How to Thaw a Turkey Safely

Not sure how to thaw a turkey? The best and safest way is in the refrigerator. However, it can take several days to thaw a turkey so you need to be organised and remember to take the bird out of the freezer well in advance.

If however, all your best laid plans have gone astray and you've forgotten to take the turkey out of the freezer, don't despair. There are other alternatives which are safe provided you follow the guidelines. 

Turkey can be thawed by immersing the whole bird in water.  But even in water, a large bird will still take the best part of a day to thaw and then you need to allow cooking time. 

A turkey can also be thawed in the microwave and will take an hour or two. But this is my least favourite method of thawing a turkey because microwaves never defrost food evenly, some parts will be warmer than others and may even start to cook. 

But there is one golden rule you must not break, NEVER thaw your turkey at room temperature. This is totally unsafe.

How to Defrost a Turkey

Turkey can be safely thawed a number of different ways.

Thawing Turkey

In the refrigerator

This is the safest method and the one I recommend even though it takes the longest.  Thawing in the refrigerator still allows your bird to thaw, while keeping the meat chilled, which stops bacteria from growing.

  • Keep the bird in its original sealed wrapping.

  • Put the turkey in a shallow dish or tray.

  • Place on the bottom shelf of your fridge so that none of the juices drip onto other food causing contamination.

  • Allow 24 hours per 5 pounds. This process will take several days.

  • Once thawed your bird can remain in the fridge for one to two days.

Refrigerator Thawing Times for Whole Turkey

Weight in Pounds Weight in Kg Thawing Time
8 - 12 3.5 - 5.5 1 to 3 days
12 - 16 5.5 - 7 3 to 4 days
16 - 20 7 - 9 4 to 5 days
20 - 24 9 - 11 5 to 6 days

How to Thaw a Turkey In Water

This method is much faster than the refrigerator method.

  • Leave the turkey in the wrapper.

  • Check to make sure there are no holes or tears in the wrapper. If so, place the turkey inside another sealed plastic bag.

  • Submerge the turkey in a sink filled with cold water making sure the turkey is completely covered with water.

  • Change the water every 30 minutes.

  • Once thawed your turkey should be cooked immediately.

Cold Water Thawing Times

Weight in Pounds Weight in Kg Thawing Time
4 - 12 1.8 - 5.5 2- 6 hours
12 - 16 5.5 - 7 6 - 8 hours
16 - 20 7 - 9 8 - 10 hours
20 - 24 9 - 11 10 - 12 hours

In the Microwave

It is possible to safely thaw a turkey in the microwave. But you must follow the directions given for your microwave. As every microwave is different, there are no hard and fast microwaving times.

However, because a microwave doesn't defrost evenly and some parts of the meat will be warmer than others, it is imperative that it is cooked immediately. Don't return it to the fridge.


Your turkey is fully thawed when a thermometer inserted into the thickest part returns a reading of 40°F (4°C).

Helpful Hints and Recipes

» » How to Thaw a Turkey

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