When to Pull That Frozen Turkey Out of the Freezer: Your Thanksgiving Thawing 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.

Thanksgiving is a time for family, friends, and of course a delicious feast. But before you can dig into that juicy turkey you need to thaw it out.

Figuring out when to pull your frozen turkey out of the freezer can be a bit of a head-scratcher Fear not, fellow turkey enthusiasts! I’ve scoured the internet and consulted the experts to bring you the ultimate guide to thawing your turkey safely and efficiently.

The Big Question: When to Thaw Your Turkey?

The answer, like most things in life, isn’t a simple one It depends on a few factors:

  • Thawing method: There are three safe ways to thaw a turkey: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave. Each method has its own thawing time.
  • Turkey size: The bigger the turkey, the longer it will take to thaw.
  • Your cooking schedule: You need to factor in the thawing time when planning your Thanksgiving dinner timeline.

Thawing Times: A Handy Guide

Here’s a quick reference table to help you determine when to thaw your turkey based on its weight and your chosen thawing method:

Thawing Method Turkey Weight (pounds) Thawing Time
Refrigerator 4-12 1-3 days
Refrigerator 12-16 3-4 days
Refrigerator 16-20 4-5 days
Refrigerator 20-24 5-6 days
Cold Water 4-12 2-6 hours
Cold Water 12-16 6-8 hours
Cold Water 16-20 8-10 hours
Cold Water 20-24 10-12 hours
Microwave (Follow package instructions) Minutes per pound

Pro tip: Remember to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator at 40°F or below. This is the safest way to prevent bacterial growth.

Thawing Tips and Tricks:

  • Plan ahead: Don’t wait until the last minute to thaw your turkey. Start the thawing process well in advance of your Thanksgiving feast.
  • Check the packaging: Some turkeys come with thawing instructions on the packaging. Be sure to follow those instructions for best results.
  • Thaw in a container: Place your turkey in a container to catch any drippings during the thawing process. This will help prevent cross-contamination and keep your refrigerator clean.
  • Change the water: If you’re thawing your turkey in cold water, be sure to change the water every 30 minutes to ensure it stays cold.
  • Cook immediately: Once your turkey is thawed, cook it immediately. Do not refreeze a thawed turkey.

Bonus Tip: Brining Your Turkey

Brining your turkey is a great way to add flavor and moisture to the meat. However, it also adds to the thawing time. If you plan to brine your turkey, be sure to add an extra day or two to the thawing time.

Thawing your turkey doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. By following these tips and referring to the handy thawing table, you can ensure your Thanksgiving turkey is safely and properly thawed, ready to be the star of your delicious feast.

Now, go forth and conquer that frozen bird! And remember, a little planning and preparation will go a long way towards a stress-free and delicious Thanksgiving dinner.

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.

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.

When should I take my turkey out of the freezer?


How long should you take a turkey out of the freezer before cooking?

Thaw turkey breast side up, in an unopened wrapper on a tray in the fridge (40 degrees F or below). Allow at least one day of thawing for every 4 lbs of turkey. Keep turkey in original wrapper and place on tray. Use turkey within four days after thawing.

How long does it take to thaw a 20 pound turkey?

Turkey Weight
Thawing Time (Refrigerator)
Thawing Time (Cold Water)
Up to 12 lbs
1 to 3 days
2 to 6 hours
12 to 16 lbs
3 to 4 days
6 to 8 hours
16 to 20 lbs
4 to 5 days
8 to 10 hours
20 to 24 lbs
5 to 6 days
10 to 12 hours

How long does it take to thaw a 15 pound turkey in the refrigerator?

It takes 24 hours for every four to five pounds of weight for a turkey to thaw in the refrigerator (a 15-pound turkey will take three days to thaw in your refrigerator).

When should I take my Butterball turkey out of the freezer?

And that’s why Butterball promotes Thaw Thursday, the week before Thanksgiving. Pull your turkey out of the freezer and pop it into the refrigerator the Thursday prior and it will definitely be ready for roasting on the big day.

How long should you Thaw a frozen turkey?

The USDA recommends thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, which translates to one day for each 4 to 5 pounds of weight. So for a 12-pound turkey that would imply at least three days of thawing, ideally with a bonus day thrown in. Here’s the thing, though. I simply don’t find that that’s enough. Ever.

How long can a thawed Turkey stay in the fridge?

Allow approximately 24 hours for each 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40° or below Place the turkey in a container to prevent juices from dripping onto other items in your refrigerator A turkey thawed in the refrigerator can be left in the fridge for up to two days before cooking

How do you freeze a frozen turkey?

Keep your turkey frozen at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit and then defrost it in the refrigerator, set to cool at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping and place it in a deep sheet pan or baking dish to catch any leaking liquids.

How long does it take to defrost a 16 pound turkey?

This method will take about 30 minutes per pound, totaling around eight hours for a fully frozen 16-pound bird. Although it is possible to speed up the process, the easiest and safest way to defrost your Thanksgiving turkey remains using the refrigerator.

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