How to Thaw a Turkey

Christine Albury

Learn how to thaw a turkey safely - plus some tips for speeding up the process if you need dinner in a hurry!

A frozen turkey takes some time to thaw enough to be ready for the oven - so the number one rule when learning how to thaw a turkey is to plan ahead!
Roasted Turkey Photo
The safest and easiest method it to simply place your turkey in the refrigerator and wait!
This allows it to defrost gradually whilst keeping it at a safe temperature.
But you need to do this AT LEAST the day before you plan to cook the turkey - a 5 lb bird, for example, will take a full 24 hours to thaw. A very large turkey could take a couple of days!
A frozen turkey will leak a lot of juice as it thaws, so make sure you leave it in its original wrapping and sit it on a large plate or shallow tray. It's very important that those juices don't drip on to anything else in the fridge, as this could cause cross-contamination.
Once thawed, you need to cook the turkey within 2 days.
Roasted Turkey Picture

How to thaw a turkey quickly

There's nothing worse than the sinking feeling you get when you realize you've totally forgotten to take your turkey out of the freezer in time to cook it for a special meal.
Fortunately, there are a couple of ways in which you can speed up the thawing process, although you need to ensure you follow the guidelines very carefully to avoid the risk of food poisoning.
The best option is to use the 'cold water' method, which can thaw a 5 lb turkey in as little as 2.5 hours. The only drawback with this method is that it's quite labor-intensive, although if it means you can get dinner on the table as planned then it's worth it, right?
Roasted Turkey Image
All you need is a large zip-top bag. You don't need to unwrap your turkey - just place it inside, still in its wrapping, and seal it.
Next, fill your sink with cold water. Put the turkey into the water with the breast facing down and use a heavy pan or some plates to hold it in place (otherwise it may keep floating to the top).
Set a timer for 30 minutes. Once it goes off, drain out the water and refill the sink.
Repeat this process every 30 minutes until the turkey has fully thawed. 
Don't be tempted to use hot water instead of cold.
It may seem like the logical thing to do - after all, hot water would surely just hurry things along even more! But the problem is that the outer part of the turkey would begin to heat up significantly, while the inside remained frozen.
This would encourage the growth of bacteria and could lead to a case of food poisoning!
Slow Cooker Turkey Breast Pic
Once the turkey has been safely thawed with cold water, you need to cook it immediately.

How to thaw a turkey in the microwave

This method is the one we least recommend, because you can sometimes find that parts of the turkey begin to heat up before other parts are properly thawed, which can be hazardous.
If you do decide to give it a go, refer to the manufacturer's instructions for details on how long your turkey will take. There's a lot of variation from one microwave to another, so there is no set time to go by. Bear in mind that larger turkeys may still take at least an hour.
Instant Pot Turkey Breast with Carrots and Homemade Gravy Photo
Make sure you take any metals clips off of the packaging before putting a turkey into the microwave. You also need to sit it on a large plate, although you may find that this overflows during the process, in which case you need to make sure you srub the microwave thoroughly afterwards.
Transfer the turkey to the oven for cooking as soon as it has thawed.

Turkey tips

Looking for a way to make your Thanksgiving turkey even tastier and juicier? Then learn how to brine a turkey and how to make Paper Bag Turkey.

And don't forget to see our tips for how to carve a turkey where you can learn the perfect technique to get as many servings as possible.

Turkey Recipes

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Christine Albury

About Christine

I'm a mom of 5 and love making healthy baby food with wholesome, natural ingredients. In 2005 I started the Homemade Baby Food Recipes website, sharing recipes for everything from simple fruit purees to gourmet curries for the baby food connoisseur! You'll also find plenty of tried and tested tips to help encourage even the most reluctant diner to enjoy a wide range of nutritious new foods. If you enjoy cooking, then you will LOVE learning to become head chef for a very special little customer!