How long does it take to thaw a turkey?

how long does it take to thaw a turkey

Thanksgiving will be here before you know it, and that means it’s time to start planning your Thanksgiving menu! Aside from baking pies and finalising side dishes, you’ll also need to think about the centrepiece of the dinner table—the Thanksgiving turkey. One crucial step in pulling off the perfect meal is determining how long does it take to thaw a turkey.

Whether you’re a first-time host or an experienced pro, a little preparation goes a long way. Waking up on Thanksgiving Day to a frozen turkey can be a disaster, but don’t worry! Whether you bought a turkey from the freezer aisle or ordered one online, a simple calculation will ensure your bird is ready for the big day. Just follow the formula below!

Before you reach Thanksgiving week, there are a few things to remember. To determine the thawing time for your turkey, ensure you retain the original packaging, as it contains the weight information necessary for calculation.Second, choose a thawing method that works best for you. We’ve outlined a few easy options below. Lastly, once the turkey is thawed, make sure you have your preferred recipes ready for brining and cooking, and gather all the necessary ingredients.

How do you thaw a turkey in the refrigerator?

The safest and easiest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator, although it does require several days for an average-sized bird. As per USDA guidelines, when defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator, allocate at least 24 hours for every four to five pounds of weight. It’s important to note that this guideline applies to refrigerators set at temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Here’s a breakdown of the thawing times:

  • 8 pounds: 2 days to defrost
  • 12 pounds: 3 days to defrost
  • 16 pounds: 4 days to defrost
  • 20 pounds: 5 days to defrost

When using this method, keep the turkey in its original packaging and place it in a roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any potential juice leaks during the thawing process.

How do you thaw a turkey in cold water?

If you’re pressed for time, the cold water method is a viable option for thawing your turkey. It is faster than using the refrigerator, but still requires advance planning as it cannot be done on Thanksgiving morning. However, it’s important to note that the water-thawing method demands constant attention.

Keep the turkey in its original packaging. If it has been removed, place the turkey in a large resealable plastic bag and seal it securely. Submerge the packaged turkey in a sink or a suitably sized container filled with cold water. To ensure the turkey remains submerged, place a heavy pie plate or baking dish on top of it.

Now comes the challenging part: You will need to change the water every 30 minutes to maintain a cold temperature and ensure the bird stays safe. Anticipate that this method will occupy a significant portion of the day.For a 15- to 16-pound turkey, the process will take approximately eight hours and require 16 water changes.

When should I start thawing a turkey?

Thanksgiving morning is definitely not the right time to start thawing your turkey! To adhere to the USDA’s recommended guidelines, allow a minimum of four days for a 16-pound frozen turkey to thaw in the refrigerator before it is ready for cooking.

This means that starting the thawing process on the Sunday before Thanksgiving would be appropriate. If you’re cooking a larger turkey, such as a 20-pound bird, make sure to allocate extra time for thawing.

Can you leave a turkey outside to thaw?

Under no circumstances should you attempt to thaw a turkey at room temperature, whether it’s on your kitchen countertop or in the sink. The USDA strongly advises against this method as it creates an environment where the outer parts of the turkey thaw faster than the centre, which can promote bacterial growth. It is equally important to avoid thawing a frozen turkey in a warm location, such as direct sunlight on your countertop.

Once the turkey is already thawed, it can be left at room temperature for a maximum of two hours. Anything longer than that poses a food safety risk that should not be taken lightly.


In conclusion, the duration of how long does it take to thaw a turkey is a critical consideration to ensure safe and delicious holiday meal preparation. The time it takes to thaw a turkey depends on the method chosen. Refrigerator thawing generally takes about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey, while cold water thawing requires approximately 30 minutes per pound. Both methods necessitate careful planning and adherence to food safety guidelines to prevent bacterial growth. It’s essential to allocate ample time for thawing to ensure the turkey reaches a safe internal temperature. Remember, proper thawing is a fundamental step in the cooking process, contributing to a successful and enjoyable dining experience.


Q1: How long can a thawed turkey sit at room temperature?

Ans: A thawed turkey can safely sit at room temperature for up to two hours.

Q2: How long does it take to thaw a 16-pound turkey in the refrigerator?

Ans: It typically takes at least four days to thaw a 16-pound turkey in the refrigerator.

Q3: What is the recommended method for thawing a turkey?

Ans: The recommended method for thawing a turkey is in the refrigerator.

Q4: How long does it take to thaw a turkey using the cold water method?

Ans: Thawing a turkey using the cold water method usually takes about 30 minutes per pound.

Q5: Can I refreeze a turkey that has been thawed?

Ans: It is generally not recommended to refreeze a turkey that has been thawed, as it can affect the quality and safety of the meat.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here