Turkey Parameters- thaw, brine, inject

Safely Thawing and Brining a Frozen Turkey in a Cooler

Below is by Noboundaries at SMF.  Chef JJ said: “That will work.”

How to Thaw in a Cooler:

1.  Put a frozen 18 lb turkey in the 28-quart cooler.  Leave it in the original vacuum wrapping. 

2.  Cover with cold water, close cooler, and walk away.  If using a regular cooler, not an Xtreme cooler, figure 30 minutes per pound to thaw.  If using an Xtreme cooler, triple that.

3.  When the required time is up, check the temperature of the water close to the bird, but not touching.  It should be 34-39°F.  A thawed bird will feel spongy to the touch.  If not thawed, you can feel hardness below the skin. 

4.  When the bird is thawed, leave the cold water in the cooler. 

How to Prep Turkey for Bag Brining in a Cooler:

1.  Prepare your favorite brine.  If using an “enhanced” bird, one that has been pre-brined, cut the salt in your brine in half or the bird will be too salty.  

2.  Put a cookie sheet on the counter, the kind with a 1/2″ to 1″ lip around the edges to catch liquid and brine. Place the thawed bird on the cookie sheet.  Remove the original turkey wrapping and discard.

3.  Remove the neck from the main cavity and the internal organ bag from the neck cavity.  Save or discard, depending on your preference (I smoke the neck and use the organs in gravy).

4.  Inject your favorite brine recipe into the breast of the bird.

5.  Using a Ziplock XL Storage bag (10 gallon size, $5.99 for four bags at Amazon as an add-on item, it is food-safe), slip the turkey into the bag like putting a pillow into a pillow case.  Turn the bird so it is breast side down in the bag.

6.  Lower the open bag into the cold water in the cooler, but don’t allow any of the water to get into the bag.  Pour the brine into the bag.  Seal the bag, letting the water squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag.  Double check that it is sealed (experience talking).  Dump some ice into the cooler. 

7.  Let brine for 12-24 hours.  Check occasionally for ice still present in the water.  Add more if needed.

8.  After brining period, discard water, brine, and Ziplock brining bag.  Prep bird for the smoker.  Thoroughly clean the cooler.

Below was posted by Chef JJ

Thawing Times from USDA/FSIS

“The Big Thaw”
Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during “the big thaw.” While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely. However, as soon as it begins to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again.

A package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter more than 2 hours is not at a safe temperature. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outer layer of the food is in the “Danger Zone” between 40 and 140 °F — at a temperature where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.

Refrigerator Thawing

When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.

Refrigerator Thawing Times – Whole turkey:

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.

Cold Water Thawing

Allow about 30 minutes per pound.

First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, resulting in a watery product.

Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed.

Cold Water Thawing Times 

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.


In addition to below see Chef JJ’s Compiled Turkey Process for his brine recipe.

From Chef JimmyJ at SMF –  Edited for format only to put into numbered steps.

  1. Put it in the brine on Wed night, it should be thawed or real close.
  2. Soak 24 hours then Thurs night, pull and pat dry.
  3. Set the bird on a rack in a roasting pan and refer uncovered until smoke time on Saturday. Basically, you are getting a 24 hour Brine time and 24 hours of Drying Time. This will still be a juicy bird but the Skin will be a much better quality color wise and will get crispier if you like that sort of thing…JJ
His critique of the above:
USDA Guidelines like these are available, online, for the average cook, may very well have no idea what they are doing….We at the SMF follow and post guidelines because we simply don’t know who is reading our posts…That being stated…Many techniques have been developed to enhance the Flavor, Moisture and Tenderness of Poultry…Many of these techniques in and of themselves have Antibacterial Properties or Retard Bacterial Growth…When proper safety measures are combined with any one or more of these techniques, the Suggested TIME Thawed before Cooking Guidelines can be Safely expanded to accommodate the Enhancing Techniques…Example:

  1. Guideline states Turkey thawed by cold-water method should be cooked immediately…we now add a brine containing sufficient levels of Salt, Sugar and/or Acid to retard or eliminate bacterial growth for an additional 2 days…SAFE…
  2. The bird is removed from the brine, containing similar or reduced levels of Bacteria, patted dry and place under Refrigeration for an additional 2 days at Temperatures that Retard Bacterial Growth…SAFE…
  3. The Bird is now removed from refrigeration and Washed, Removing significant quantities of Bacteria that may have multiplied in the last 48 hours… SAFE…
  4. A Rub containing any number of Desiccating Ingredients, which include Salt, Sugar (with proven Antibacterial Qualities) and an assortment of Dry Herbs and Spices, are applied to the Bird and placed Back under Refrigeration for 12-24 Hours…SAFE…
  5. The Bird is now placed in an Oven or Smoker at the ABOVE Stated 325*F which has been established through testing not only gets the outer 1/2 inch of Exterior and Cavity (unstuffed) meat above 135*F in 30 minutes, which reduces any residual Bacteria by 99%…Can take the entire Muscle Mass of Birds up to 20Lbs to 165*F, causing complete Active Bacteria Destruction…SAFE!
  6. Note: The 325*F is from the example above…Safe cooking of Poultry happens at 225*F and up…JJ

Thaw properly, Brine under refrigeration with Salt, 1/2 to 1 Cup per Gallon of Water. Allow to dry under refrigeration to enhance pellicle formation and support the formation of crispy skin during roasting, Apply rub with or without fat and refrigerate…Roast or Smoke at sufficient temperatures to get the Turkey IT above 135*F in 4 Hours or less, Roast to 165*F IT in the Breast and 175*F IT in the thickest part of the Thigh and ENJOY YOUR TURKEY…..Watch for little BONES they AREN”T SAFE!!!!…JJ

Alternate – Advice to a guy about crisp skin on a turkey in the moist MES he said:  “Hey Buddy, Smoke that turkey at 225*F to about 140*F IT then stick it in the Oven at 400*F to finish the cook to 165-170*F…JJ”

Click for Turkey Injection recipes from Louisiana

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