Thanksgiving Tips: When to thaw your turkey

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FILE – This Nov. 2, 2009, file photo shows a Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe, File)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Nothing is worse than going to prepare the Thanksgiving turkey and finding out your bird is still frozen! These thawing tips could help save the centerpiece of your feast:


According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during the “big thaw” because as a turkey starts to thaw, any bacteria that may have been present before freezing could begin to grow again.


Reminder: If you have a turkey weighing more than 20 pounds it needs to come out of the freezer Friday or Saturday to be ready to cook on Thanksgiving Day.

Refrigerator Thawing

A couple of suggestions to consider:

  • Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
  • Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.

Whole Turkey Thawing Times

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking.

Cold Water Thawing

  • Allow about 30 minutes per pound.
  • First be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water.
  • Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.

Whole Turkey Thawing Times

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours

A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately.

Microwave Thawing

You can also defrost a turkey in the microwave. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Plan to cook the turkey immediately because some areas of the food may become warm and begin to cook during microwaving.

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