What Is the Best Way to Thaw a Frozen Turkey?

Whether you’re a seasoned Thanksgiving host or a nervous novice, thawing a turkey properly is the first step to a successful feast. What is the best way to thaw a frozen turkey? While refrigerator thawing is considered the safest, thawing with cold water can be faster.

Learn how to safely thaw turkey with each of these two methods to prevent foodborne illness and ensure it’s oven-ready.

Thanksgiving Prep Essentials: The Best Way to Thaw a Frozen Turkey

Why is thawing a turkey properly so important? If left between 40-140℉ for more than two hours, bacteria can quickly multiply to unsafe levels. While cooking the turkey destroys the bacteria, the toxins that cause foodborne illness remain, putting you and your guests at risk. Whether you have days to spare or merely hours, we’ll explain the best way to thaw a frozen turkey safely.

How Long Does a Turkey Take to Thaw? 

Turkey thawing times vary based on the weight of the bird and the thawing method used. Thawing an average-sized 12-16lb turkey in the refrigerator takes about 24 hours for every 4-5lbs. Defrosting with the cold water method in the kitchen sink takes only 30 minutes per pound. Based on these estimates, a 12-16lb turkey takes 3-4 days to defrost in the refrigerator and 6-8 hours to thaw with cold water. 

Here’s how to thaw a turkey with each of the two processes.

How to Thaw Turkey in the Fridge

Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is considered the safest defrosting method because it minimizes the chance of bacterial growth. The refrigerator can consistently maintain a temperature below 40℉, making dangerous levels of bacterial growth unlikely during defrosting. Just keep in mind that this method requires some advance planning, as it can take several days to thaw an average-sized turkey. 

Follow these steps to thaw turkey in refrigerator:

  1. Leave the turkey sealed in its original packaging.
  2. Position it breast-side up in a baking pan to prevent leaking.
  3. Place the turkey in the refrigerator and thaw to completion. Once thawed, it can remain refrigerated for up to 4 days before cooking. 

Can You Defrost Turkey in the Sink?

Thawing turkey in the sink with cold water is faster than using the refrigerator. However, to keep cold and prevent bacterial growth, the water must be changed frequently. For this reason, we don’t recommend that you defrost a turkey overnight with this method.

Here’s how to thaw a turkey in cold water in the sink:

  1. Keep the turkey in its original packaging and place it in a large, resealable plastic bag. Squeeze out any extra air in the bag before sealing it.
  2. Position the bag so the turkey is breast-side down in the sink. Fully submerge the turkey in cold water, weighing it down with a plate and heavy cans if necessary.
  3. Refill the sink with fresh, cold water every 30 minutes.
  4. The turkey must be cooked as soon as it’s thawed.

*Chef’s tip: If time is limited, you can combine the refrigerator and cold water methods. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator for two days and finish defrosting it in the sink with cold water on Thanksgiving morning. 

Turkey Still Frozen Thanksgiving Day? Here’s What to Do.

What is the best way to thaw a frozen turkey if it’s still icy on Thanksgiving morning? When time is this limited, it’s best to simply cook the turkey while it’s still frozen. Though it will take longer to cook, it prevents the bacterial growth that can occur with rapid defrosting attempts. For a fully frozen turkey, factor in a 50% longer cooking time, while a partially frozen turkey can take 25% longer.

While you can’t brine or baste a frozen turkey, it’s flavor can still be enhanced. Halfway through cooking, brush it with melted butter and sprinkle it with salt, pepper and fresh herbs. Did some melted butter splash on your Turkey Day best? These tips on how to clean Thanksgiving food stains can save almost any fabric.

The experts at Conner’s Appliance go beyond oven and stove repair. From the best way to thaw a frozen turkey to oven troubleshooting tips, we’ll help you be holiday-ready!

Picture of Anna Conner

Anna Conner