When to Take Your Frozen Turkey Out of the Freezer: A Comprehensive Guide

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) — You must start preparing days in advance if you are using a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Depending on the size, some turkeys can take days to thaw. The best day to take your frozen turkey out of the freezer to thaw in the fridge before cooking is the Friday before Thanksgiving if it weighs more than twenty pounds.

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for family friends and… a whole lot of turkey. But before you can get to the deliciousness, there’s the thawing process. And let’s face it, figuring out when to take that frozen bird out of the freezer can be a recipe for stress. But fear not, fellow feast-makers, for this guide is here to help you navigate the thawing waters with ease.

First things first, let’s address the elephant in the room: Does a turkey weigh more when frozen?

Technically, no Weight is a measure of mass, and the mass of an object doesn’t change based on its temperature So, a frozen turkey and a thawed turkey will weigh the same. However, you might perceive a frozen turkey as heavier due to the expansion of ice within and on the bird. But don’t worry, this increase in mass is minimal and won’t affect your recipe calculations.

Now onto the main event: When to thaw your turkey.

The golden rule of thawing is 24 hours for every 4 pounds of turkey. So, a 12-pound turkey needs 3 days to thaw, a 16-pounder needs 4 days, and so on. But remember, this is just a general guideline. Factors like the size of your refrigerator and the desired level of doneness can affect the thawing time.

Here’s a handy chart to help you out:

Turkey Weight Thawing Time in Refrigerator Thawing Time in Cold Water
4-12 pounds 1-3 days 2-6 hours
12-16 pounds 3-4 days 6-8 hours
16-20 pounds 4-5 days 8-10 hours
20-24 pounds 5-6 days 10-12 hours

Pro tip: When calculating the thawing time, consider when you plan to start cooking your turkey, not just when you want to eat it.

Now, let’s talk about the different thawing methods:

  • Refrigerator Thawing: This is the safest and most recommended method. Simply place your turkey in a container on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator to catch any drips.
  • Cold Water Thawing: This method is faster than refrigerator thawing, but it requires more attention. Submerge your turkey in a leak-proof bag filled with cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes.
  • Microwave Thawing: This is the quickest method, but it’s also the riskiest. Follow the instructions on your turkey’s packaging carefully to avoid uneven thawing or accidentally cooking the turkey.

Remember, regardless of the thawing method you choose, always cook your turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F to ensure food safety.

Here are some additional tips for thawing your turkey:

  • Don’t thaw your turkey at room temperature. This can lead to bacterial growth in the “danger zone” between 40°F and 140°F.
  • Don’t thaw your turkey in hot water. This can cook the outside of the turkey while the inside remains frozen.
  • Don’t refreeze a thawed turkey. This can also increase the risk of bacterial growth.

With these tips and the handy chart, you’ll be well on your way to a perfectly thawed and delicious Thanksgiving turkey. Now go forth and feast!

Safely Thawing a Turkey

It is NOT a safe practice to simply take a frozen turkey out of the freezer and place it on the counter for Thanksgiving. The outside of the turkey will soon reach the “danger zone,” which is between 40 and 140 degrees, where foodborne bacteria can grow quickly even if the inside is still frozen. A turkey can enter this “danger zone” after sitting on the counter for just two hours.

There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey. The following are recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey and avoid foodborne illness.

Thawing in the Refrigerator

  • For every five pounds, allow about a full day in a refrigerator that is kept at 40 degrees or lower.
  • To stop the turkey’s juices from spilling over into other items in your refrigerator, place the turkey in a container.
  • Before cooking, a thawed turkey can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days.

Refrigerator 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

*Make sure to calculate thawing time based on when you plan to start COOKING your turkey.

How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey


Are turkeys heavier when frozen?

Turkeys are pre-brined before being frozen. This makes them look plumper, and weigh more (so they can charge more). Basically, you had one skinner turkey that picked up more brine, and one fatter turkey that picked up less brine, so they wound up weighing the same.

Do things get heavier when frozen?

Freezing things does not change their mass nor their weight. If you freeze water, iron, oxygen, hafnium etc the weight and mass do not change. The density will change some, go up or down when frozen depending on what the material is.

Is frozen meat weigh heavier than thawed?

If the meat is sealed (as it should be) when frozen, and left that way when it thaws, there will be no change of mass. Frozen meat weighs more than unfrozen meat only to the extent that during the freezing process water has condensed and frozen on its surface. The meat itself and the water it contains weigh the same.

Is there a big difference between fresh and frozen turkey?

Fresh turkeys will hold their moisture better than frozen turkeys, bringing out a meaty texture with deeper natural flavors. It is best to preorder a fresh turkey with your local butcher and arrange to pick it up a few days before the holiday.

Are frozen turkeys heavier than fresh?

Technically, frozen turkeys are heavier than fresh ones. This is because the moisture in a frozen turkey has been turned to ice, increasing the weight of the bird. However, you’re not being short-changed. The weight listed on a frozen turkey for sale is the weight of the bird was before it was frozen.

Does frozen turkey weigh more than frozen Tenderloin?

A frozen turkey will weigh more than a frozen tenderloin because there is less ice. So, does frozen meat weigh more? To conclude, frozen meat is heavier than fresh meat because of the chemical changes in the meat as it is frozen.

Can You Thaw a turkey if it won’t fit?

You don’t want to buy a larger bird only to find out it won’t fit! Frozen or fresh: If you opt for a frozen turkey, allow enough time to thaw safely in the refrigerator. Thawing a turkey takes approximately 24 hours for every 5 pounds of weight.

Does frozen meat weigh more?

The amount of water in meat is essential, but not every type of meat has the same amount of water. For example, a turkey will have much less water than beef tenderloin. A frozen turkey will weigh more than a frozen tenderloin because there is less ice. So,

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