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Thanksgiving FAQs: How to Thaw a Turkey for the Holidays

Before you stuff, brine or baste, a frozen turkey must be properly thawed to enjoy the first bite. While this process can take some time and forethought, not every situation allows for lengthy planning. We’ll discuss how to thaw a turkey using the refrigerator and cold water methods with two different time frames. And for the last-minute host, we’ll detail what to do when your turkey is still frozen on Thanksgiving morning.

How to Thaw a Turkey Safely

Given its size, it can take time for a turkey to defrost properly. So much time, that leaving it at room temperature for too long can lead to the development of bacteria that causes foodborne illness. Therefore, the best way to thaw a turkey for the holidays is to place it in the refrigerator for several days. This helps to avoid spoilage. Read on for more tips from our experts on how to thaw a turkey safely so both you and your bird keep your cool.

How Much Time Does it Take to Thaw a Turkey?

As you prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, it’s important to factor turkey defrost time into your planning. How fast your turkey thaws depends on its weight and the method you use to defrost it.

Refrigerator thawing generally takes about 24 hours per 4-5lbs of turkey, while defrosting with the cold water method takes 30 minutes per pound.

When determining how to thaw a turkey with these guidelines, an average-sized, 15lb turkey should take 3-4 days to defrost in the refrigerator. The same size turkey will likely take 6-8 hours to thaw in cold water. 

How Do I Thaw a Turkey in my Refrigerator?

Refrigerator thawing is considered the best way to safely thaw a frozen turkey. This is because the refrigerator can maintain a consistently cool temperature, prohibiting dangerous bacterial growth with little effort on your part. However, this method is also the lengthiest, requiring days of thawing in advance of Thanksgiving.

Thaw turkey in refrigerator with these simple steps:

  1. Leave the turkey unopened, in its original wrapping.
  2. Place the turkey breast-side up in a baking pan to prohibit drippings from contaminating refrigerator shelves or food.
  3. Cook the turkey within 4 days of thawing.

How Do I Thaw a Turkey in my Sink?

While thawing a turkey in the sink with cold water is faster than using the refrigerator, this method is more labor-intensive. To prevent the development of bacteria that causes illness, the water will have to be changed every 30 minutes to stay cold. This is why we caution against using this method to defrost a turkey overnight.

Follow these steps to thaw a turkey in cold water:

  1. Place turkey in the sink breast-side down, in its unopened wrapper.
  2. Completely submerge the turkey in cold water.
  3. Change the water and rotate the turkey every 30 minutes.
  4. Cook the turkey as soon as it’s thawed.

What if my Turkey is Still Frozen on Thanksgiving Day?

Waking up on Thanksgiving morning to find your turkey frozen solid can certainly cause some holiday stress. But there’s no need to panic; it’s actually safer to cook a frozen turkey than to attempt any rapid defrosting methods. Just be sure to estimate a 50% longer cooking time when planning for dinner. 

While you won’t be able to prep a frozen turkey by brining or stuffing, you can still give it some extra flavor once it’s in the oven. Halfway through cooking, baste the turkey with butter and herbs to still enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving meal.


Knowing how to thaw a turkey in different ways provides safe options for any holiday scenario. Regardless of how your Thanksgiving planning begins, Dependable Repair Services in Atlanta wishes you a happy ending surrounded by family and friends.

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