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How To Thaw A Turkey

Learning how to thaw a turkey is not just important, it’s also really easy. Check out these methods for thawing a turkey safely so you can enjoy the holidays without a hitch!

Making sure you use a safe thawing method will help reduce the risk of foodborne illness happening during your holiday meal. Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator takes several days depending on the size of your turkey. Read on for all of the safety methods we share straight from the FDA.

Pin showing the title of how to thaw turkey the safe way with images of turkey

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How To Thaw A Turkey

Thawing the turkey for Thanksgiving dinner may slip your mind with all of the preparations going on for the family dinner.  You are busy cooking, cleaning, and preparing, and oops,  you forget to thaw the turkey.

Oh no, now what are you going to do? If you didn’t plan ahead and thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, there are a few things you can do! It’s important to practice proper food safety to ensure no one gets sick from an improperly defrosted or prepared turkey.

Start by realizing that it will take several days for your turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. You can keep the turkey thawed for a day or two in the fridge prior to cooking.  

Top down view of a turkey now that we know how to thaw a turkey we can cook it

Besides using the refrigerator, there are two other ways to thaw a turkey. You can use the cold water method or the microwave. I personally use the fridge method and then resort to the cold water if I guessed wrong on thawing time or forgot to pull the turkey out of the freezer.

How to Thaw a Turkey Safely In The Fridge Method:

When you remove the turkey from the freezer keeps the turkey in its plastic wrapper. Place the turkey on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices.   Allow about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey following the timetable below as a guideline.  Remember that you can keep the turkey in the refrigerator for a day or two extra once it’s thawed.

4 to 12 pounds = 1 to 3 days
12 to 16 pounds = 3 to 4 days
16 to 20 pounds = 4 to 5 days
20 to 24 pounds = 5 to 6 days

Click here to download or print your FREE turkey thawing cheat sheet

A raw turkey in a baking pan to be prepped for dinner

How to Thaw a Turkey Safely Cold Water Method:

Thawing a turkey in cold water requires a bit more action on the cook’s part. Again keep the turkey in the wrapper and allow 30 Minutes per pound for the turkey to soak in cold water.

You will need to change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.  Use the timetable below as a timeline to thaw your turkey.

4 to 12 pounds = 2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds = 6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds = 8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds = 10 to 12 hours

Click here to download or print your FREE turkey thawing cheat sheet

A cooked turkey how to thaw a turkey and then it's cooked to perfection

Thawing Turkey Safely Microwave Method:

When choosing to use the microwave to thaw a turkey it’s important to use the manufacturer’s instructions and be sure to cook the turkey as soon as it has thawed. With microwave thawing the meat can begin to cook allowing for bacteria to grow. I don’t recommend a microwave method. It’s risky and the turkey may have poor quality.

Click here to download or print your FREE turkey thawing cheat sheet

Planning a few days ahead of time will save you time and no one will have to eat frozen turkey for Thanksgiving,

You did it! You thawed that turkey safely and you’re ready to cook a fabulous meal.

Looking for other awesome Thanksgiving tips?

Be sure you know How to Cook a Turkey Like a Boss! With all these tips under your belt, you are sure to impress the whole family with your mad turkey cooking skills!

Now that you know how to thaw a turkey and cook a turkey, make sure you can stuff it correctly, too. Visit our post on How to Stuff a Turkey and you will be a pro in the kitchen this Thanksgiving.

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  1. Today is Sunday, I bought a fresh turkey at Walmart. Will it be ok in the fridge until thursday?

    1. I would say yes as long as the expiration day / best by date on the tag doesn’t say differently. Keep it appropriately stored (make sure the fridge is staying cold enough with all that extra meat) and it should be fine!

  2. Cooking turkey roasts in a large vat for school. Boiled them . Running out of time 4 hours later! Turkey roast$ still bloody in the center’s! Can I take them out and put them in the cooler and refill them the next day? Would this be safe to eat! I don’t want to make anyone sick.

  3. Molli vandehey says:

    thank you so much for this. im doing the turkey on my own for the first time this year…

  4. I’m glad to see someone’s addressing this. It’s vital to the whole Thanksgiving turkey thing, yet it seems like most people are just focusing on what to do with the bird once it’s thawed. Thank you! 🙂

  5. Yes I’m one of those grammar nazis. Please check your spelling in your post.

    1. @Lynn, We are talking turkey. lol Not grammar.

  6. Holy cow…I had no idea! Glad I saw this as this is my first year cooking a turkey!

  7. Kristin K says:

    Thank you for the time frames on how to defrost a turkey! I’m never quite sure how long it takes. I usually leave it out for 24 hours…it seems to work.

  8. I like to thaw in fridge for a few days and on Wednesday put it in a nice brine to finish thawing and getting some extra flavour, etc……two birds one stone

  9. Since I can’t be up around the clock to change the water for a 24 Lb turkey that I need to thaw out in 3 days, can I thaw it out in the cold water while I am up and put it in the fridge and then cold water again the next day and so on until it thaws?

    1. That sounds like it will work. You just want to keep the temperature cool enough so the bacteria doesn’t grow. Sounds like your going to have a great turkey. 24 lbs is a big one. Happy Thanksgiving!!

    2. Yep me too but was just me and new hubby. I didn’t stuff because grama always stuffing in dish so it never got cooked. This was 48 yrs ago since then u perfected dinner .

  10. Jessica K. says:

    Thank you so much for this!!!!!!!!! I’m fixing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time. I have never attempted to fix a turkey. maybe with this I wont end up with a frozen turkey.

    1. Just a friendly tip. Remember to take the neck and the giblet bag out of the turkey cavity before cooking. My first turkey was still slightly frozen inside the cavity and no amount of searching for the elusive neck an bag found it (it was froze to the inside of the bird). Anyway I stuffed it and cooked it and when digging out the stuffing pulled the neck and giblet bag out as well. My in-laws still give me a hard time about it 34 years latter!

    2. Victoria Archer says:

      I did the same lol 50 yrs ago and I still laugh.

  11. I have actually never cooked thanksgiving dinner – ever. The men in our family cook it – my husband, my brother-in-law, my son-in-laws. If I am ever cook a turkey, I will have this blog post to reference. Thanks so much for the information. I pinned your post and I am now following you too.

  12. This was very informative on how to thaw a turkey thank you so much and i learned a lot from this blessings your way from my house to your house.

  13. I’m a fridge thawer, but I’m the sort who plans out every minute in the days before the meal, so everything is ready at the right time.