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How to Thaw a Turkey

2 Ways to Thaw a Turkey

Don’t overlook thawing, if you’ve purchased a frozen turkey for your feast. How to thaw a turkey is a simple, but often forgotten-about step, and is essential to a beautiful, flavorful roasted turkey.

1. Refrigerator Method (recommended)
  • Place the turkey in its original packaging breast side up on a shallow rimmed baking sheet that’s been lined with paper towels. This will help contain any juices that might leak out.
  • Place the turkey on the lowest refrigerator shelf. Keeping it on the lowest shelf helps prevent cross-contamination from any leaking juices that might drip. See the chart below for estimated thawing times based on the weight of the turkey.

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To safely thaw turkey, use the refrigerator method. It takes longer but the turkey stays coldest with this technique.

Refrigerator Method

Turkey WeightThawing Time
8 to 12 lb.1 to 2 days
12 to 16 lb.2 to 3 days
16 to 20 lb.3 to 4 days
20 to 24 lb.4 to 5 days
2. Cold Water Method (quicker version)
  • If you don’t have time to thaw in the refrigerator, use the cold water method. Place the frozen turkey in its original packaging breast side down in a sink or cooler filled with cold water.
  • Keep the turkey fully submerged in the water, changing the water every few hours so it and the bird stay cold. Thawing this way will take about 30 minutes per pound. See the chart below for estimated thawing times based on the weight of the turkey.

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To ensure the turkey is always kept at a safe temperature, plan to roast the thawed turkey right away or store it in the refrigerator for no more than 1 day before roasting.

Cold Water Method

Turkey WeightThawing Time
8 to 12 lb.4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 lb.6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 lb.8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 lb.10 to 12 hours