Home Articles How to Thaw a Turkey (3 Safe Methods)

How to Thaw a Turkey (3 Safe Methods)

The holidays are just around the corner, and by now you’re already probably wondering how to thaw a turkey.

Never fear, intrepid home cook! 

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If you’re like most newbies, you’ll probably be thawing your bird in the fridge the night before you cook it.

Or if you aren’t sure how, maybe you’re leaving it on the counter.

Homemade Roasted Turkey with Potatoes and Broccoli

Turkey-thawing rules can be a little tricky, so I’ve put together a guide with all the information you need.

Cooking a turkey can be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be!

This step-by-step guide will walk you through how to thaw a turkey safely and easily.

So don’t stress. Follow these simple tips and your turkey will be cooked to perfection.

Happy Holidays!

Raw Turkey in Refrigerator

How to Thaw a Turkey in the Refrigerator

This process is the slowest of them all, but it’s also the safest.

Thawing turkey at room temperature is like welcoming harmful bacteria to take part in your Thanksgiving feast!

As I said, it’ll take 24 hours to thaw a 5-pound bird.

Meaning, if your turkey weighs 10 pounds, you need to allot 2 days for defrosting.

There are also a few things you need to consider, such as the temperature of your fridge.

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Check out these step-by-step instructions to ensure you cover all the bases.

1. Check your fridge’s internal temperature.

It should be at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. 

2. Prepare the turkey.

Keep it in its original wrapping and place it breast-side-up on a tray or shallow pan. 

Don’t just pop the bird in the fridge without a vessel to rest on.

You’ll need something to catch all the juices that may ooze out of the wrapping while thawing.

3. Refrigerate the turkey.

Place it at the bottom or near the bottom rack of your fridge.

That way, in case there’s leakage, it won’t drip down the other contents of the fridge.

4. Thaw for 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey.

Note: completely thawed turkey can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Tip: In case you’ve already completely thawed out your turkey and then for some reason change your mind, you can still refreeze it.

That’s another advantage of thawing the turkey in the fridge. It’ll allow you to refreeze it safely, unlike other methods.

Just place the turkey back in the freezer and re-thaw when ready.

Raw Turkey Soaked on a Bucket of Water

How to Thaw a Turkey in Cold Water

If you don’t have the time to thaw the bird for days, you can speed things up through the cold water method.

Basically, you submerge the entire bird in cold water to help speed up the thawing. 

It’s much faster, only requiring 30 minutes for every pound of turkey.

If your bird weighs 10 pounds, that means you’ll only need 5 hours of thawing.

The only tricky part is you’ll need to ensure the water remains constantly at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder the whole time, for safety reasons.

So, if you want to try this method, prepare the following items:

1. A large bucket that will fit the entire bird.

2. An instant-read thermometer

3. A lot of cold water.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Prepare the turkey.

Keep the turkey in its original wrapping and place it in a large, leak-proof bag.

Squeeze out as much excess air as you can and seal the bag.

2. Place the turkey in the sink or a large bucket.

The vessel has to be large enough to submerge the entirety of the bird. 

3. Fill the container with cold water.

The water has to be at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, and there should be plenty enough to submerge the bird completely.

Cover the turkey with heavy items to ensure the bird is completely submerged.

4. Thaw the bird.

Let the bird thaw in the cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes to ensure the temperature is cold enough.

Monitor the temperature with an instant-read thermometer for safety measures.

Allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound. 

5. Cook the turkey.

For this method, the turkey needs to be cooked immediately after thawing.

Important: Do not thaw turkey in hot water, thinking it’ll speed things up. This will only increase the risk of contamination. 

Person Setting Microwave Oven Temperature

How to Thaw a Turkey in a Microwave Oven

If you’re in a rush, you can thaw your turkey in the microwave.

It only takes about 6 minutes per pound of turkey, so this method is perfect if you’ve completely forgotten to thaw beforehand.

The one downside, however, is that this method might result in a dry turkey.

To keep that from happening, follow these steps to the letter!

1. Read the manual.

You’ll find thawing instructions in there that are specific to your microwave’s make and model.

It’s also here where you can check the size of your microwave and see if it can fit your turkey.

2. Prepare the turkey.

Remove the wrapping and place the bird breast-side-up in a microwave-safe dish for catching juices. Place the dish in the microwave.

3. Thaw according to manual instructions.

Again, the manual will tell you how many minutes to thaw the bird as well as what power level you’ll use.

In general, it takes 6 minutes per pound to thaw a turkey in the microwave.


  • If you notice the turkey starting to cook, let it rest for 5 minutes, and then resume.
  • At some point, wrap the tips of the wings and drumsticks with foil to keep them from cooking.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing it in the microwave.
  • Clean your microwave after to prevent possible cross-contamination.

Can You Cook Frozen Turkey?


While it’s not the most ideal thing to do, you can cook a completely or partially frozen turkey. 

The only thing you’ll need to do differently is to double the baking time.

How Long to Thaw a Frozen Turkey 

Refrigerator Method

Allow for 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey.

Cold Water Method

Allow for 30 minutes for every pound of turkey.

Microwave Method

It depends on your microwave’s make and model, but on average, it takes about 6 minutes for every pound of turkey.

Here’s a simple table you can refer to:

Weight (in pounds)Refrigerator MethodCold Water MethodMicrowave Method
Up to 12 1 – 3 days4 – 6 hours48 minutes – 1 1/4 hours
12 to 163 – 4 days6 – 8 hours1 1/4 hours – 1 1/2 hours
16 to 204 – 5 days8 – 10 hours1 1/2 hours – 2 hours 
20 to 245 – 6 days10 – 12 hours2 – 2 1/2 hours

How to Thaw a Turkey (3 Safe Methods)

Wondering how to thaw a turkey safely? There are 3 simple methods you can use to ensure everyone stays happy and healthy after the big feast!


  • 1 1 whole turkey


  • While still in its original wrapping, place the turkey breast-side-up on a shallow pan or tray.
  • Place the pan on the bottom rack of the fridge.
  • Allow the turkey 24 hours per 5 pounds to thaw.
  • Cook the turkey or store it in the fridge for up to 2 days.
  • Note:
  • For food safety, never thaw a turkey at room temperature or in hot water. Stick to the refrigerator method to prevent bacterial growth.
How to Thaw a Turkey

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Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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