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How Do I Thaw a Frozen Turkey?

One of the most common turkey questions, answered
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Every holiday season, home cooks around the country planning their Thanksgiving feasts have one question: How do I thaw a frozen turkey? But worry no more. We have two foolproof methods to getting your bird from frozen rock-solid to oven-ready.

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The safest and easiest way to thaw a frozen turkey is to put it in the refrigerator. However, this defrosting method does require some shifting around. To thaw a turkey using this method, take the turkey out of the freezer but keep it in its wrapping. Clear plenty of space on the bottom shelf of your fridge and place a baking tray with sides on it. Place your turkey breast-side-up on the tray. Keeping your turkey on the bottom shelf and on a tray will keep the rest of your fridge’s contents safe from any rogue drippings.

Refrigerator thawing times depend on the weight of your bird. Here is an easy cheat sheet from the United States Department of Agriculture:

  • 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

Essentially, you need to allow one day of thawing time for every 4 pounds of turkey. When counting how many days you’ll need to keep your turkey in the fridge, be sure not to count the day it will be cooked. That’s a roasting day -- not a thawing day. Your turkey will be safe in the fridge for three days after it’s been thawed, so starting the thawing process a little early will ensure that your bird is 100% done before it’s ready to be prepped and cooked.

If you forget to put your turkey in the fridge well before it’s ready to be cooked and you’re expecting dinner guests, you can also use the cold water method to thaw your bird.

For this method, remove your turkey from the freezer and keep it in the wrapper. Fill your sink, bathtub or cooler with cold water and completely submerge your bird, breast-side-down, in the cold water. Change the water every half hour and keep an eye on the temperature. At first, the turkey will chill the water too much and halt the defrosting process. You want to keep the water at about 40 degrees.

For every 1 pound of turkey, you need to keep your turkey submerged underwater for 30 minutes. So, that 18-pound turkey will need 9 hours to defrost.

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And remember two rules: Never thaw your turkey in the microwave and never thaw your turkey at room temperature. For more, check out our helpful guide that answers all your burning Thanksgiving questions.