How Long to Thaw a Turkey on One Easy-to-Use Chart

Whether still frozen on Thanksgiving morning or you're planning a week ahead, we'll help you determine how long to safely thaw your turkey.

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Turkey is the undeniable star of the Thanksgiving show, and there are perks to buying a frozen one. According to the USDA, turkeys keep in the freezer indefinitely, although they advise cooking them within a year for best quality.

The only catch with going frozen? It needs considerable time to thaw before cooking to ensure your Thanksgiving dinner is safe and on time. How long does a frozen turkey take to thaw? That's the tricky part because it depends on its size and thawing method:

  • If it's a week or so ahead and there's no rush, thaw your turkey in the refrigerator.
  • If you're not a planner and need to defrost a fully frozen turkey fast, use the cold-water method.
  • If you're in a pinch and your turkey fits in your microwave, use your unit's defrost function.
  • Worse case, you can roast a frozen turkey, but be prepared for an extra-long cooking time.
  • Whatever you do, don't thaw a turkey at room temperature.

For a quick answer, use our simple chart to determine how long to thaw a turkey, even if you're in a time crunch. Based on USDA guidelines, we offer further details about each of the five thawing methods—two widely recommended, two doable in a pinch, and one definite no-no.

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

Thawing in the Refrigerator

Provided there's plenty of time before T-day, your best bet is to 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 for 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, unopened packaging.

Thawing in Cold Water

If you forgot about your frozen turkey until the day of, or your turkey hasn't entirely thawed in the fridge in time, 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.

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 completely thaw, and change the water every 30 minutes to ensure the water stays cool (below 40 degrees F).

For this method, 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. When thawed this way, you must cook your turkey immediately, and it cannot be refrozen.

Thawing in the Microwave

Thawing a turkey in the microwave is not highly recommended but may do in a pinch. 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 first 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.

Not Thawing at All

According to the USDA, just because your turkey is still icy on Thanksgiving morning, it doesn't mean you're destined to call for pizza delivery. It's perfectly safe to roast a turkey in its solidly frozen state, although it'll take at least 50 percent longer to cook than a thawed turkey. If only partially frozen, figure it'll still take a bit longer to cook.

Whether starting out fully or partially frozen, it's especially important to use your meat thermometer because the cook times listed on the turkey's package no longer apply. When your bird measures 165 degrees F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing, and the thickest part of the breast, it's ready.

Thawing at Room Temperature

No! Don't even think about it! No matter how dire the situation, it's never safe to thaw a turkey at room temperature—not on the kitchen counter, garage, or back porch; not in a grocery bag (paper or plastic); and not in a dishwasher or turned-off oven. You may find authorities that recommend safe ways to defrost a turkey at room temperature, but according to the USDA, it's a non-starter.

The USDA states that any package of poultry left thawing on the counter for more than 2 hours is not safe. Even though the center of the package may still be frozen, the outermost layer is considered in the "Danger Zone"—any temperature between 40 and 140 degrees F—where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly.

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