How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey

by Charlie
How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey

Whether it’s for a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas or just a simple family gathering, roasting a whole turkey is a classic and always a crowd favorite. When seasoned and cooked correctly, a roasted turkey with its salty crispy skin and juicy meat is something everyone looks forward to whenever it is on the menu!

For the vast majority of us, the turkey we buy at the store will be frozen when we bring it home, so before we can get to roasting, we need to thaw that big frozen rock of deliciousness.

How do you thaw a frozen turkey? You can safely thaw a frozen turkey by placing in the refrigerator, submerging in cold water or as a last resort, defrosting in the microwave.

We’ve all heard the stories of cutting into a beautifully roasted turkey only to find the center still cold and slightly frozen, but if you follow a few simple steps to safely defrost a frozen turkey this isn’t something to ever worry about!

Options For Thawing a Frozen Turkey

The three options for thawing a frozen turkey can be broken down by time: slow and steady, a little bit quicker, and fast but as a last resort. Before you get to defrosting, there are several factors to take into consideration. Whether you are a big-time planner or a last-minute kind of cook, choose the option that works best for your situation.

Slow and Steady – Thawing Frozen Turkey in the Refrigerator

This is the simplest solution for thawing a frozen turkey, but it is also takes the longest amount of time so be prepared to spend up to a week, depending on the weight of the turkey, for it to be ready to cook. For this method, place the turkey, still in its original plastic packaging and breast-side up, on a large platter or roasting pan and place on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.

You can keep the fully defrosted turkey in the refrigerator for up to two days before cooking. It is very important to keep the turkey on the bottom shelf and away from other food in the refrigerator to prevent any cross-contamination.

Recommended Times for Defrosting Frozen Turkey in the Refrigerator:

WeightTime
4 to 8 pounds24 hours
8 to 12 pounds36 hours
12 to 16 pounds4 days
16 to 20 pounds5 days
20 to 24 pounds6 days
24 to 29 pounds7 days

A Little Quicker – Thawing Frozen Turkey Submerged in Water

This method for thawing a frozen turkey may be quicker but it also requires a few more steps. First, put your turkey, still in its original packaging, into a large leak-proof plastic bag. (The original packaging isn’t necessarily waterproof.) Next, you will need a container large enough to hold the turkey.

For smaller birds, using the sink is a good option. For medium sized turkeys, a large stock pot or plastic bin will work. For larger ones, using a cooler is the best choice.

Place the turkey, breast-side down, into your choice of container and fill with cold tap water to fully submerge the turkey. If it floats to the surface, simply place a plate or pan on top to weigh it down until it is completely underwater. The USDA recommends changing the water every 30 minutes to maintain a safe temperature. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

Pro Tip: Combine both the refrigerator and water methods if you are in a pinch. Use the refrigerator for the first couple of days and then transfer to the sink to finish defrosting underwater.

– Charlie

Recommended Times for Defrosting Frozen Turkey Submerged in Water:

WeightTime
4 to 8 pounds2 to 4 hours
8 to 12 pounds4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 pounds8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 pounds10 to 12 hours
24 to 29 pounds12 to 15 hours

Fast but a Last Resort – Thawing Frozen Turkey in the Microwave

The USDA says that you can thaw a turkey using a microwave if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and cook it immediately after. While they say it’s fine, defrosting a frozen turkey in a microwave should only be done when no other options are available.

Time, power, and defrost settings vary greatly from model to model. Because of this, it may take an hour or longer using the defrost setting, depending on the size of the bird. At most, if possible, use the defrost setting for five or ten minutes to get started and then transfer to the sink and use the water method.

To thaw a frozen turkey using a microwave, first take the turkey out of its packaging and remove any metal tags. Place the turkey, breast-side up, on a plastic or glass microwave-safe plate or pan. Using the defrost setting, follow the manufacturer’s recommended instructions for thawing the turkey.

Continually monitor the turkey during the defrost process to check for doneness and to minimize the amount of cooking. Cook the turkey immediately after thawing to prevent spoilage.

Recommended Thawing Time Guidelines for Frozen Turkey

Following the USDA guidelines, the recommended thawing time for frozen turkey is twenty-four hours for every five pounds when defrosting in the refrigerator at forty degrees Fahrenheit and thirty-minutes per pound when submerged in cold water while also changing out the water every half hour.

Safely Thawing Frozen Turkey

It cannot be overstated how critical it is to follow safe food handling practices when defrosting a frozen turkey. It is of the utmost importance to maintain a safe temperature during the entirety of the thawing process to prevent bacterial growth and food-borne illness. Never let a frozen turkey defrost at room temperature sitting on your kitchen counter or in hot water.

Final Thoughts

  • Roasting a whole turkey for a holiday or family gathering is always a great choice and makes for a showstopper of an entrée.
  • The best method for thawing a frozen turkey also takes the most time so be sure to prepare accordingly.
  • Defrosting in water is faster but requires extra steps. Makes sure the turkey is in a watertight bag and with a strong seal to prevent a water-logged bird.
  • Combining thawing methods is perfectly acceptable if time is an issue.
  • Be vigilant about practicing safe food handling to prevent cross-contamination and food-borne illnesses.

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