How Long Will It Take to Thaw Your Turkey?

Be careful—Thanksgiving is so close that if you blink, it will be here. By now you’ve probably hit the grocery store to pick out your turkey.

If you chose a frozen turkey, you’re already thinking about how—and how long—you’re going to thaw it. Since you have absolutely no time to waste, we did all the research and math for you.

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The Refrigerator Method

Any seasoned holiday host can tell you that there are two standard methods for thawing your bird. First is the refrigerator method. As you might of guessed, this involves moving your turkey from the freezer to the fridge, and allowing it to thaw (slowly) at 40°F or lower. The USDA recommends that for every four pounds of turkey, you allot 24 hours for defrosting. The official breakdown:

  • 4 lbs: 1 day to defrost
  • 8 lbs: 2 days to defrost
  • 12 lbs: 3 days to defrost
  • 16 lbs: 4 days to defrost

Pro tip: make sure the bird is in a large pan or on a cookie sheet so those melty, turkey juices don’t get all over your fridge. If you’re thawing in the fridge, your turkey can stay in there for one or two days before it’s cooked.

The Cold Water Method

If, however, your fridge is jam-packed with sides, cranberry sauce Jell-O shots, and Cool Whip pies, you might want to try cold water thawing. This method, though it is much faster, requires a bit more work than letting your bird sit in the fridge for days.

First, you’ll need to double-check to make sure there are no holes or cuts in the plastic wrap of your turkey. Next, fill a large bucket (or your sink) with cold tap water. Finally, submerge that sucker (still fully wrapped) in the water and let it sit, changing the water every 30 minutes. According to the USDA, you should allow 30 minutes of soak time for every pound of turkey. The official breakdown:

  • 4 lbs: 1 hours to defrost
  • 8 lbs: 4 hours to defrost
  • 12 lbs: 6 hours to defrost
  • 16 lbs: 8 hours to defrost



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