Nothing can dampen the holiday spirit quite like an undercooked turkey. Luckily, here at OOLA, we are invested in our readers' culinary success. That's why we've prepared a thorough guide detailing how long to thaw a turkey before cooking. We'll cover the three safest thawing methods -- refrigerator thawing, cold water bath, and microwave thawing -- plus thawing tips based on the size of your bird. Great gobbles ahead because you'll never have to stress about turkey again!
Rather than saving the best method for last, we're starting with the optimal turkey-thawing solution -- the refrigerator. Please keep in mind that this method requires planning ahead of time for success. According to the USDA, this approach is the safest, because the bird will thaw at a consistent temperature; most fridges are set to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so that will generally be what you encounter.
For every four to five pounds of turkey, you'll want to allow 24 hours for thawing in a refrigerator. This means that for a four- to 12-pound fowl, you will need to allow one to three days for thawing. For a 12- to 16-pounder, you will need to allow three to four days for thawing. For a 16- to 20-pound turkey, you will need to allow four to five days for thawing. And for a 20- to 14-pound bird, you will need to allow five to six days for thawing. If your turkey is larger, just keep adding days for every four or five pounds according to food safety guidelines.
For best results, place your turkey in a large dish so its juices are contained. Also, be sure not to place other foods near the turkey to avoid cross-contamination. A turkey thawed in this fashion can be kept in the fridge for a day or two before cooking.
Our second method for thawing turkey is best for thawing on an expedited schedule. You'll still need to plan ahead, just not as far ahead as you would with the refrigerator method.
Before you begin, be sure to place the turkey in a watertight plastic bag to avoid liquid entering the bird and affecting the end product; this will also lower the risk of cross-contamination.
Submerge your turkey and allow 30 minutes per pound to thaw. So for a four- to 12-pounder, allow two to six hours. If your turkey weighs 12 to 16 pounds, you'll need six to eight hours. For a 16- to 20-pound bird, between eight and 10 hours will be sufficient. And finally, for a 20- to 24-pound turkey, allow 10 to 12 hours. Follow the same rule for a larger bird.
Please keep in mind that a cold water bath is only considered safe if the water is changed every 30 minutes until the bird is ready to be cooked. A turkey thawed this way must be cooked immediately, or dangerous bacteria could continue to grow on its room-temperature surface.
Our final method involves thawing a turkey in a microwave oven. Clearly, this is only recommended when your bird can fit inside the micro. Place your unwrapped turkey on a microwave-safe dish large enough to contain its juices.
Generally, you should allow for six minutes per pound of turkey, but be sure to check your microwave's guidelines; these can usually be located in the booklet that came with the microwave or on the manufacturer's website. Be sure to set the defrost setting to thaw, and remember that any turkey thawed in this fashion must be cooked immediately.
We hope you've enjoyed our guide to thawing a turkey safely. With three methods to choose from, you're sure to be set up for success this holiday season.