Learn how to thaw a frozen turkey the best, safest way (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.
Table of Contents
  1. Tutorial notes
  2. Step-by-step instructions
  3. Recipe tips and variations
  4. How to Thaw a Turkey Recipe

Tutorial 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. 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.
Patting a turkey dry with paper towels.
  1. Once it has thawed, you can brine the turkey if desired.
Adding dry brine to a turkey.

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.

Perfect Roast Turkey

This simple Roast Turkey recipe relies on dry-brining and butter-basting for the juiciest, most delicious turkey you’ve ever had. Save your pan drippings too for an easy classic gravy recipe. My idea of perfectly roasted…

1 day 5 hours 30 minutes
View Recipe

More turkey techniques

Someone patting an uncooked turkey with a paper towel.

How to Thaw a Turkey

Learn how to thaw a frozen turkey the best, safest way (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 4 votes
Prep Time 5 mins
Cook Time 1 min
Thawing time 4 d
Servings 12 servings
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Calories 227

Ingredients 

  • 1 (14 pound) whole turkey frozen

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 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 227kcalProtein: 35gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 116mgSodium: 180mgPotassium: 361mgSugar: 1gVitamin A: 90IUCalcium: 18mgIron: 1mg
Tried this Recipe? Pin it for Later!Mention @CulinaryHill or tag #CulinaryHill!
Culinary School Secrets
Pro-level tricks to transform your cooking!

Meggan Hill

I’m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

You May Also Like

Questions and Comments

Thank you for your comments! Please allow 1-2 business days for a reply. Our business hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 am PST to 5:00 pm PST, excluding holidays. Comments are moderated to prevent spam and profanity.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments