CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- There is nothing worse than going to prepare your turkey for Thanksgiving and finding out your bird is still frozen.

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), a turkey should never be left on the kitchen counter to thaw out because after two hours at room temperature, bacteria that was present before freezing may begin to regrow rapidly.

Always keep your turkey at a safe temperature during the “big thaw.”

Here is a guide to thawing times that could help save the centerpiece of your feast:

Three safe ways to thaw

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 degrees Fahrenheit 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

When using the cold water method to thaw, you should allow about 30 minutes per pound.

Be sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to prevent the turkey from absorbing water, then 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 using 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.