How to Thaw a Turkey

Learn the best (and safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey (hint: it’s in the refrigerator!). Follow our thawing guide based on bird size so you can shop confidently with plenty of time to thaw your turkey.

A frozen turkey thawing in a roasting pan.

Thawing notes:

  • Thaw safely: The best (safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over the course of several days. Never thaw a turkey using warm/hot water, in the microwave, or at room temperature, all of which let bacteria grow before the turkey is thawed.
  • Cost: While a frozen whole turkey can be less expensive, it requires a lot of extra time to thaw. (If you don’t have time, please look for a fresh bird that can be roasted right away.)
  • Time: You will need 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. A large turkey from 15-20 pounds will probably need to spend 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
    • Up to 12 pounds: 1-3 days
    • 12-16 pounds: 3-4 days
    • 16-20 pounds: 4-5 days
    • 20-24 pounds: 5-6 days

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Check your refrigerator’s internal temperature; it should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.
  2. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping. Place the turkey on a tray or shallow pan to collect any juices that may leak out as it thaws.
  3. Store it in a pan on or near the bottom of your refrigerator so if it leaks, it won’t contaminate anything under it. Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of frozen turkey.

A raw trussed turkey in a roasting pan.

Recipe tips and variations:

  • Cold water thaw: While it’s possible to thaw a frozen turkey in a sink full of cold water, it’s difficult to do so safely. You need to keep the water temperature at a constant 40 degrees or colder the entire time it thaws. This means that you need to monitor the temperature of the water with an instant-read thermometer, and change the water about every half hour to maintain that temperature. Because you need to allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of frozen turkey, a 20 pound bird could take up to 10 hours to thaw ( requiring water changes every thirty minutes).
  • Hot water thaw: Never thaw a turkey using hot water. The risk for salmonella is very high when you use hot or lukewarm water to thaw a frozen turkey.
  • Microwave thaw: Never thaw a turkey using a microwave. It’s probably much too big to fit in your microwave, but also, microwave cooking doesn’t make the juiciest turkey in the world, either.
  • Room temperature thaw: Never thaw (or brine) a turkey at room temperature. Whatever people may say, uncooked meat or poultry (including frozen) shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours due to an increased risk of food-borne illness.

A roasted turkey on a platter with fruit.

More turkey tutorials:

 

A frozen turkey thawing in a roasting pan.

How to Thaw a Turkey

Learn the best (and safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey (hint: it's in the refrigerator!). Follow our thawing guide based on bird size so you can shop confidently with plenty of time to thaw your turkey.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Thawing time: 4 days
Servings: 10 servings
Calories: 636kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 1 (14 pound) turkey

Instructions

  • Check your refrigerator’s internal temperature; it should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.
  • Keep the turkey in its original wrapping. Place the turkey on a tray or shallow pan to collect any juices that may leak out as it thaws.
  • Store it at or near the bottom of your refrigerator so if it leaks, it won’t contaminate anything under it. Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of frozen turkey.

Notes

  1. Thaw safely: The best (safest) way to thaw a frozen turkey is slowly in the refrigerator over the course of several days. Never thaw a turkey using warm/hot water, in the microwave, or at room temperature, all of which let bacteria grow before the turkey is thawed.
  2. Cost: While a frozen whole turkey can be less expensive, it requires a lot of extra time to thaw. (If you don’t have time, please look for a fresh bird that can be cooked right away.)
  3. Time: You will need 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. A large turkey from 15-20 pounds will probably need to spend 4 to 5 days in the refrigerator.
    • Up to 12 pounds: 1-3 days
    • 12-16 pounds: 3-4 days
    • 16-20 pounds: 4-5 days
    • 20-24 pounds: 5-6 days
  4. Cold water thaw: While it’s possible to thaw a frozen turkey in a sink full of cold water, it’s difficult to do so safely. You need to keep the water temperature at a constant 40 degrees or colder the entire time it thaws. This means that you need to monitor the temperature of the water with an instant-read thermometer, and change the water about every half hour to maintain that temperature. Because you need to allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of frozen turkey, a 20 pound bird could take up to 10 hours to thaw ( requiring water changes every thirty minutes).
  5. Hot water thaw: Never thaw a turkey using hot water. The risk for salmonella is very high when you use hot or lukewarm water to thaw a frozen turkey.
  6. Microwave thaw: Never thaw a turkey using a microwave. It’s probably much too big to fit in your microwave, but also, microwave cooking doesn’t make the juiciest turkey in the world, either.
  7. Room temperature thaw: Never thaw a turkey at room temperature. Whatever people may say, uncooked meat or poultry (including frozen) shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours due to an increased risk of food-borne illness.

Nutrition

Calories: 636kcal | Protein: 98g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 325mg | Sodium: 505mg | Potassium: 1010mg | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 252IU | Calcium: 50mg | Iron: 4mg
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