How To Thaw A Frozen Turkey Safely

How long to thaw a frozen turkey

Here’s how to thaw a frozen turkey. To thaw it in a safe way, it takes time. So you need to plan ahead and not find yourself behind schedule serving that important turkey dinner for Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving will soon be upon us, and the traditional turkey dinner will be served across much of the U.S.

So, for the sake of modern survival, here is how long to thaw a frozen turkey in a safe way, using either of the following two methods…

  • Thawing in the refrigerator (easiest way)
  • Thawing in cold water (faster, but requires attention)

How Long To Thaw A Frozen Turkey In The Refrigerator

Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. It’s the easiest method for thawing a frozen turkey. However, it also takes a fairly long time (days). So you will need to plan ahead.

Keep the frozen turkey in its original, unopened wrapper. Place it breast side up in a container or tray that will prevent the turkey juices from dripping on other foods in the refrigerator (just in case).

Be sure that your refrigerator temperature dial is set somewhere between 34 and 40°F. I keep mine around 38°F.

Use a refrigerator thermometer to check this. It’s a good idea to verify that the temperature adjustment of your refrigerator is set correctly (for safety). Here’s one that I currently use. I really like it:

AcuRite Digital Wireless Fridge and Freezer Thermometer
(view on amzn)

very good refrigerator freezer thermometer

How Long To Thaw A Frozen Turkey In The Refrigerator

Allow about 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey you plan to thaw in the fridge.

About how long it takes to thaw a whole frozen turkey in the refrigerator:

10 pounds — 2 ½ days
15 pounds — 3 ½ days
20 pounds — 5 days
25 pounds — 6 days

TIP: If the turkey was frozen in a deep freezer / chest freezer (wicked cold), I would be sure to allow yourself at least an extra day ‘cushion’ in the fridge. Just in case it takes longer.

How long will a thawed turkey last in the refrigerator before you cook it? Do you have to cook it as soon as it’s thawed?

No, you don’t have to cook it right away. Turkey that has been thawed in the refrigerator can be kept for at least several days in the fridge before cooking.

How Long To Thaw A Frozen Turkey In Cold Water

You can thaw a frozen turkey faster in cold water, compared to the fridge. However, the thawing process will require a lot more attention on your behalf.

Make sure the frozen turkey is in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. Or simply keep it in the sealed wrapping that it came in.

To thaw a frozen turkey, submerge in a large enough container (e.g. 5-gallon bucket, or a cooler) or pot with cool/cold tap water. NEVER use warm or hot water, as that can cause the outer layer to warm up to a temperature where harmful bacteria begins to multiply rapidly.

Change the water often to ensure that it stays cold enough to thaw safely. Although the frozen turkey itself will initially keep the water quite cool, check every so often (number of hours) to be sure the water stays cool – especially important when the turkey has been thawing for awhile.

Time to thaw a whole turkey in cold water

Thawing a frozen turkey in cold water, estimate about 30 minutes of thawing time per pound of turkey.

10 pounds — 5 hours
15 pounds — 7 hours
20 pounds — 10 hours
25 pounds — 12 hours

NOTE: If the turkey was frozen in a VERY COLD deep freeze (e.g. -10 in a chest freezer), the times listed might take a little bit longer. Your results will vary, but hopefully this gives you something of an idea…

If you’ve used the cold water method to thaw your turkey, it is recommended that you should cook the turkey soon after it has completely thawed. Put it in the refrigerator if you’re not going to cook it immediately.

You should not refreeze raw turkey that has been thawed in cold water. Once you’ve cooked the turkey though, you can then refreeze it if you wish.

[ Read: Turkey Cooking Time – How Long? ]

[ Read: Turkey Brine Recipe ]