How Long Does It Take a Turkey To Thaw

With Thanksgiving around the corner, many people are preparing to cook a turkey. But have you ever found yourself wondering how long does it take a turkey to thaw? It’s a crucial step in the cooking process, and getting it wrong can lead to a dry, undercooked, or even unsafe meal.

Thawing a turkey may seem like a simple task, but it’s important to do it safely and correctly. The USDA recommends three methods for thawing a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Each method has its own recommended time frame and safety precautions.

If you’re planning to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving or any other occasion, it’s important to know how long it takes to thaw.

In this article, we’ll explore methods of thawing a turkey, their recommended time frames, and important safety tips to ensure a delicious and safe meal.

How long does it take a turkey to thaw?

Thawing a turkey is an important step in preparing it for cooking, as a frozen turkey will not cook evenly and can lead to foodborne illness. The amount of time it takes a turkey to thaw depends on its weight and the method used.

Generally, it is recommended to allow one day of thawing time for every four to five pounds of turkey when using the refrigerator method. This means a 20-pound turkey would take approximately four to five days to thaw in the fridge.

The cold water method, which involves submerging the turkey in cold water and changing the water every 30 minutes, can speed up the process to about 30 minutes per pound.

It is important to follow safe thawing practices to ensure a delicious and safe turkey for your holiday meal.

How To Thaw A Turkey?

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#1. Plan ahead

Thawing a turkey can take several days, so it’s important to plan ahead and give yourself enough time. A general rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.

#2. Refrigerator method

The safest and most recommended method for thawing a turkey is in the refrigerator. Place the turkey in its original packaging or a leak-proof container and place it on a tray in the refrigerator.

Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Make sure to keep the refrigerator temperature at 40°F or below.

 #3. Cold water method

If you don’t have enough time to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, you can use the cold water method. Place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge it in cold water.

Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold. Allow 30 minutes of thawing time for every pound of turkey.

#4. Microwave method

The microwave method is not recommended because it can lead to uneven thawing and can also partially cook the turkey.

However, if you need to use this method, refer to the microwave’s owner’s manual for specific instructions on thawing a turkey.

#5. Cook from frozen

If you forget to thaw the turkey or run out of time, you can cook it from frozen. However, this method will take longer and may result in uneven cooking.

Follow the cooking instructions on the turkey packaging and add an additional 50% to the cooking time.

#6. Check the temperature

No matter which method you use, it’s important to check the temperature of the turkey before serving. The internal temperature should reach 165°F in the thickest part of the turkey.

#7. Plan for leftovers

If you have leftovers, make sure to store them properly in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours of cooking. Leftovers should be consumed within four days or frozen for later use.

Why Thaw A Turkey?

#1. Even Cooking

Thawing a turkey ensures that it cooks evenly throughout. If the turkey is not thawed properly, the outer layer may cook faster than the inner layers, resulting in an overcooked exterior and an undercooked interior.

#2. Food Safety

Thawing a turkey properly reduces the risk of foodborne illness. Bacteria can grow rapidly on a turkey that is left at room temperature for too long, so it’s important to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator or in cold water to prevent bacterial growth.

#3. Taste and Texture

A thawed turkey will have a better taste and texture than a frozen one. The meat will be juicy and tender, making for a more enjoyable eating experience.

#4. Easier Carving

A thawed turkey is easier to carve than a frozen one. The meat will be more pliable and easier to slice, allowing for cleaner cuts and better presentation.

#5. Time-Saving

Thawing a turkey ahead of time saves time on Thanksgiving Day. By thawing the turkey in the refrigerator overnight or in cold water, you can avoid the last-minute scramble to thaw the turkey before cooking.

#6. Avoiding Accident

If you try to cook a frozen turkey, it can lead to accidents such as splattering hot oil or causing a fire in the oven. Thawing the turkey ahead of time reduces the risk of accidents and ensures a safer cooking process.

#7. Better Results

Thawing a turkey is simply the best way to ensure that you get the best possible results from your Thanksgiving feast. It may take a little extra effort, but the end result will be worth it.

Things To Consider When Thawing A Turkey

#1. Time

Thawing a turkey takes time, so it’s essential to plan ahead. Allow one day of thawing time for every four to five pounds of turkey. For example, a 20-pound turkey will take at least four days to thaw in the refrigerator.

#2. Temperature

The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator at a temperature of 40°F or below. This method ensures that the turkey thaws evenly and reduces the risk of bacterial growth. 

#3. Size of Turkey

The size of the turkey will determine the thawing time and method. A smaller turkey can be thawed in the refrigerator, while a larger turkey may require additional time or a different thawing method, such as cold water thawing.

#4. Packaging

Remove the turkey from its packaging before thawing. This allows air to circulate around the bird and speeds up the thawing process. 

#5. Safety

It’s important to thaw a turkey safely to avoid foodborne illness. Always wash your hands before and after handling the turkey and use a clean cutting board and utensils. 

#6. Thawing Method

In addition to refrigerator thawing, there are other methods to thaw a turkey, such as cold water thawing or microwave thawing.

Each method has its own set of guidelines and safety precautions, so it’s important to follow the instructions carefully. 

#7. Cooking Time

Once the turkey is fully thawed, it’s important to cook it immediately to avoid bacterial growth. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the turkey and the cooking method used.

Use a meat thermometer to ensure that the turkey has reached a safe internal temperature of 165°F.


In conclusion, the time it takes for a turkey to thaw depends on its weight and the method used. A general rule of thumb is to allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 4-5 pounds of turkey when using the refrigerator method.

For faster thawing, the cold water method can be used, which takes about 30 minutes per pound. It is important to always follow food safety guidelines when thawing a turkey to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Planning ahead and allowing enough time for thawing can ensure a safe and delicious Thanksgiving meal.

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