(NEXSTAR) - Depending on the size of your Thanksgiving turkey, you may be running out of time to thaw it in the refrigerator, which is the safest method, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. For this thawing method, the USDA recommends allowing approximately 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. So, a 16-pound turkey will require around four days of refrigeration. Once thawed, the turkey will need to be cooked within two days.
Proper thawing is critical to ensure food safety, but if it's already too late to get your bird in the fridge, two other methods are available: in cold water or the microwave. Both of these methods require cooking the bird immediately upon thawing.
To thaw in water, leave the turkey in its original wrapping and place it in a sink or container full of cold water. The USDA said the water must be cold to keep the turkey at a safe temperature. The water should also be changed every 30 minutes.
Allow 30 minutes of cold-water thawing for every pound of bird, so a 16-pound turkey will require around 8 hours to thaw. The turkey will need to be cooked immediately upon thawing. For help determining how long to thaw your bird, check out Butterball's "How Long to Thaw?" calculator available for both refrigerator and water thawing methods.
While microwave thawing is a USDA-approved method, you should check your microwave's owner's manual to determine if your bird will fit. The owner's manual should also detail how many minutes per pound and the power level required to thaw your turkey correctly. As a general rule, allow 6 minutes per pound, and be sure to rotate it several times during the thawing process.
If you forget to thaw your turkey or it is still icy on Thanksgiving morning, you can cook it from frozen. It will just take quite a bit longer. The USDA recommends using a food thermometer to make sure the bird reaches 165 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast.