How Long to Thaw a Turkey, in One Easy Chart

Whether your turkey is still frozen on Thanksgiving morning or you're prepping things a week out, we'll help you determine how long it takes to thaw, and how to do it safely.

Turkey is the undeniable star of the Thanksgiving show, and there are perks to buying a frozen one. According to the USDA, turkeys will keep in the freezer indefinitely, although they advise cooking them within a year for best quality. The only catch with going frozen? It needs time to thaw before cooking to ensure your dinner is safe and on time.

Raw thawed Thanksgiving turkey
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How long does a turkey take to thaw?

That depends on its size and thawing method. If it's early in the week and there's no rush, thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. One the other hand, if you need to defrost a fully frozen turkey fast, use the cold water method or a microwave. For a quick answer, use our simple chart chart to determine how long to thaw your turkey, even if you're in a time crunch. For additional thawing details and tips, read on.

How Long to Thaw a Turkey Chart
Caitlin-Marie Miner Ong

Refrigerator Method

If you have up to a week before T-day, you can thaw your frozen turkey in the refrigerator. Keeping it in its original packaging, set your bird on a rimmed container to catch any juices. In a refrigerator set to 40 degrees F or below, it generally takes one day for every 4 pounds to thaw a fully frozen turkey.

Once thawed, your turkey will keep in the fridge up to two days. If you've started (or even finished) using this thawing method but then change plans (life happens!), it's safe to refreeze your turkey, provided it's been thawed properly in the fridge and is still in its original packaging.

Cold Water Method

If you forgot about your frozen turkey until the day of, or your turkey hasn't entirely thawed in the fridge, this method might save the day. Since water is a better conductor of heat than air, placing a frozen turkey in cool water to thaw works faster than keeping it in the fridge.

Keep your turkey in its original packaging for this method, too. Position your bird breast-side down, and submerge it in an ice chest or sink filled with cool water, making sure water doesn't leak into the packaging. To finish a partially defrosted bird, 30 minutes in cold water may be all you need. If fully frozen, allow about 30 minutes per pound to thaw, and change the water every 30 minutes. When thawed this way, you must cook your turkey immediately, and it cannot be refrozen.

Microwave Method

Of course, the big question is, "Will it fit?" Check your owner's manual for the maximum allowable size and, if feasible, the recommended time per pound and power level to use for thawing. Unlike the other two methods, microwaving dictates you remove all outside wrapping, and then place your bird on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that might leak as it thaws. After using this method, cook your turkey immediately, and do not freeze or refrigerate your microwave-thawed bird.

Can I thaw a turkey at room temperature?

No! Don't even think about it! No matter how dire the situation, it is never safe to thaw a turkey at room temperature.

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