Learn to safely thaw a frozen turkey in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Use my step-by-step instructions and practical tips to get your frozen bird on the table in no time.
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You have picked the perfect turkey. Now it is time to defrost your bird!
- 🌡️How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey
- 📋Refrigerator Thawing (Recommended Safest Method)
- ⏲️Cold Water Thawing (Last Minute)
- 👩🏻🍳Expert Tip
- ♨️Can you Thaw a Turkey in the Microwave?
- Can you Leave a Turkey Out to Thaw Overnight?
- How To Thaw a Turkey Overnight
- How to Tell If Your Turkey is Thawed
- 🦃Can I Cook a Turkey That is Frozen?
- Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes
- 💭Frequently Asked Questions
- 📖 Recipe
🌡️How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey
The key to defrosting a turkey is to keep it under 40 degrees but warm enough so it actually thaws out. There are three safe methods approved by the USDA.
- Thawing in the refrigerator in the original wrapper. This is the best way to defrost.
- Thawing by submerging the turkey in cold water. This is the fastest method.
- Thawing in a Microwave. This is impractical and might ruin your turkey dinner.
How long it takes to thaw a fully frozen turkey depends on its weight. Use the chart as a guide for thaw time.
📋Refrigerator Thawing (Recommended Safest Method)
This is the safest way to thaw turkey. Luckily it is also the easiest. You just need to plan ahead. If you plan on to brine your turkey (which I highly recommend) add 1 day for a wet brine and 1 to 3 days for a dry brine.
- Be sure your refrigerator is set to 40°F or below, which it should be. Place the wrapped turkey in a container or on a plate to catch any turkey juices that may leak out or drip during thawing. I like to place a rack inside the pan to hold the turkey up. This will allow air to circulate around the turkey for even thawing.
- When thawing a turkey in the refrigerator, plan ahead and allow at least 24 hours per 4-5 pounds of turkey.
Once thawed keep the turkey in the fridge until use. It should be good for at least 2 days.
⏲️Cold Water Thawing (Last Minute)
Use the cold water method only if you purchased your Thanksgiving turkey last minute. Or you wake up Thanksgiving morning to find your turkey is still partially frozen.
- Leave the turkey in its original packaging. It is easiest to do this process in a sink but you can also use a pot.
- Place the turkey in your kitchen sink, it should be breast side down. Fill the sink with cold tap water. It should be under 40 degrees, just like the fridge. The turkey needs to be submerged so hold it down with a pan if needed.
- Allow the turkey to sit in the water for 30 minutes. Change the cold water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.
- Allow for 30 minutes per pound.
- Because of the time it takes, I recommend doing the process the night before and then soaking your turkey in a wet brine overnight.
When using this method you need to cook your turkey immediately. It can not be dry-brined.
If you want to brine your turkey and find it still frozen you can do the cold water method a few times and then brine it. You can brine partially frozen turkeys as long as you can remove the neck giblets and other parts stuffed in the turkey's cavity.
♨️Can you Thaw a Turkey in the Microwave?
While you can defrost a turkey in the microwave it is not recommended. First off, your microwave oven needs to be large enough to fit a whole turkey. Second, the end result is that your roasted turkey is going to have rubbery spots.
This really is a worst-case scenario last-minute solution.
But if you have to;
- Remove any wrapping from the turkey. Place the unwrapped turkey on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may drip during thawing.
- Use your microwave's defrost function, allowing about 6 minutes of defrosting time per pound of turkey. Be sure to periodically rotate and flip the turkey during the defrost cycles based on your microwave's recommendation.
When using this method you need to cook your turkey immediately. It can not be brined or go back in the fridge.
You will also need to thoroughly wash and sanitize your microwave after defrosting.
Can you Leave a Turkey Out to Thaw Overnight?
Absolutely not, you should not leave a turkey out at room temperature to thaw overnight. This includes leaving it on the counter or in a cooler on your back porch.
When thawing frozen meat or poultry, it is crucial to keep the food at a safe temperature. If left on the counter for over 2 hours, the outer layer of the package can enter the "Danger Zone" between 40-140°F, where bacteria grows rapidly, even though the center remains frozen.
We have all heard of salmonella and we want to pass on that bad boy.
How To Thaw a Turkey Overnight
What you can do is the cold water method as many times as possible. Then you can remove the turkey from the packaging and wet brine your turkey or keep it as is in a pot of cool water in the fridge
It will continue to thaw out overnight. You can continue with the cold water method in the morning.
If you brined your bird and you need to switch out the cold water be very careful. As a general rule, we don't want to rinse raw turkey as it can splash bacteria around your kitchen.
How to Tell If Your Turkey is Thawed
- The turkey should not feel solid. You should be able to move the legs. Gently press on the breast, it should feel elastic and bounce back.
- There should be no ice crystals and you should be able to easily remove the giblets and neck.
- Beyond the visual, you can (and should) insert a meat thermometer into the breast. It should be above 30 degrees but below 40.
- If not use the water method to quickly thaw.
🦃Can I Cook a Turkey That is Frozen?
Yes, you can cook a turkey that is still frozen, but extra caution and preparation are required to do so safely. Here are some tips for cooking a frozen turkey:
- Allow significantly more time for the turkey to fully thaw and cook. Cooking time will be about 50% longer for a frozen turkey compared to a thawed one.
- Use a lower temperature, about 325°F to ensure the turkey cooks through without burning the outside. Higher heat will lead to uneven cooking.
- Check the internal temperature frequently with a meat thermometer. A whole frozen turkey needs to reach 165°F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
- Cover the turkey in foil and use a roasting pan to prevent drying out. Baste the turkey regularly throughout cooking.
Thanksgiving Turkey Recipes
💭Frequently Asked Questions
You can place the turkey in a large plastic bag and use the water method to speed up the thawing process.
Unlikely. Fresh turkey is held between 26 and 36 degrees so ice crystals may form. Use the method above to check to see if it is frozen.
You can use the same methods, refrigerator thawing or a water bath, to defrost a turkey breast. Again, I recommend you thaw it in the refrigerator.
How to Thaw a Turkey (2 Best Methods)
- 1 frozen turkey
- cold water
Refrigerator Thawing (Recommended)
- Keep the turkey in its original packaging. Place on a rimmed baking sheet or in a roasting pan. The pan should hold the entire without any hangover. Placing the turkey on a rack in the pan can allow air to circulate underneath.
- Defrost in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of meat. The defrosted turkey can stay in the fridge for 1 to 2 days.
Cold Water Thawing (Fastest)
- Keep the turkey in its original packaging. Place in a sink with a plug (recommended) or a large pot. Fill the pot with cold water. It should be less than 40 degrees (use your instant read thermometer to check). Flip the bird breast side down and put a pot on top to keep it fully submerged.
- Pour out the water and refill every 30 minutes. It takes a minimum of 30 minutes per pound to defrost. The defrosted turkey should be cooked immediately.
- 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
- 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