Turkey Thawing Time Chart

Frozen turkeys can be thawed either in cold water or in your refrigerator. The easiest method is to thaw in the refrigerator, but the quicker method is in cold water.

The traditional method is to remove the turkey from the freezer and place it into the refrigerator for a few days before your dinner. As a general rule, it takes 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey to defrost. Be sure to place the turkey in a pan, to catch any drippings or place the pan on the shelf below, if there's not enough room.

If you want to thaw it quicker there is an alternative method, but it requires more of your time. Simply place the turkey in a big pot of cold water, allowing half an hour of soaking time per pound. The water needs to be replaced with fresh cold water every half hour. When thawing in cold water, make sure that the turkey is in a leak-proof package, because turkey meat can absorb moisture and become watery.

Use the following chart to determine how long it will take your turkey to thaw using either method:

Approximate Thawing Times

Turkey Weight

In Cold Water

In Refrigerator

8 to 12 pounds

4 to 6 hours in cold water*

1 to 2 days in refrigerator

10 to 16 pounds

6 to 8 hours in cold water*

2 to 3 days in refrigerator

16 to 20 pounds

8 to 10 hours in cold water*

3 to 4 days in refrigerator

20 to 24 pounds

10 to 12 hours in cold water*

4 to 5 days in refrigerator

*Change water frequently to keep cold.

As tempting as it may seem, you should never thaw your turkey by leaving it out overnight at room-temperature (either on the kitchen counter, inside a brown bag, in a picnic cooler, in the oven, or in the microwave oven). A room-temperature-thawed turkey is susceptible to contamination by bacteria. Your guests might be visiting the emergency room days after your dinner if you thaw the turkey at room temperature.

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