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How do I safely thaw a turkey?

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics
The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator.
  • Plan ahead: allow approximately 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 °F or below.
  • Place the turkey in a container to prevent the juices from dripping on other foods.
Thawing Times

Whole turkey:
  •  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
A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 or 2 days before cooking. Foods thawed in the refrigerator can be refrozen without cooking but there may be some loss of quality.
If your turkey is frozen, don't thaw it on the kitchen counter. You'll be putting your guests at risk of food poisoning. Instead, thaw it in the refrigerator, microwave or sink, following these steps:
  • Refrigerator: If thawing in the refrigerator, allow about one day for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey.
  • Microwave: If thawing in the microwave, cook immediately after thawing because some areas may become warm and begin to cook.
  • Sink: If thawing in cold water, keep the turkey in its original airtight packaging or in a leak-proof bag. Submerge the bird or cut-up parts in cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. Estimate minimum thawing time to be 30 minutes per pound for whole turkey.
If you've thawed your turkey in the microwave or sink you can't re-freeze it before cooking, so plan accordingly.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.