The Rule Of Thumb For How Long To Thaw A Turkey

For many of us, the ritual of buying and preparing an entire frozen turkey is reserved for the holidays, but you don't need a special occasion to indulge in one of these delicious birds. Whether you enjoy it roasted, grilled, or fried, turkey's tender, juicy meat is the perfect flavor vessel for all sorts of seasonings and marinades. Along with being a treat to eat, turkey is also a lean, healthy source of protein and packed with nutrients. Buying a whole turkey means there is plenty of food to go around and leftovers for days. However, to reap the benefits of investing in a whole frozen turkey, you'll have to thaw it out first.


A frozen turkey can last in the freezer for years but is best enjoyed within one year to avoid freezer burn and subpar quality. But once it starts to thaw, it can quickly develop bacteria, so it's important to only take the turkey out of the freezer when you're ready to cook and eat it. Turkeys are big birds, and they take a while to completely thaw, so you should plan at least a few days ahead for the best results. Luckily, there's a handy rule of thumb that will let you know exactly how long your turkey will take to thaw.

The best way to thaw turkeys is in the fridge

The amount of time a frozen turkey takes to thaw will depend on the thawing method you use, but according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the best course of action is to let it warm up in the refrigerator. This technique is the most thorough, but it is not fast. The USDA recommends leaving the turkey in the fridge 24 hours per four to five pounds of meat. For example, a 12-pound turkey will need to thaw for at least three days. This method is time-consuming, but it is also the most reliable and requires the least amount of work from the cook. Once the turkey is thawed out, it can stay in the fridge for another couple of days, giving you plenty of time to prepare for your meal.


When you're ready to begin thawing your turkey, keep it in its original wrapper to avoid cross-contamination with other items in your fridge. Also, keep the bird breast-side up in a tray with a raised edge or a plastic container to protect against any potential spills and to make it easier to transport. If you want to brine your turkey to make it extra succulent, you can begin the process a day before it has finished thawing. Just pour a quart of warm salt water over the turkey followed by a few quarts of cold water, cover the bird, and keep it in the fridge.

A faster way to thaw out a turkey

If you're in a rush, there is a quicker way to thaw a frozen turkey, but it will require much more effort on your end. You will need to start by filling a container large enough to fit the turkey with cold water (you could potentially do this in the sink, but considering that will take a long time, that might be problematic). Keeping the turkey in its wrapper, drop it into the container so it is completely covered with water. The water will need to be refreshed in 30-minute intervals so that it stays cold and the turkey doesn't get to an unsafe, warm temperature. Per the USDA, the turkey will need to thaw 30 minutes for every pound, meaning a 12-pound bird will need about six hours to completely dethaw.


Unlike a turkey thawed in the refrigerator, a turkey thawed with cold water must be cooked immediately, so there's no time for brine or other special preparations. This fact, combined with how labor-intensive this method is, means that it is best used in a pinch — like if the previous turkey was eaten by the dog the day before Thanksgiving. The simplest and safest method of thawing out a frozen turkey is to keep it in the refrigerator. Just plan far enough ahead so that it has time to do so completely.