How To Thaw A Frozen Turkey

Discover the safest and most effective methods to thaw a frozen turkey for your holiday meals.
Thawing turkey displayed with ingredients like herbs and butter.
Thawing Turkey – Preparing for a Feast with Fresh Ingredients.

Preparing a turkey for a festive feast can be a daunting task, especially if you’re dealing with a frozen bird.

But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

This guide will walk you through the process of safely thawing a frozen turkey, ensuring that your star player is ready for the big day.

View of a baked turkey inside an oven, mid-cooking process.

Three Ways to Thaw a Frozen Turkey

There are three main methods for thawing a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. The method you choose will depend on the amount of time you have before you need to start cooking.

1. Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator

This is the slowest method, but also the safest and most hands-off. Here’s how to do it:

  • Time needed: Allow approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. For example, a 15-pound bird will take about 3 days to thaw completely.
  • Keep the turkey in its original wrapping while it’s thawing.
  • Place the turkey breast-side-up in a baking pan to prevent any drips from contaminating other foods and refrigerator surfaces.
  • Once thawed, you can hold the turkey in the fridge for up to 2 days before cooking.

2. Thawing a Turkey in Cold Water

This method is faster than refrigerator thawing but requires more attention. Here’s how to do it:

  • Time needed: Allow approximately 30 minutes for every pound of turkey. A 15-pound bird will take about 7½ to 8 hours to thaw completely.
  • Keep the turkey in its original wrapping, and place it in a larger, leak-proof plastic bag. Squeeze out extra air and seal the bag.
  • Place the sealed bag breast-side down in a sink or bucket large enough so the turkey will be completely submerged. Fill with cold water. You may need to cover the turkey with a plate and place some heavy cans on top of it to keep it totally submerged. Change the cold water every 30 minutes.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.
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3. Thawing a Turkey in the Microwave

This method is the fastest, but not all microwaves are large enough to accommodate a turkey. Here’s how to do it:

  • Time needed: Read the user manual for your oven to get instructions for thawing a frozen turkey. Times and power settings will vary from model to model. In general, it could take an hour or more on the defrost setting, depending on the size of the turkey.
  • Take the turkey out of its original wrapping, and remove any metal clips or tags.
  • Place the turkey breast-side up in a microwave-safe pan to catch any drips.
  • After the turkey is thawed, wash the inside of your microwave to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

How Long to Thaw a Turkey

The times shown are approximate, and are based on thawing a whole frozen turkey:

  • Thaw time in the fridge requires about 24 hours for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at about 40 degrees F (5 degrees C).
  • Thaw time in cold water requires about 30 minutes per pound in cold water, refreshed every 30 minutes.
Turkey WeightHow Long to Thaw In the FridgeHow Long to Thaw In Cold Water
10 to 18 pounds2 to 3½ days5 to 9 hours
18 to 22 pounds3½ to 4½ days9 to 11 hours
22 to 24 pounds4½ to 5 days11 to 12 hours
24 to 29 pounds5 to 6 days12 to 15 hours

Food Safety

We cannot over-emphasize food safety when it comes to thawing turkey. It’s important to keep the whole turkey at a safe temperature throughout the thawing process to prevent bacterial growth that can lead to foodborne illness. That’s why you should never thaw a frozen turkey at room temperature on your kitchen counter, or in hot water.

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Turkey Thawing Time Calculator

To make the process even easier, we’ve developed a handy Turkey Thawing Time Calculator. Simply enter the weight of your turkey, and the calculator will tell you how long it will take to thaw using each of the three methods. It’s a great tool to help you plan ahead and ensure that your turkey is ready to cook when you are.

Happy cooking!

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