The key to a successful Thanksgiving meal is making as much food as possible ahead of time. For meals that are getter enjoyed fresh, you can prepare the ingredients required and save them for use on Thanksgiving Day. Turkey is one such food item and unfortunately, it shouldn't be thawed overnight.
Although the common practice is to leave the turkey out to thaw throughout the night before Thanksgiving, food safety experts discourage the technique as it can encourage the growth of dangerous microbes.
The external parts of frozen meat thaws first before it's insides. This means that turkey that has been left to thaw at room temperature will thaw on the outside while it's interior might still be frozen. When the thawed parts reach the USDA “danger zone” temperature (anywhere between 40° and 140°F), they start to foster the growth of harmful bacteria.
A whole turkey can take hours to fully thaw at room temperature and that is enough time to render the meat unsafe for consumption. After the two-hour mark, you can preempt that bacteria growth has fully kicked in.
So, if you have been doing this and showing no signs of food poisoning, then you have been very lucky. Here's the proper way to thaw your whole turkey:
Transfer the turkey to your refrigerator to fully thaw in a cool environment. Although it's not fast, food safety experts certify this method safe because it staves off the growth of harmful microbes.
Place the turkey or chicken in a refrigerator at a consistent temperature under 40° over a few days to thaw.
Alternatively, you can thaw frozen turkey in cold water. Just make sure to change the water every 30 minutes to maintain a consistent cool temperature.
Now, your turkey will be fully defrosted in time for Thanksgiving morning. Enjoy!