Roasting a whole turkey is a classic and always a crowd favorite, whether it’s for a festival like Thanksgiving or Christmas or just a simple family gathering. A roasted turkey with its salty crispy skin and delicious meat, when properly seasoned and prepared, is something that everyone looks forward to anytime it is on the menu!
The turkey we buy at the store will most likely be frozen when we get it home, so before we can start roasting, we’ll need to defrost that giant frozen rock of awesomeness.
While fresh turkeys may be found online and in many grocery stores, many people prefer to purchase a frozen turkey. A frozen turkey can take several days to thaw in your fridge, depending on its size. Planning ahead of time will help you avoid complications on the big day.
Refrigeration is the best way to thaw.
Allowing your turkey to thaw in the refrigerator is the safest and most convenient technique (it’s completely hands-off), but it also takes the longest. This is how you do it:
- Place the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan (in its original packing). If you don’t have one or are using a different pan, the rack will help to raise the turkey and provide circulation on all sides for proper thawing. However, make careful to put the turkey in a pan to catch any juices that may drip from the turkey’s packaging while it thaws, which could contaminate other foods in your fridge.
- Make sure nothing is touching or leaning against the turkey before placing it in the refrigerator. Place nothing else in the pan with the turkey; the turkey’s juices may spill as it thaws, contaminating anything else in the pan.
- Defrost the turkey entirely in the refrigerator: Total thawing time may vary depending on the size of your turkey; use the chart below to estimate how long it will take to thaw a five-pound turkey. Give yourself a day or two as a buffer if you have time, just in case your turkey takes longer to thaw than intended. Because thawed turkeys can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two days, it’s best to allow for more time than not.
The Best Way to Defrost a Frozen Turkey
The refrigerator is the only safe, simple, and effective way to thaw a frozen turkey.
It’s safe because it stays cold the entire time, preventing hazardous bacteria from growing and causing food poisoning.
You don’t have to do anything, therefore it’s simple. The turkey just thaws in the refrigerator on its own.
There are a few more options that are technically sound. However, one of them is difficult, and the other is ineffective—that is, it will harm your turkey and make you wish you had used a different method.
Time to Thaw a Frozen Turkey in the Refrigerator
1 to 3 days for a 4- to 12-pound turkey
3 to 4 days for a 12- to 16-pound turkey
4 to 5 days for a 16- to 20-pound turkey
5 to 6 days for a 20- to 24-pound turkey
Refrigerate it to defrost it.
The only method to defrost a frozen turkey is to do so in the refrigerator. However, you’ll need a lot of time to make it work: 24 hours of defrosting time for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. A large turkey, say 15 to 20 pounds, will need to be refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.
As a result, you’ll need to plan ahead. If you can do that, you’ll be in good shape. (Not to mention that your turkey will be golden brown and tasty.)
This is how you do it:
- Make sure your refrigerator is set at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
- Keep the turkey wrapped in its original package.
- Place the chicken on a tray or in a pan to catch any spilled juices
- Keep it at the bottom of your fridge to avoid contaminating anything below if it leaks.
For every 4 to 5 pounds of frozen turkey, allow 24 hours.
Thawing Frozen Turkey Submerged in Water a Little Faster
This method for thawing a frozen turkey is faster, but it involves a few extra steps. To begin, place your turkey in a big leak-proof plastic bag, still in its original packing. (The original packing may or may not be waterproof.) After that, you’ll need a container big enough to fit the turkey in.
The sink is a wonderful alternative for little birds. A large stock pot or plastic bin will suffice for medium-sized turkeys. A chiller is the best option for larger ones.
Place the turkey breast-side down in the container of your choice and fill with cold tap water to completely submerge it. If it floats to the surface, simply weigh it down with a dish or pan until it is totally submerged. To maintain a safe temperature, the USDA recommends changing the water every 30 minutes. After thawing the turkey, cook it right away.
Frozen Turkey Thawing Time Recommendations
According to USDA rules, frozen turkey should be defrosted in the refrigerator at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty-four hours for every five pounds, or thirty minutes per pound when submerged in cold water with the water changed every half hour.
Thawing Frozen Turkey in a Safe Way
When defrosting a frozen turkey, it is impossible to stress the importance of following proper food handling procedures. To avoid bacterial growth and food-borne illness, it’s critical to keep the temperature at a safe level during the thawing process. Allowing a frozen turkey to defrost at room temperature or in hot water is not a good idea.