Divine Dinner Party

How to Thaw a Turkey

Knowing how to thaw a turkey -- that hard and frozen block of bird that's been sitting in your freezer-- is the first part of cooking that huge Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. After all, when the bird comes out of the freezer and thawing turkey time begins, the countdown to the big holiday meal has truly started.

Frozen Bird-- Thanksgiving Turkey

The browned and scrumptious turkey is the star of any Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner party. It's also the most work-intensive part. If you take the time to plan (or even if you don't), thawing a frozen turkey is easy as pie. Turkey pot pie, that is. (Sorry.)

Don't have time to thaw a turkey at all? As long as you follow special instructions, you can cook your frozen turkey directly in the oven. Find out how to cook a frozen turkey here.


Thawing a Frozen Turkey in the Refrigerator

There are lots different ways to thaw a turkey, and you can read about them on this page about the best ways to thaw a turkey. But over a long period of time in the refrigerator is the most common.

The first part of knowing how to thaw a frozen turkey correctly is calculating thaw time for weight. For each 4-5 pounds or so of turkey (allow approximately one pound of turkey per person), the frozen turkey will need to be in the fridge (at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) for 24 hours. Keeping the frozen turkey in the packaging, place it in a roasting pan (to catch any turkey-tainted melt-off) in the refrigerator.

Weight of Turkey Thawing time
4 - 12 pounds 1 - 3 days
12 - 16 pounds 3 - 4 days
16 - 20 pounds 4 - 5 days
20 - 24 pounds 5 - 6 days

How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey in the Fridge
Note: a thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for one to two days.

Thawing Turkey in Cold Water

Did you forget to pop the turkey in the fridge a few days ahead of time? Or do you not have room in your refrigerator for a man-sized turkey, and need to know how to thaw a turkey out more quickly? Use cold water.

To thaw a turkey in cold water, keep it in its original wrapping and make sure NO water can penetrate the wrapping (leakage can result in a soggy, waterlogged turkey). Re-wrap if necessary. Cover the frozen turkey in cold water (tap water is fine), and change the water every half-hour or so. Cook the turkey immediately after it's thawed-- don't refreeze, refrigerate, or let it sit.

To thaw a turkey in cold water, you'll need to leave about half-an-hour per pound:

Weight of Turkey Thawing time
4 - 12 pounds 2 - 6 hours
12 - 16 pounds 6 - 8 hours
16 - 20 pounds 8 - 10 hours
20 - 24 pounds 10 - 12 hours

How to Thaw a Turkey in the Microwave

If you look online, you'll see several websites that talk about how to thaw a turkey... and many will tell you never to use a microwave-- that it's unsafe. And while it's true that thawing a turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water is safest, according to the USDA Food Safety & Inspection website for Poultry Preparation, thawing a turkey in the microwave is okay. Which probably comes as a relief if you're in a real rush.

To thaw a turkey in the microwave, simply remove the wrapping, place in a dish, and follow your microwave's defrosting instructions by weight. You must be sure to put the turkey in the oven immediately after thawing this way, as bacteria propagates as the turkey is warmed in the microwave. Never refrigerate or cook later.

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Learned enough about how to thaw a turkey and want more Thanksgiving tips? Check out our First Thanksgiving Dinner help guide.

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If you're new at preparing turkey, you might need some help deciding how to cook it or what supplies you'll need.

Visit Turkey Cooking Supplies and Turkey Cooking Times for lots of help on planning for and preparing a turkey-- for first-timers and old-hands alike.

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Cooking a Whole Turkey
or Some Drumsticks?

Free Holiday Turkey Recipe Guide to How to Cook a Turkey

If it's a fat bird with a beard (no, I don't mean your Aunt Marjorie), we can help you cook it. Click on the icon above or click here to get started with recipes and tips on how to cook a turkey for Christmas, Thanksgiving, or any time of year.

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