Should You Let a Turkey Sit Out Before Cooking? (Yes, but…)

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Are you wondering if you should let your turkey sit out before cooking it? Look no further, because we have all the answers to your questions here.

In this TheGrillingDad.com article you’ll discover:

  • Should you let a turkey sit out before cooking?
  • How long can you leave a turkey at room temperature?
  • And much more!
a raw turkey in a pan with vegetables

Should You Let a Turkey Sit Out Before Cooking?

You’ve always been told not to let the turkey sit out, but now someone is telling you that it will help you to have a juicier bird. So which is it? 

As with most meats, it is better to let a turkey sit out for a short period before cooking it to allow the temperature to rise. This will provide you with a more reliable cooking process overall. But be careful not to let your turkey sit too long, as this can cause bacteria to form. 

Most people know that there is a time constraint on doing this since harmful bacteria can begin to grow if it is left out too long. Because of this, you will want to ensure that you know how long you can leave it out and still be safe.

Keep in mind, however, that should you forget to take the turkey out of the freezer until the last minute, you can still cook it as planned. This is because you can cook a frozen turkey using the same methods although it will take at least twice as long.

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How Long Can You Leave a Raw Turkey at Room Temperature?

One of the largest debates in the cooking industry is whether or not you should let the meat sit out for a bit before cooking. This is because chefs often say that the result is much better when you let it come up to room temperature.

Leaving raw meat like turkey out of the refrigerator for longer than 2 hours can cause harmful bacteria to grow. When this happens and you consume it, you can put yourself at risk for food-borne illnesses.

It is important to keep    in mind that food handling procedures suggest that any food should be kept out of temperatures between 40℉ and 140℉ for extended periods. These temperatures keep food out of the danger zone and free of bacteria. 

Some debate also exists that cooking turkey that has been left out for about two hours will get rid of any bacteria that may be growing. This, however, couldn’t be farther from the truth since at least some of the toxins may be left throughout the cooking process.

an uncooked turkey with hock lock on the legsbrining in a bucket in the kitchen sink.

Is it Better to Leave a Turkey Out Before You Cook it?

Although there are many dangers of leaving raw turkey out of the fridge for too long before cooking, many cooking experts believe that it is a great idea. This is because the closer to room temperature the turkey is, the faster it will cook.

But at the same time, the turkey must also be kept out of the danger zone. To keep the turkey out of the danger zone, it is recommended that you only leave the turkey out for about an hour. This will allow it to rise to a warmer temperature which makes the cooking process go much faster without making you or your family sick.

Now there is little proof as to whether or not leaving your turkey out before cooking actually makes it better or not. For that reason, it is really up to your personal preference as to whether or not you want to leave your turkey out before cooking. We think that the results matter much more how you cool your bird than whether or not you let it sit for an hour at room temperature.

carving a turkey

Best Ways to Thaw a Turkey Before Cooking

While you can leave the turkey out before cooking for a bit, this should only be done to improve texture and flavor, not to thaw the bird.

Many kitchen amateurs may be tempted to leave the turkey out on the counter to thaw it. You should never do this as leaving a turkey out for more than 2 hours will cause bacteria to grow. It is also not a safe way to thaw turkey.

Below are the only safe methods of thawing a turkey.

Store in Refrigerator

The best way to thaw a turkey that keeps it from being exposed to the danger zone is to store it in the refrigerator. This is because the fridge will keep it between 40℉-140℉ which will keep it safe from toxins.

Determining how long it will take a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator will depend entirely on how much the turkey weighs. Typically, you should thaw a whole turkey for 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of weight it has. 

For example, if you purchase a 15-pound turkey, it will take 72 hours, or 3 days for the bird to thaw completely. If you plan to cook the turkey on Thursday, this means you will need to take it out of the freezer by late Sunday or early Monday morning.

Immerse in Cold Water

Another method you can use to thaw the turkey is by using the cold water method, which many people prefer. This is also a chosen method for those who have forgotten to take it out of the refrigerator and want to cook it the same day.

This method requires you to immerse the entire bird in a container of cold water until it is completely thawed. Keep in mind that the water in the container will need to be changed out from time to time to ensure that it is only ice-cold water in it.

When you initially immerse the turkey, you will need to ensure that the water is extremely cold and covers the bird completely. Once immersed, the water should be traded out about every 30 minutes for the best results.

When it comes to the time it takes to thaw a turkey using this method, you will need to calculate about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. This means if your turkey is 15 pounds, it will take about 7.5 hours to thaw.

Another thing to keep in mind about using this method is that the turkey will need to be cooked immediately after the bird is thawed. This is because using this method raises the temperature of the turkey and exposes it to the danger zone where harmful bacteria grows.

What is the Recommended Internal Temperature for a Turkey?

Once you have successfully thawed the turkey, it is time to begin the cooking process by your preferred method. Whether you are cooking it in the oven or smoking it outdoors, you will need to adhere to safety precautions such as reaching the recommended temperature.

For all poultry items, it is recommended that the internal temperature reach 165℉ before it is considered safe to consume. This means that you should have a meat thermometer handy whichever method you choose.

Most people, tend to cook the turkey to about 160℉ since it will continue to cook during the resting stage. Resting the turkey is suggested no matter which method you choose since it is the process that returns the juiciness to the rest of the bird.

It should be noted that for you to ensure that your turkey is free from harmful bacteria, you should always adhere to safe handling practices. This goes from the thawing process through the cooking process and everything else in between.

How Long Can You Leave Leftovers Out of the Fridge?

After you have finished the cooking process and have enjoyed your meal, you may be wondering just how long you can keep the turkey out before it goes bad. This is one of the most common questions since you may get distracted especially if you have friends and family over for dinner.

USDA guidelines suggest that any food, whether it has been cooked or not, should be refrigerated or tossed within 2 hours. This is because when food sits for a long period in the danger zone, you are risking dangerous bacteria from growing.

Once you have successfully finished your meal, you should get the leftovers into the fridge within this 2-hour time frame. Eating food that has not been refrigerated within that time can put you and others at risk of food poisoning.

It is also important to keep in mind that if you place the leftovers in the refrigerator, they may only last up to a week before it goes bad. You can also store the leftovers in the freezer for up to two months before it begins to dry out.

Related >> How Long Does Turkey Last in the Fridge?

Final Thoughts on Whether You Should Let a Turkey Sit Out Before Cooking

The bottom line when it comes to deciding whether to let a turkey sit out before cooking or not depends more on how close you plan to keep watch. The turkey should not sit out for more than 1 hour if you want to be on the safe side.

If you keep a close eye on it and set a timer for extra precautions, then there is no reason you shouldn’t let your turkey sit out for a bit before cooking. Doing so may result in a far juicier and better-tasting turkey overall.

Hope Davis

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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