Food Bank Hands Out Turkeys Ahead Of Thanksgiving
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

No longer only popular at Thanksgiving, turkey's made a strong comeback in recent years. The lean, protein-packed meat provides nutrients such as iron, potassium, B vitamins and zinc – and it's more affordable than ground beef or pork. The tasty dishes that use this meat give you a great reason to keep some frozen turkey on hand. By adhering to the U.S. Department of Agriculture safe thawing practices, your ground turkey will be ready to cook and delicious in any dish.

Thawing Ground Turkey in the Refrigerator

The best method is thawing ground turkey in the fridge. This is because it results in the least amount of moisture loss, and it's the most hands-off method, since you don't have to keep checking the poultry while defrosting it. Also, you can hang on to the turkey in the fridge for up to two days before using it, and you can refreeze it within this time without cooking it first.

Refrigerator thawing is an overnight endeavor, requiring about 24 hours to thaw a pound of the meat. So, it just isn't the best option if you're in a hurry. But as long as you do have the time, go with this method for a finished dish with as much juiciness, flavor and proper texture as possible.

Defrosting Ground Turkey in Cold Water

If you only have a few hours to thaw the ground turkey, use a cold-water bath defrosting process. Add cold water to a stopped sink or a container large enough to submerge the package of frozen ground turkey. Place the turkey in a waterproof bag if it isn't already in one and soak it.

Refresh the water every half hour to keep it cold, until the turkey is thawed. For a pound or less of ground turkey, expect about an hour of thawing time, then add an extra half hour for each half-pound or so after that.

Because of the time spent within the temperature "danger zone," which is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, ground turkey defrosted in this manner must be cooked right away. It also shouldn't be refrozen without cooking it first.

Thawing Ground Turkey in the Microwave

To quickly defrost ground turkey, do it in the microwave. Use the defrost setting and input the weight of your ground turkey. If you don't always get such great results with your microwave's defrost function, you can also thaw by heating it at 50 percent power. Either way, check it frequently and remove thawed portions as you go.

While this is the fastest safe way to thaw, it also negatively affects the quality of the food more than the other methods. Microwave defrosting starts to cook the poultry, which means you're likely to end up with some unevenly cooking and overcooked portions. Also, microwave cooking tends to make ground meat a bit dried out and rubbery.

If you defrost ground turkey in the microwave, cook it immediately after thawing. This includes before refreezing. Meat thawed this way is at high risk for rapid bacteria growth, even to the point where it won't become safe with thorough cooking.

Cooking Frozen Ground Turkey

Ground turkey, whether cooked or uncooked, can be reheated or cooked straight from the freezer. You'll need to increase the cooking time by 50 percent if you choose this method. For example, one hour of cooking time becomes 1.5 hours.

While this isn't always practical – like when you're sauteing the meat – it's fine when you're doing something like cooking it in the oven or adding the ground turkey to a slow cooker. It's faster than thawing in the fridge or cold water, and won't cause the same loss of quality as defrosting in the microwave (the only faster option).

Check Out These Thanksgiving Dinner Recipes