Can I Leave My Turkey Out Overnight to Thaw?

Learn to safely thaw a frozen turkey in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Use my step-by-step instructions and practical tips to get your frozen bird on the table in no time.

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Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and, of course, food. The centerpiece of the Thanksgiving feast is usually a big, juicy turkey. But what if you forget to take the turkey out of the freezer to thaw? Can you leave it out overnight?

The Short Answer: No

Leaving a turkey out overnight to thaw is not a good idea. It is not safe and can lead to foodborne illness.

The Long Answer: Why Leaving a Turkey Out Overnight is a Bad Idea

When you leave a turkey out at room temperature, the outer layer of the meat starts to thaw first. This creates a perfect environment for bacteria to grow. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Even if the center of the turkey is still frozen, the outer layer can be in the danger zone for hours. This means that the bacteria have had plenty of time to multiply and contaminate the meat.

If you eat a turkey that has been contaminated with bacteria, you could get food poisoning. Food poisoning can cause a variety of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. In some cases, food poisoning can be serious and even life-threatening.

The Safe Way to Thaw a Turkey

The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. This will allow the turkey to thaw slowly and evenly, without spending any time in the danger zone.

To thaw a turkey in the refrigerator follow these steps:

  1. Remove the turkey from its packaging.
  2. Place the turkey on a tray or in a pan to catch any drippings.
  3. Place the turkey in the refrigerator.
  4. Allow the turkey to thaw for 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of weight.

For example, a 16-pound turkey would need to thaw for 4 days in the refrigerator.

Other Safe Thawing Methods

If you don’t have time to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator there are two other safe methods:

  • Thawing in cold water: Fill a sink or large bowl with cold water. Submerge the turkey in the water, making sure that the water is completely covering the turkey. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold. It will take about 30 minutes per pound of turkey to thaw using this method.
  • Thawing in the microwave: Most microwaves have a defrost setting that can be used to thaw a turkey. Follow the instructions in your microwave’s manual.

Once the Turkey is Thawed

Once the turkey is thawed, it is important to cook it immediately. Do not refreeze a thawed turkey.

Leaving a turkey out overnight to thaw is not a safe practice. The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. If you don’t have time to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, you can use the cold water method or the microwave method. Once the turkey is thawed, cook it immediately.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long will a thawed turkey last in the refrigerator? A thawed turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
  • Can I refreeze a thawed turkey? No, you should not refreeze a thawed turkey.
  • What is the best way to cook a turkey? There are many different ways to cook a turkey. Some popular methods include roasting, grilling, and frying.
  • What are some tips for cooking a turkey? Some tips for cooking a turkey include using a meat thermometer to make sure that the turkey is cooked to the proper temperature, basting the turkey with butter or gravy, and letting the turkey rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Additional Resources

I hope this information is helpful!

Refrigerator Thawing (Recommended Safest Method)

This is the safest way to thaw turkey. Luckily it is also the easiest. You just need to plan ahead. Add one day for a wet brine and one to three days for a dry brine if you intend to brine your turkey, which I heartily advise.

  • Make sure the temperature on your refrigerator is 40°F or lower, as it should be. To capture any turkey juices that might seep out or drip while the turkey is thawing, place the wrapped bird in a container or on a plate. To hold the turkey up, I like to put a rack inside the pan. This will enable even thawing of the turkey by allowing air to circulate around it.
  • Make sure to give yourself enough time to thaw a turkey in the fridge—at least 24 hours for every 4–5 pounds of turkey.

Once thawed keep the turkey in the fridge until use. It should be good for at least 2 days.

can i leave my turkey out overnight to thaw

⏲️Cold Water Thawing (Last Minute)

Use the cold water method only if you purchased your Thanksgiving turkey last minute. Or you wake up Thanksgiving morning to find your turkey is still partially frozen.

  • Leave the turkey in its original packaging. While using a pot is an option, doing this procedure in a sink is the most convenient.
  • Place the turkey, breast side down, in your kitchen sink. Fill the sink with cold tap water. It should be under 40 degrees, just like the fridge. If necessary, use a pan to hold the turkey down while it is submerged.
  • Give the turkey thirty minutes to sit in the water. To ensure the turkey is thawed, replace the cold water every thirty minutes.
  • Allow for 30 minutes per pound.
  • I suggest starting the process the night before and soaking the turkey in a wet brine for the entire night because of how long it takes.

When using this method you need to cook your turkey immediately. It can not be dry-brined.

can i leave my turkey out overnight to thaw

You can brine your turkey if you want to and it’s still frozen after using the cold water method several times. As long as the neck giblets and other parts that are stuffed inside the turkey’s cavity can be removed, partially frozen turkeys can be brined.

Can you leave a turkey out to thaw overnight?

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