Tips for Thawing Your Thanksgiving Turkey

How to thaw a turkey

It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving…do you know where your turkeys are?

If you’re buying a fresh, local turkey (and kudos if you are) you can spend today planning the REST of your Thanksgiving meal. If, however, like most folks out there, you’ve got yourself a big frozen bird in the fridge, or freezer, it’s time to start thinking about thawing that bad-boy out!

Properly thawing a turkey is one of the most important, but often least understood steps in the holiday dinner process.

Let’s face it, the last thing any of us want to do is give one of our guests food poisoning, right? Proper handling of frozen/raw poultry is the key to a safe, and perfectly cooked holiday dinner.

First and foremost: Never, never, never thaw your turkey at room temperature. This is a fast-lane to the aforementioned food poisoning, and there are easier ways to get rid of annoying relatives (but that’s another post…)

The two most common methods for thawing a turkey are in the refrigerator, or in cold water.

How to thaw a turkey

Thawing in the Refrigerator

Leaving the bird in the wrapper (unopened) on a tray, let the it thaw 1 day for every 4 lbs, breast side up, on a large tray. Keep an eye on the liquid level, if there’s a leak in the bag, raw bird juice makes for a nasty cleaning job.

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

Pros: It’s a pretty-hands off method, just “sit and forget”.

Cons: It takes up a lot of room in the Refrigerator, which means less prepping in advance of other dished. Plus, a 16lb bird is going to need 4 days (at least) to thaw, when means you had to start…yesterday.

How to thaw a turkey

Cold Water Thawing

This is my preferred method. Leaving the bird in the wrapper (unopened) thaw breast side down, in enough cold water to cover your turkey completely. If you’re doing this inside the house, change out the water every 30 minutes or so, to keep the turkey chilled.

Personally, I like to do this in a cooler out back. It frees up room in my kitchen, and keeps the water cold enough to not need the change-outs, while getting the job done much, much faster. (That same 16lb turkey is going to need about 8 hours to thaw, instead of 4 days!)

How to thaw a turkeyAlso, as you can see here, many folks don’t have a sink with enough capacity to submerge the whole bird…and you need to submerge the whole bird!

Figure on a minimum thawing time of 30 minutes per lb.

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

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Pros: MUCH faster (and so, some would argue, safer) method of thawing.

Cons: Less “margin of error”, if your bird is bigger than you thought, or the house is colder, or whatever…if this turkey is still frozen when it’s time to start roasting…you’re kinda hosed.

Keep an eye out…I’m going to post a video tonight on “Roasting the Perfect Turkey in 90 minutes!”

Don’t miss it!

Chef Perry