How Long It Takes A Turkey To Thaw In The Refrigerator

At this time of the year, there's no end to the possibilities for preparing the Thanksgiving turkey, including smoking, spatchcocking, deep-frying, dry brining, and good ol' roasting. However, one part of this prep that deserves just as much forethought is making sure the turkey is thawed. That's because no matter which cooking method you go with, your day will be thrown into chaos if that bird is still frosty.

Frozen turkeys are so convenient to stash in the freezer in advance of the holiday. But turkeys are usually pretty large, and thawing them takes time — not just hours but days. It's commonly agreed that the safest way to thaw a turkey is by moving it from the freezer to the fridge, and you can plan for one day of thawing for every four to five pounds of bird. A medium-sized 12-pound frozen turkey, for example, will need about three days to completely thaw out. 

There's another way to thaw a turkey, but it's a big wet mess

Ideally, a whole, frozen turkey will have enough time to completely thaw before it goes into the oven or deep fryer. Although the USDA says it's possible to roast a frozen or partially frozen bird, doing so will significantly increase the cooking time. This also runs the risk that the turkey will be unevenly cooked or worse, undercooked in places, which puts you and your guests at risk of getting sick.

The thawing guideline of one day in the fridge for every four to five pounds of frozen turkey is generally reliable, however, sometimes this isn't enough. Folks pull their turkeys from the fridge after the allotted time only to find the birds are still somewhat frozen. Reasons for this include a refrigerator temperature that's set lower than the standard of 37-40 degrees Fahrenheit or when the turkey is placed in the coldest part of the fridge. If this happens to you, don't worry: you can always switch to the microwave or water-thawing method to finish the job in time for roasting.

Never thaw a turkey this way

When it comes to thawing a frozen turkey for Thanksgiving, there are some definite "don'ts" — even if your favorite TikToker swears by them or if an older family member insists that's how they always did it. The USDA emphasizes that keeping the bird cold while it thaws is crucial to prevent any illness-causing bacterial growth. This means thawing a frozen turkey at room temperature — like on the kitchen counter — is out. This also goes for leaving the turkey in a cool part of the house like a front porch or breezeway. These places can't maintain the safe, consistent, cold temperature that you get in a refrigerator. Interestingly, the USDA also warns against trying to thaw a turkey in a running dishwasher ... which we can't believe is even a thing!

In the end, thawing over several days in the refrigerator is the safest and least cumbersome method to defrost your frozen turkey. So save yourself a lot of headaches on Thanksgiving: mark your calendar now for the day to get that bird out of the freezer and into the fridge.