How to Thaw Your Thanksgiving Turkey


On Monday, we taught you how to make turkey gravy for Thanksgiving.  Now we’re here to help you with the bird itself! Here is a quick guide, whether you have 4 days or 12 hours, to safely thaw your frozen turkey without risking bacterial growth. No matter which method you select, be sure to cook the turkey promptly after thawing.

Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is the preferred method for safety reasons, but you can also thaw it in cold water. The thing to remember about both methods is that they keep your turkey cold while thawing – the key to preventing excessive bacterial growth.

The Fridge Method:
Using the following chart, simply place the turkey in its original wrap on a tray or in a pan to catch moisture that accumulates as it thaws.

8 to 12 pounds       1 to 2 days
12 to 16 pounds     2 to 3 days
16 to 20 pounds     3 to 4 days
20 to 24 pounds     4 to 5 days

Cold Water Method:
If it’s the day before you plan to serve your turkey and you just remembered that it’s still sitting in the freezer, don’t despair. Check the wrapping to make sure there are no tears, and simply place the bird in its unopened bag in the sink or in a large container and cover it with cold water. If the wrapping is torn, place the turkey in another plastic bag, close securely, and then place in water. You will need to change the water frequently to assure safe but effective thawing. The National Turkey federation recommends every 30 minutes as a rule of thumb.

8 to 12 pounds       4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds     6 to 9 hours
16 to 20 pounds     9 to 11 hours
20 to 24 pounds     11 to 12 hours

For more helpful tips like this, check out our Encyclopedia of Tips!

And if you’re still stumped as to what kind of turkey to make, try one of these tasty turkey recipes!

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  • Kristen Simmons

    Umm.. sad to say my husband didn’t know this the first time he cooked a turkey. He thought he could defrost it last minute like he does frozen chicken breasts but using warm water instead of room temperature water. So instead of lunch time we ate more at dinner time :)

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