How long to thaw a frozen turkey

How To Thaw A Frozen Turkey Safely

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 ]


  1. It also matters on how you stored the frozen turkey. Mine was in a deep freeze(0 C). After 24 hours in the fridge it is still rock hard.

  2. A warning to those deep frying turkey, it has to be thawed completely. Turkeys have exploded, caught fire, threw hot oil and burning people when they are fried frozen.

    1. And don’t deep fry on your deck.. Do it outside on concrete. I go on these fires every year.. It either boils over or the oil is overheated. If you do that on a deck.. hope your fire department is fast.

      1. Also, don’t deep fry inside of a garage. Only cook outside, away from a structure. Spent a new years eve battling a house fire because someone decided it was a great idea to deep fry a turkey inside his garage.

        1. And turn off the flame before you drop in the turkey. This will help prevent oil droplets from igniting.

        2. That’s why it’s important to S-L-O-W-L-Y lower the bird into the oil. All too often, people just plunk the bird in, and well…you know the rest. Guess they wanted to ‘spike’ the bird, then party in the endzone.

  3. I also want to tell those on a budget, you can get frozen turkey cheap on the day before Thanksgiving. Last year I bought two, one for Thanksgiving and thawed in cold water, and the other I kept frozen for Christmas for 66 cents a pound.

    1. We get our new ads on Tuesday and plan a Wens turkey shopping spree. Winco (local cheaper canned food store) Had them at 58 cents a pound last week..
      I will buy 4 or 5 hitting all the local sales. Some have minimum spending (i.e. spend $50.00 and buy a turkey for 18 cents in years past. Use the coupons for canned goods that you will use and you increase your long term supplies.

      Also a good time to stock up on anything you need to make soup out of the carcass. We just finished a turkey and bean from last year last month..

      Side note.. Just installed a pellet stove.. Anyone know how well you can cook on it?

      1. wont get hot enough to cook on…you can keep stuff warm and reheat, but not cook.

  4. I make up my brine solution in a 5 gallon pail (2.5 gallons of brine work very well.

    the turkey goes into the brine straight out of the freezer and the whole pail is put into the garage. Since the weather hovers around 33-37F in my garage, it takes about 2-3 days to both defrost AND brine my turkey at the same time. On Wednesday Night….pull the pail inside, dump the brine, refill it with plain cold water and a 1 quart bottle (Gatorade size) of frozen water on top…put it back out in the garage….leave it overnight again…Thursday morning….VOILA….mmmmm….mmmmmmm….mmmmmmmmmm….the most tender Turkey youda-evah-had!!!

  5. as long as you are not deep frying (must be totally thawed)

    it is great to cook it frozen. just make sure to use a meat thermometer to make certain it is at proper temp. takes longer, but works great.

    I have cooked frozen turkey and chickens for yrs, as I didn’t like the worry of thawing it, raw turkey/chicken juice etc..

    couple months back, I heard on the news, they now actually recommend cooking from frozen to limit problems.

    1. Yeah I wonder how many idiots this year will be killed or serious burned deep frying turkeys. People there are instructions on the internet!!! Its not rocket science!!! Lol

    2. The problem with cooking a frozen turkey is not only the additional time that it will take to cook, but there’s a risk that someone may not cook it all the way through till ‘done’.

      VERY IMPORTANT to use a meat thermometer to check (165-degrees-F) in a thick part of the meat (not touching the bone).

      Digital Long Stem Thermometer-NSF Certified

  6. Deep Fried Turkey is Gods gift to my taste buds. Would not have it any other way. Not that any tasty turkey would be turned down now……

    But other than that, Who was that Allstate guy? The one that keeps reminding people to NOT deep-fry in the house? And hundreds don’t listen. What can ya say? Ohhhh Welllll, just don’t be one of them.

    I always use the Frig method to defrost. Assuming I remember.. HAHAHA Good thing I’m a prepper huh? hehehe But it does give me a couple of day leeway.

    Happy Thanksgiving EVERYONE. Be kind to old uncle Joe also, he may not hear so well, but ya know.


    1. NRP I deep fried turkeys for years its great and most of the time I deep fry chicken wings the next day. But I smoked a turkey last year first time and it was the best turkey I ever had. Seemed to stay moist longervas well. Mmmm

  7. The Perfect Turkey: Having worked in commercial kitchens in my youth I have the following lessons learned the hard way:

    The perfectly browned turkey that we see being carved in the Norman Rockwell Painting will usually result in an overcooked breast and under done or moist thighs and drumstick. At home with 10+ adults and a large table for the kids, (15+ people) I cook 2 turkeys. 1 on the barbeque out back breast side down and I carve up and remove the breast a full 45 minutes prior to removing the thighs and dark meat. I use a roasting pan with a rack that holds the turkey in stable breast-side-down position. (a shallow V shape)

    When Father or Grand Dad carved off the breast meat, (photo-op) I would take the dark meat back to the kitchen to cook some more and bring out platters of turkey cooked on the BBQ earlier that day. I was usually the last to eat as the cook. (no problem as I was knoshing and drinking during the entire process.) For soft skin/prevent it from getting tough: Baste frequently with butter added to drippings. If a section is getting too brown too quickly, cover with foil square.

    Practice makes for perfection so rehearsing for thanksgiving dinner is a good idea. Frozen, cooked turkey within a freezer is very good thing to have for soups and stews later in the year. I now have to worry about diet and exercise so I will let others do the deep frying of turkeys.

    I will allow 2-3 days for the turkeys to defrost within a large icechest where temperature is monitored. We learned this after running out of room in the fridge during preparations of other items. I do not rush the process,

    1. I learned the method of grilled, semi-smoked turkey some years ago. Easily the juiciest I’ve ever had. I grill it with indirect heat, never being over the coals, and throw on soaked wood chips when needed. When the breast reads 160 I remove them and leave the dark meat on until done. You wont get the Rockwell presentation but you WILL get a deliciously moist bird.

  8. “””I heard on the news, they now actually recommend cooking from frozen to limit problems.”””

    Little did I know that vacuum sealed frozen fish needs to have the plastic sliced BEFORE thawing. Something about trapped gaseous elements when sealing and allowing time for those to release and dissipate.

    I don’t have the scientific explanation, but it caught my attention.

    Soooo, slice open the sealed frozen fish even from stores before thawing.

    1. One is going in the smoker and I am using a mix of apple, cherry and hickory chips. The other I am torn on, my daughter wants to bake her first turkey in the oven but I want to deep fry. I will probably give in. 2 16 pounders that means leftovers I hope. Gobble Gobble!!!

  9. Another arguement for cooking more than one turkey:

    When cooking for 24 people one year, judging by the advance requests, the “perfect turkey” was going to resemble a spider in that there were 8+ requests for drumsticks and thighs. (including me.) with 2 breasts and 4 wings.

    That would be a strange looking creature. Cooking on Thanksgiving can be a great learning experience as well as experimentation time. More power to the children that want to help out in the kitchen! It is how most of us got our start into a hobby that can turn into a good, skilled job in the future. (it beats digging ditches and flipping burgers)

  10. Oh my. You all sound like such wonderful cooks. Me? I am terrible at it. My worst turkey ended up dried out on the top and boiled on the bottom. The bottom collapsed when I removed it from the oven. I pretty well poured the stuffing out. But, ever an optimist, I always say that next year’s turkey will be better.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    1. Pieface,

      You are not alone…I’m not very good with cooking either or multi-tasking in the kitchen, eek!

      Everything I know how to do is very simple simple simple….

      Thanks for sharing your story of the collapsing turkey… chuckle chuckle!

      At least it was memorable! :)

      1. I think my biggest mistake that day was abandoning the turkey to go for a hike with my dinner guests. Oh well, they were all very hungry that night and ate the turkey anyway.
        I understand about the multi tasking. I can never figure out how to get all the food cooked for the same time. And then, suddenly, a whole lots has to be done at once – mash potatoes, carve meat, make gravy, fill water glasses and lots more. When the blessing is said for “what we are about to receive” I silently give thanks that all the food ended up on the table at the same time.

        One cute thing I tried to do was for my grandsons. I read that if you fill a squirt bottle with pancake mix and then make two eyes and a smile on the frying pan and then add a spoonful of mix, it will form a cute little happy face in the pancake. But beware, you just might end up with a “monster” pancake.

  11. When my father was alive he always deep fried turkeys he was a chef and said he had tried every way know to man to cook a turkey I introduced him to one way he had missed cooking in an oven in a plastic bag he loved it and said it was easier on his teeth and gums because it was so tender anyone else try it out

    1. I follow my late mom’s example and use plastic bag in the oven. It is good every time! I do wonder about deep frying and smoking, but my family keeps getting smaller, so I am unsure if the effort is worth the reward.

    2. Krazy karl
      Yes, I did it every year until they bags were hard to find in our area and we down sized on the weight of big bird.

      It works out wonderfully for those who need the extra helping hand for getting a juice bird. Just remember to following the directions, you will need to put flour inside the bag about a 1 TBSP shake it around the plastic bag to coat, and slits in the bag for heat release. Use the zip tie they provide, put into the oven, again read the directions on placing in the oven. Easy peasy, big bird will done & very juicy for those who said they were big bird challenged.

      1. I always cook mine in a bag. Always delicious plus lots of juice/broth for making gravy.

  12. Great reminders for us all. We have been doing two turkeys each Thanksgiving, one baked, one smoked. The smoked version goes the fastest with ZERO left overs for “sliders” of homemade rolls and leftover turkey.
    Cooking a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey dinner is one of the simplest endeavors one can do. It only LOOKS difficult.

  13. A deep fried turkey is great but please try to keep a fire extinguisher handy and have a buddy present for a possible safety call

  14. NRP Ol’ Buddy,

    You’ve “out-done” urself, those turkey defrost tips were sheer genius ;)

    Fried turkey sounds delish! Would love to try some day…

    So NRP do you send out your culinary goods priority mail with dry ice or something? ;)

    Best to you NRP! Say hi to Blue for me too!

  15. Ken, has anyone ever done both methods on a turkey? Like putting it in the refrigerator and finding out you don’t think it will be thawed out in time and then going to cold water? Or is that not a good ideal?

    1. Valley Forge
      My youngest sister…ah how she thought she had ‘plenty’ of time..and it ran out. lol

      It was the first year she cooked the bird.

  16. NRP,

    You’re tongue in cheek post on turkey cookin’ reminds me off a joke I heard years ago. You may be the second person in the joke.

    A man goes sky diving for the first time. After jumping out of the plane, he counts to ten and pulls the rip cord but the chute fails to deploy. Not to worry, he promptly pulls the cord for the reserve chute, but to no avail. As he hurtles towards earth, he sees someone coming up at him, ascending just as fast as he was descending. As they passed each other, the skydiver screams “do you know anything about parachutes!”. The other guy yells back “no sir, do you know any thing about propane turkey cookers!”


    1. @ Dennis
      Of the many MANY things I have blown up in my day’s, a turkey fryer is not one of them…. yet.
      Now give me time and i bet i can accomplish that also. HAHAHA


  17. Thank you Tango! Correct answer! I’ve always pictured roasting a big
    chunk of meat over a fire mountain man or cowboy style, it could come to that. It is a survival blog and I have tens instead of !00’s or !000’s!
    Thank you.

  18. @ Randy

    Im back to the C-4 idea… hahaha.

    Ya must remember when all else fails, go back to the good old standbys… LOL


  19. I roast my turkey on the grill. Preheat the grill to at least 425. Stuff the turkey with onion, celery and apple. I use butter blended with sage, rosemary and thyme stuffed under the skin and rubbed on the turkey skin. Lots and lots of butter!

    Turn off 1/2 side of the grill and place the roaster (with turkey) on the unheated side. At 425, the skin will brown in half hour to 45 minutes. Then turn down the heat to about 325-350. Finish cooking at a rate of about 15-20 minutes per pound.

    Altho NRP’s version is more fun, this is delicious and never fails. The juices make such a delicious gravy! Happy Thanksgiving! Ya’ll come, Beach’n

    1. Sorry, this is how I cook a turkey after it’s thawed. So – if I buy a frozen turkey, I leave it in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Then, I put it in a bucket of water for several hours to finish the thawing process.

      I usually buy fresh (no feathers) so I don’t have to worry about thawing. Just keep in the refrigerator, lower shelf, until ready to become delicious. Enjoy ya’ll, Beach’n

    2. Sorry! I forgot, after the skin is browned, I cover with foil and finish roasting. The turkey stays moist and ends up really tender. g’nite ya’ll, Beach’n

  20. Dear Thanksgiving Turkey:

    Don’t feel too bad. They only love us for our breasts, too.


    1. @ Sportsfan

      There is NO WAY I’m going to comment to this post…. LOLOL


        1. See, now isn’t it great being non-PC?!?!
          No harm done and got me to laugh. Thanks, along with all the other info. given.

  21. Many have covered the ways to defrost the bird safely an ways to cook it.

    A trick I have used when I did the cooking. We who are the masters of the kitchen(stop laughing), ok we try to be good at cooking.

    I like using a roaster oven to cook the turkey, an roasting pan which I lay heavy wide aluminum foil in side to wrap around the turkey. Set it inside cooking unit, add more foil to make sure the bird it wrapped well so that the moisture stays inside. When the bird is finished turn off the cooking unit use extra large bath towels to create a layered wrap which I encircle around & over the oven to hold the heat in. It will keep the bird hot an moist until you are ready to serve it with the meal. In doing the bird this way it frees up the large oven for the other goodies which have to bake or brought to temperature.

  22. Hints for the year 2016:

    If you go to the house of others and you are placed in charge of the cooking. (as I was in years past) Bring your own knives and sharpening tools.

    Some of my siblings have many children and big houses yet they never worked within a large, busy commercial food prep/cooking operation. I have so I bring my own Chefs knife in 8″, 4″ and boning knife in addition to paring knife for radish roses and garnishes.

  23. All the kids are going to the in laws this year. We accepted an invite for Thanksgiving lunch from some friends. Making some Dutch Crumb apple pies to bring along.
    However, me and the missus are having pot roast for dinner.Glazed carrots,mashed potatoes, gravy and homemade rolls. Dessert is Cheesecake. A candle light dinner with soft jazz playing the back.
    Best part is not having to do all the dishes and clean the kitchen after 20 people have left for home!!LOL!!

  24. I have always thawed my turkeys in the fridge. Normally, I purchase the turkey on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and it goes right into the fridge upon my return home. Yes, more often than not a 20 lb or larger turkey will not completely thaw by Thanks giving morning. A few years ago, I began brining my turkey for 8 hours the night before…that seemed to solve the problem of having to do last minute thawing in water on the day of.
    In addition, I have always cooked my turkeys in a brown in bag at 325 degrees, until it was done. I have found that estimates on the length of time necessary are usually a bit longer than needed. I always stuff my birds as well with stuffing from scratch.
    These methods have worked fine for me for 40 years.

  25. – Many moons ago, when DW and I had just gotten married, I was a student in San Antonio with a student’s budget. Our first thanksgiving together, we had a bird thawed in the fridge, but no time to go home to visit and family couldn’t get to our tiny apartment. So, we improvised, since DW didn’t feel right trying to cook a bird for both of us.
    Ever gone out and had Grilled Salmon for T-Day? LOL her parents came and we had turkey for the weekend meals.
    I have always preferred frying turkeys in the vicinity of 15-16 lbs. since the first time I tried it. the last year all of our kids were still at home, we had a total of four birds on the table. Dad’s home smoked, oldest sister’s baked, Dad’s fried, and brother’s grilled. Little sis and mom made dressing and several pies, and everyone helped with various side dishes. Cranberry salsa and beer applied as necessary.
    – Papa S.

  26. – Correction, Roasted, not baked. Poor choice of words for me.

    – Papa

    1. – Spent a few minutes looking around the site, since I had posted the recipe for cranberry salsa a couple of years ago. I think I must have put it in the off-topic comments where it washed out after a week or so. So, with everyone’s permission, I will re-post it here where that won’t happen. It’s a very simple one.

      Wash and quarter a red apple, (preferably) a similarly-sized seedless orange, and a couple of jalapeno peppers. if you like the taste but not the heat, discard the seed from the jalapenos. Remove seed and stem from the apple, and if you didn’t find seedless oranges, seed the unpeeled orange. Put everything and a bag of fresh cranberries in the food processer and you may want 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar in with it. Process on low just until everything is chopped. Put in a covered bowl in the fridge for a couple of days before putting it on the table with your turkey. Freezes well, but thaw in the fridge for a couple of days before serving.

      We love this stuff, and it is something the whole family clamors for every year.

      – Papa

  27. Papa Smurf,

    I’m glad you reposted that – it sounds yummy! Copying it into my recipe folder right now.

  28. I have always cooked the turkey in a “brown’n bag ” plastic bag. No worries about watching the time carefully in order to baste the turkey. Just make sure the oven rack is low enough so that when the bag puffs up, it doesn’t touch the top of the oven. Adding water or stock to the bag, along with a tablespoon of flour , helps the moistness.

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