Turkey season is approaching, which means it’s time to revisit my refresher course in how to thaw a turkey. Learn how to properly defrost your turkey in the fridge or in cold water for the best (safe) results! 

You’ll be enjoying roast turkey with cranberry sauce and stuffing in no time…and don’t forget the gravy! It’s the perfect final touch.

a turkey in a plastic container

How Long Does it Take to Thaw a Turkey

Tempting though it may be, don’t make the mistake of defrosting your bird at room temperature. There is too much opportunity for bacteria to multiply on the outer layer before the inside is thawed. Keep turkey cold while it thaws, either in the refrigerator or cold water.

As for the length of time for thawing turkey that will depend on the size. While we’re on that subject, how big a bird should you buy? The rule of is one pound per person, so plan accordingly.

To Defrost in the Refrigerator

In a refrigerator set at 40°F, the average thaw time is 1 day for every 4-5 pounds.

  • 14 – 18 pounds: 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 days
  • 18 – 22 pounds: 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 days
  • 22 – 24 pounds: 5 1/2 to 6 days
  • 24 – 30 pounds: 6 to 7 days

To Defrost in Cold Water (Faster)

For thawing turkey in the cold water method, make sure you place your turkey breast side down and fully submerge in the water.

  • 14 – 18 pounds: 7 to 9 hours
  • 18 – 22 pounds: 9 to 11 hours
  • 22 – 24 pounds: 11 to 13 hours
  • 24 – 30 pounds: 13 to 16 hours

a pie, a turkey in a pan, and veggies in a fridge

How to Defrost a Turkey in the Fridge

To safely thaw turkey in refrigerator, plan ahead for time and follow these steps:

  1. Keep the turkey in its wrapper. Place in a pan to catch any drippings.
  2. Allow enough days to thoroughly thaw.
  3. When thawed, the turkey should be cooked within 1 – 2 days.

If the bird is very large, use disposable foil roasting pan with high sides for thawing in the fridge. This will catch any drips while defrosting plus it’s a great place to catch any juices when cutting off the wrapper. (You definitely don’t want to use those flimsy pans for roasting turkey, they don’t conduct heat well and and add tons of extra cook time!)

Safety Tip: Food safety experts strongly advise against rinsing raw poultry, because it’s practically impossible to prevent tiny droplets from contaminating your kitchen. The heat of cooking does a much better job of destroying bacteria.

a turkey wrapped from the store in a tub

How to Defrost a Turkey in Cold Water

To get your bird thawed fast, use the cold water method.

    1. Keep the turkey in its wrapper.
    2. Submerge in very cold tap water.
    3. Make sure to change the water every 30 minutes.

Armed with these steps for safely thawing turkey, you can rest easy in knowing that you’ll be serving your family a healthy and happy turkey dinner!

Delicious Thanksgiving Sides

a turkey in the fridge, a whole turkey
closeup of a whole turkey
a whole turkey closeup



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About the author

Holly is a wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. Her greatest passion is creating in the kitchen and making deliciously comforting recipes for the everyday home cook!
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  1. My first year cooking the Turkey over night or I should say night before in an electric roasting oven. Any tips or how to would be wonderful. Nothing fancy just doing Thanksgiving for an 88 year old purple vet and his 85 year old wife.