How Long Does It Take to Thaw a Turkey?


Thawing turkey, obviously, takes time. This article will not help magically defrost your bird in a matter of minutes, so if you came here looking for such advice, let me break it to you – there isn’t any.

But just because you’re behind schedule, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have any options. Read on to see how to successfully (and safely!) thaw your turkey.

Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator

The easiest, safest, and perhaps, the most convenient way to defrost a turkey is to simply place it in the fridge and let it sit for a few days to defrost. Yes, a few days. This may be the easiest way of thawing a turkey, but it also takes the longest. That means that planning ahead is indeed required.

Here is how you can defrost your turkey in the fridge:

Step 1:

Make sure not to unwrap the turkey. Keep it wrapped in its original package and place it in a container (or a large dish or a tray) with the breast side up. There will be juices dripping so it is important for you to place it in a container first and not straight in the fridge.

Step 2:

Place the container with the turkey in the fridge, making sure that the temperature of your fridge is at 40 degrees F (4.4 degrees C) or below.

how to thaw a turkey - How Long Does It Take to Thaw a Turkey?

How To Thaw A Turkey. Image Source:

Step 3:

Depending on the size of the turkey, the turkey may need to thaw anywhere from 2 to 6 days. A good rule of a thumb is to allow 1 day per every 4-5 pounds (1.8 – 2.25 kg).

Here are the rules:

  • 4 pounds (1.8 kg) – 1 day
  • 8 pounds (3.6 kg) – 2 days
  • 12 pounds (5.4 kg) – 3 days
  • 16 pounds (7.25 kg) – 4 days
  • 20 pounds (9 kg) – 5 days

Check out this video for thawing turkey in the fridge:

Once the turkey is thawed, you can choose to cook it immediately, however, keep in mind that that’s not absolutely required. If the turkey has been completely thawed in the refrigerator, it can be kept safe in the fridge for an additional day or two.

Although I am not a fan of refreezing, know that if your plans change and you have a thawed turkey in the fridge, you can choose to refreeze it within a day or so. The turkey will still be safe to eat, however, the meat will most likely be drier. But it’s better than to let it go to waste, right?

Thawing a Turkey in Cold Water

Thawing a turkey in cold water is a much faster process. You don’t need to wait days for your turkey to defrost, and that is a huge plus. However, there are some disadvantages for this thawing method.

For starters, a turkey that has been thawed in cold water does not only need to be cooked immediately, but it also cannot be refrozen. That means that thawing in cold water requires more attention than simply leaving your turkey in the fridge.

Here is how you can thaw a turkey in cold water:

Step 1:

Keep the turkey in its original wrapper, however, make sure that it is completely sealed and tightly wrapped in a package that is leak-proof.

Step 2:

Place the turkey in a large container and fill it with cold tap water. It is very important that the water is cold. Not hot, not lukewarm, but cold.

thaw a turkey in cold water - How Long Does It Take to Thaw a Turkey?

Thawing a turkey in cold water. Image source:

Warm water can cause the top layer of the bird to heat up quickly, and since that is where hazardous bacteria multiply, you can see how unsafe that is.

Step 3:

Make sure that the water stays cold throughout the thawing process. That means no thawing overnight (in case you plan on waking up to change it). You should change the water every 30 minutes or so and make sure that it stays cold.

Step 4:

The turkey will be thawed within hours, again, depending on the size of the bird. You should give approximately 30 minutes of thawing for every pound (0.45 kg).

Here are the rules for thawing a turkey of different weights in cold water:

  • 5 pounds (2.25 kg) – 2.5 hours
  • 10 pounds (4.5 kg) – 5 hours
  • 15 pounds (7.5 kg) – 7 hours
  • 20 pounds (9.75 kg) – 10 hours

roast turkey

Image Source:

Thawing a Turkey in the Microwave

If your turkey is not very large and you are really running out of time, you can choose to defrost it in the microwave. Just keep in mind that a turkey that has been thawed in the microwave needs to be cooked right away.

Here is how you can thaw your turkey in the microwave:

Step 1:

Make sure to check the owner’s manual and see how long you need to defrost per each pound or kilo, and which power level is the safest to use. Although it is recommended to use the ‘defrost’ mode, it wouldn’t hurt to double check and make sure.

Step 2:

Unlike thawing in the fridge or in cold water, thawing in the microwave requires of you to unwrap the turkey. Make sure to remove all of the outside package wrappings.

Step 3:

Place your unwrapped turkey on a microwave-safe dish that is large enough to hold the turkey well. Keep in mind that there will be juices dripping, so this step is recommended.

defrost turkey

Image Source:

Step 4:

Defrost according to the manufacturer’s instructions. This can take anywhere from 1 to 2 hours.

This may seem like the best way to go since it is the quickest, however, keep in mind that the microwave does not heat evenly. That being said, some parts of the turkey can start to cook first. The consequence is, the meat will not be evenly cooked and be tough on some parts.

Bottom line

Depending on your preferences and how much time you have, you can choose to thaw your turkey in the fridge, in cold water, and microwave. These are the only three options that you can go for.

NEVER thaw your turkey on room temperature. This will cause the outside layer to thaw quickly which will give bacteria the chance to grow.

Hope the tips help and good luck with your turkey dish.

Now I guess you may want to check out my 5 yummiest baked chicken recipes or 5 delicious air fryer recipes that will wow any of your guests.

Finally, leave me a comment if you have any thought about those tips. I’d love to hear from you!


About Author

Hi, I’m Jennie who loves cooking and fascinated with foods for a healthy life. I set up this website to share with you all I know about cooking and making our kitchen a better place :)

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