.
The cold water, said Johnson, will thaw the turkey “at around 30 minutes per pound.”
“Refresh the water each hour to keep the temperature consistent and the thawing progress moving forward,” he added.
Another way to quickly thaw a turkey is to use a sous vide machine, said Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, a food scientist and food industry consultant based in Puyallup, Washington.
“The fastest way to thaw a turkey safely is to place the turkey, still in its packaging or sealed in a plastic bag with most of the air removed, in a cold water bath with a sous vide machine,” he said. (Also known as water ovens, sous vide machines resemble slow cookers; they heat the water in the tub.)
There are smart and safe ways to thaw a Thanksgiving turkey before the big day, according to food experts.
With the water high enough to cover the turkey entirely, the sous vide machine “should be set to the lowest possible temperature, or 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and set to circulate.”
Doing this, he said, “will ensure that the heat transfer between the turkey and the outside of the container is maximized without raising the temperature beyond safe levels where bacteria can thrive.”
One thing not to do, however, is to use heat to speed a thawing turkey.
“Thawing your turkey on your kitchen counter, at room temperature, or in a sink of hot water — [these are] unsafe defrosting practices that should be avoided at all costs,” Eleonora Lahud, a Florida-based corporate chef at C&H Sugar, told Fox News Digital.
Lahud also endorses using cold water to thaw a turkey, and suggests changing the water every 30 minutes to speed thawing.
“Don’t forget to scrub down any surfaces or utensils used to defrost your turkey.”
It’s important to remember good hygienic practices during this time, she said.
“Don’t forget to scrub down any surfaces or utensils used to defrost your turkey,” she said. “Washing these clean with soap and water will help you avoid contaminating other food items, yourself and your future guests.”
The bird is thawed — now what?
With the turkey thawed, there are a few ways to get a tasty dinner on the table in a relatively short time. Turkey is safe to eat when it reaches a temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, says the Butterball website.
A technique called “spatchcocking” will cook a turkey much quicker than the traditional roasting method, food blogger Johnson told Fox News Digital.
Spatchcocking a turkey is one of the fastest ways to cook it, a professional chef told Fox News Digital. Pictured here: a spatchcocked chicken.
“The fastest way to cook a turkey is to spatchcock it,” he said.
This is done by removing the turkey’s backbone and pressing down on the ribcage to “butterfly” the bird and lay it flat on the roasting sheet.
The advantages of a spatchcocked bird?
“The whole bird cooks evenly at the same time” as each of its parts are exposed to the oven, he said.
“The end product will be a juicy, succulent turkey that is cooked in about one hour,” said Johnson.
Spatchcocking a turkey results in "a juicy, succulent turkey that is cooked in about one hour."
Another way to speed up cooking time is to deconstruct the turkey entirely, Brian Nagele, CEO of Restaurant Clicks, told Fox News Digital.
He’s located in the greater Philadelphia area.
“A whole turkey may take hours to cook because of its thickness. However, chopping the turkey into separate pieces — thighs, drumsticks, wings — makes it easier for the oven heat to penetrate the meat and cook it evenly,” he said.
Nagele also advised people to resist the temptation to open the oven door during the cooking process.
Doing so lets heat escape and slows down the time it takes to finish the bird.
Opening the oven door is “one of the most common mistakes I see cooks making,” he said.