Though cooking gives it tenderness and flavor, knowing how to thaw a turkey correctly is just as important. Proper thawing not only ensures your turkey cooks in a timely manner, but that bacterial growth causing foodborne illness is avoided. We’ll discuss how to safely perform both the refrigerator and cold water thawing methods within the correct time frames. We’ll also provide a list of turkey thawing times to further plan for the big day.
Thanksgiving Planning 101: How to Thaw a Turkey
Preparing Thanksgiving dinner means having to think on your feet. That’s why it’s important to know how to thaw a turkey in two different ways, within two different time frames. And in case all else fails and you have a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning, we’ll provide a worry-free plan that still gets it on the table.
How Long it Takes to Thaw a Turkey
When planning how to thaw a turkey the timing comes down to its weight and the defrosting method you choose. When thawing in the refrigerator, allow about 24 hours for every 4-5lbs of turkey. Using the cold water method generally takes about 30 minutes per pound. This means an average-sized, 15lb turkey takes 3-4 days to thaw in the refrigerator and about 6-8 hours thawing in cold water.
How to Thaw a Turkey in Your Refrigerator
The refrigerator is generally considered the best way to safely thaw a turkey. This is because the refrigerator’s consistently low temperature prevents the bacterial growth that causes foodborne illness. However, as this is the slowest thawing method, make sure you allow enough time for your turkey to thaw completely.
Here’s how to thaw turkey in refrigerator safely:
- Leave the turkey unopened, in its original wrapping.
- Place the turkey breast-side up, in a rimmed baking pan, to contain any drippings.
- Cook within 4 days after thawing.
Thawing a Turkey in Your Sink
Thawing a turkey in your sink takes less time than the refrigerator but requires more of your attention. It’s necessary to change the water every 30 minutes so that it stays cold enough to prevent bacterial growth. For this reason, you can’t safely defrost a turkey overnight with this method.
Follow these steps to properly thaw a turkey in cold water:
- Leave the turkey in its original, unopened wrapping and place it in a large, leak-proof bag. Squeeze out any extra air when sealing the bag.
- Place the bagged turkey breast-side down in the sink and ensure that it’s completely submerged with cold water. It may be necessary to weigh the turkey down with plates or cans to keep it submerged.
- Refill the sink with fresh, cold water every 30 minutes.
- Cook the turkey immediately after it’s thawed.
What to Do if Your Turkey is Still Frozen on Thanksgiving
Has a lack of time left you with a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning? Not to worry, you can still have it on the table in a timely manner, it will just take a little longer. It’s perfectly safe to cook a frozen turkey, you just have to allow for a 50% longer cooking time when planning for dinner.
Unfortunately, brining, frying or stuffing won’t be possible with a frozen turkey. Instead, we recommend seasoning with butter, salt, pepper, and herbs halfway through cooking to give it extra flavor.