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How to Thaw a Turkey

How to Thaw a Turkey

Yes, this is an entire article on how to thaw a turkey! It takes only a minute to review, but it’s the most important part of planning your Thanksgiving menu. (After all, food safety is important!) Take a moment to check out our other holiday food safety tips, and the Top 10 Food Handling Tips. Once you’ve gotten the important stuff out of the way, you can go on to planning the fun stuff—like holiday side dishes, Thanksgiving desserts, and what to do with the turkey leftovers!

Be sure to thaw your frozen turkey in the wrapper it came in, unopened. Place it breast-side up on a tray in the refrigerator. Here’s a chart you can use to determine thaw times.

Turkey size Thawing time
(in the refrigerator)
8-12 lb. 2-3 days
12-14 lb. 3-3½ days
14-18 lb. 3½-4½ days
18-20 lb. 4½-5 days

Once thawed, your turkey will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. Bearing that in mind, err on the side of thawing a day or two too soon so you don’t have to do a last-minute thaw. Also, if you plan to brine your turkey you need to plan a day for that.

If you do procrastinate, you can thaw your turkey in cold water. Place the still-wrapped turkey in a container large enough to allow it to be covered with water. Fill the container with cold water and change the water every 30 minutes. This method will thaw a turkey at the rate of about 1 pound every 30 minutes. An 18-pound turkey will take 9 hours. That’s why it’s best to plan ahead!

NEVER thaw a turkey out on the counter or in warm water - you could create the perfect environment for bacteria and end up with a family trip to the emergency room instead of a family weekend of fun.

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