How To Thaw a Frozen Turkey: 3 Different Methods!

Last Updated on December 6, 2022

It’s a good idea to know a few different methods for how to thaw a frozen turkey. Since most turkeys come frozen, you’ll be facing the thawing process soon enough. The good news is there are several different ways to go about it. We’ll walk you through them! 

Whether you’re in a rush or you have more time, there are some key principles to thawing a frozen turkey. What may be intuitive when thinking about thawing meat is not necessarily safe.  

The comedic hair dryer method, hot or warm water method, and countertop method are not safe. All of these put the turkey in a dangerous temperature zone (between 40 and 104 degrees F) where the risk for bacteria and food poisoning is high.  

Thankfully, there are several safe and USDA-recommended methods for how to thaw a frozen turkey. Some are faster than others. But for all of these methods, it’s important to cook the whole turkey immediately after thawing. Any turkey left at room temperature after being thawed is not safe to eat. 

Method #1 – Thaw Covered in a Cold Water Bath  

You can also thaw a frozen turkey by submerging it in a cold water bath. You can estimate the thawing time for this method by factoring in 30 minutes for every pound of turkey. 

How to do it: 

  • Prepare a large container (ideally larger than your turkey!) in a sink with room to work.  
  • Confirm the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Submerge the turkey in cold water breast side down .  
  • Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. 
  • Continue this process as needed.  
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing. 
A quick how-to when using the cold water thawing method for your turkey this Thanksgiving!

Method #2 – Thaw in the Refrigerator 

This is the method the USDA recommends above all others. It is the safest and least risky. The turkey will need 24 hours for every four to five pounds of turkey in a refrigerator set at or below 40F. This method takes the longest and requires several days of thawing. The bigger the frozen bird, the longer the thaw time. Plus, you’ll need to make a lot of space in your refrigerator 

while doing it.  

Turkey Weight & Thaw Times:  

4-12 pound = 1-3 days 

12-16 pounds = 2-4 days

16-20 pounds = 4-5 days 

20-24 pounds = 5-6 days  

You may wonder if a larger turkey is safe to thaw for that long in the refrigerator. The answer is yes! As long as the turkey stays at the constant refrigerator temperature, it’s safe.  

How to do it:  

  •  Place turkey breast side up on a tray (like this thawing tray). 
  • Leave the turkey in its original packaging to avoid cross-contamination. 
  • Allow it to thaw for the recommended time (above).  
  • Cook within 1-2 days after thawing. 
Save this handy guide for when you’re ready to thaw your turkey this Thanksgiving!

Method #3 – Thaw a Turkey in a Microwave 

Yes, you actually can thaw a turkey in the microwave. It may not be as intuitive as just letting your turkey slowly thaw in the refrigerator. But this method is definitely the fastest.  

How to do it:  

  • Reference your microwave user manual for times and power settings. 
  • Factor in the weight of your turkey when determining how long to defrost. 
  • Remove the packaging and any metal clips, tags, or probes that may be a fire hazard in the microwave. 
  • Place the turkey breast side up in a microwave-safe pan (similar to a roasting pan). 
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing. 

Full disclosure, using the microwave can dry out your turkey. You will have a fully thawed turkey in time for cooking before the big meal. But you may have to do extra basting and gravy when serving to make up for the loss of some moisture.  

For tips on keeping your turkey moist, check out our Turkey FAQs post! 

Need even more tips on cooking frozen turkeys and preparing meat for the holidays? Check out the Just Cook blog. 

Still need your turkey? Order by November 13th to get yours delivered right to your door!

The ButcherBox Kitchen Team works hard to give you confidence you need to pull off any kitchen endeavor.

Olivia is a Charlotte-based writer and content strategist. Olivia has over 6 years of experience freelance writing for many different companies and publications focused on retail and consumer goods & services. When she's not writing, she can be found in her garden, growing her own food and flowers.