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How Many Days Before Thanksgiving Should I Defrost The Turkey

There are three ways to safely defrost frozen turkey: slow, medium, and fast. Check out the guidelines below on how to defrost a turkey and choose the method and timeline that works best for you, whether you’re a planned cook or need a last-minute fix.


Slow: defrost in the refrigerator

What it takes: Wait about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. A 15 pound bird will take about 3 days to thaw completely.

Tips for defrosting turkey in the refrigerator:

  • Keep the turkey in its original packaging while it is defrosting.
  • Place the brisket side up in a roasting pan to prevent any drips from contaminating other foods and refrigerator surfaces.
  • You can keep the thawed turkey in the refrigerator up to 2 days before cooking.


Medium: Thaw in cold water

What it takes: Wait approximately 30 minutes for each pound of turkey. A 15-pound bird will take 7½ to 8 hours to fully thaw.

Tips for Thawing Turkey in Cold Water:

  • Keep the turkey in its original packaging and place it in a larger, leak-proof plastic bag. Squeeze out the extra air and seal the bag.
  • Place the sealed bag breast-side down in a sink or bucket large enough so the turkey is completely submerged. Fill with cold water. You may need to cover the turkey with a plate and place heavy cans on top of it to keep it completely submerged. Change the cold water every 30 minutes.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

You can also use a combination of the two methods: use the refrigerator for the first couple of days of thawing and finish it in the sink early Thanksgiving morning.


Quick: defrost in a microwave oven

What it takes: Read your oven’s user manual for instructions on how to defrost a frozen turkey. Power times and settings vary from model to model. In general, the defrost setting may take an hour or more, depending on the size of the turkey.

How to defrost turkey in the microwave

  • Remove the turkey from its wrapper and remove any metal clips or tags.
  • Place the turkey breast-side up in a microwave-safe pan to catch any drippings.
  • After the turkey has been thawed, wash the inside of the microwave to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.


Turkey thawing times

raw turkey in the fridge
Michael Pohuski/Getty Images

Times shown are approximate and are based on thawing a whole frozen turkey.

  • Thawing time in the refrigerator takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set to about 40 degrees F (5 degrees C).
  • Thawing time in cold water takes approximately 30 minutes per pound of cold water, refreshed every 30 minutes.

How long to defrost a frozen turkey

Turkey Weight How long to defrost in the refrigerator How long to defrost in cold water
From 10 to 18 pounds 2 to 3 and a half days from 5 to 9 hours
18 to 22 pounds 3½ to 4½ days From 9 to 11 hours
22 to 24 lbs 4½ to 5 days From 11 to 12 hours
From 24 to 29 pounds 5 to 6 days From 12 to 15 hours

We can’t overemphasize food safety when it comes to defrosting turkey. It’s important to keep the whole turkey at a safe temperature throughout the thawing process to prevent bacterial growth that can lead to foodborne illness. That’s why you never thaw a frozen turkey at room temperature on the kitchen counter or in hot water.

Check out our collection of Thanksgiving turkey recipes.

Related

  • Find out how to get the right size turkey for your feast.
  • Get tips on how to cook a turkey, including how long it takes to cook a turkey.
  • We’ve got the answers to all your Thanksgiving cooking questions.




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There are three ways to safely defrost frozen turkey: slow, medium, and fast. Check out the guidelines below on how to defrost a turkey and choose the method and timeline that works best for you, whether you’re a planned cook or need a last-minute fix.


Slow: defrost in the refrigerator

What it takes: Wait approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of turkey. A 15 pound bird will take about 3 days to thaw completely.

Tips for defrosting turkey in the refrigerator:

  • Keep the turkey in its original packaging while it is defrosting.
  • Place the brisket side up in a roasting pan to prevent any drips from contaminating other foods and refrigerator surfaces.
  • You can keep the thawed turkey in the refrigerator up to 2 days before cooking.


Medium: Thaw in cold water

What it takes: Wait approximately 30 minutes for each pound of turkey. A 15-pound bird will take 7½ to 8 hours to fully thaw.

Tips for Thawing Turkey in Cold Water:

  • Keep the turkey in its original packaging and place it in a larger, leak-proof plastic bag. Squeeze out the extra air and seal the bag.
  • Place the sealed bag breast-side down in a sink or bucket large enough so the turkey is completely submerged. Fill with cold water. You may need to cover the turkey with a plate and place heavy cans on top of it to keep it completely submerged. Change the cold water every 30 minutes.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

You can also use a combination of the two methods: use the refrigerator for the first couple of days of thawing and finish it in the sink early Thanksgiving morning.


Quick: defrost in a microwave oven

What it takes: Read your oven’s user manual for instructions on how to defrost a frozen turkey. Power times and settings vary from model to model. In general, the defrost setting may take an hour or more, depending on the size of the turkey.

How to defrost turkey in the microwave

  • Remove the turkey from its wrapper and remove any metal clips or tags.
  • Place the turkey breast-side up in a microwave-safe pan to catch any drippings.
  • After the turkey has been thawed, wash the inside of the microwave to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.


Turkey thawing times

raw turkey in the fridge
Michael Pohuski/Getty Images

Times shown are approximate and are based on thawing a whole frozen turkey.

  • Thawing time in the refrigerator takes about 24 hours for every 5 pounds in a refrigerator set to about 40 degrees F (5 degrees C).
  • Thawing time in cold water takes approximately 30 minutes per pound of cold water, refreshed every 30 minutes.

How long to defrost a frozen turkey

Turkey Weight How long to defrost in the refrigerator How long to defrost in cold water
From 10 to 18 pounds 2 to 3 and a half days from 5 to 9 hours
18 to 22 pounds 3½ to 4½ days From 9 to 11 hours
22 to 24 lbs 4½ to 5 days From 11 to 12 hours
From 24 to 29 pounds 5 to 6 days From 12 to 15 hours

We can’t overemphasize food safety when it comes to defrosting turkey. It’s important to keep the whole turkey at a safe temperature throughout the thawing process to prevent bacterial growth that can lead to foodborne illness. That’s why you never thaw a frozen turkey at room temperature on the kitchen counter or in hot water.

Check out our collection of Thanksgiving turkey recipes.

Related

  • Find out how to get the right size turkey for your feast.
  • Get tips on how to cook a turkey, including how long it takes to cook a turkey.
  • We’ve got the answers to all your Thanksgiving cooking questions.



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