Defrosting a Turkey

Poultry must be thawed completely before cooking to achieve optimum results. This can take hours, so one must anticipate this very important preparation step. Here are a few methods to help get your bird on the table just in time.


  • To speed the thawing process, remove the giblets from the body as soon as the turkey is pliable enough.
  • Frozen turkey should be stored in the freezer until ready to use. Do not thaw them on your porch, or on the kitchen counter. The safest methods to thaw a turkey are: in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave oven.


The most traditional way to defrost a turkey is in the refrigerator. It just requires a little pre-planning and refrigerator space. Be sure to allow 24 hours of thawing for every 5 pounds of turkey, in a refrigerator set at 40 ºF. Be sure to place a plate or pan under the turkey to catch any drippings.

Cold Water 
If you want to speed up defrosting, the cold water method is an option. While it’s a little faster, you should still allow 30 minutes per pound to thaw the turkey. Be sure to wrap the turkey in leak-proof packaging so the skin does not become saturated with water. Place the turkey in cold water, using a plate or pot to keep it submerged. Change the water every 30 minutes until thawed. Turkeys thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately.

Microwave Oven
If you’re in a real time crunch, it is possible to defrost your turkey in the microwave. To start, set your microwave on a low to medium power setting for at least 6 minutes per pound., being sure to rotate your chicken (top to bottom and end to end) to avoid cooking. Start cooking the turkey immediately after thawing, since some areas of the turkey may begin to cook during thawing.


  • Turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. Harmful bacteria may begin to grow if the turkey is allowed to thaw at a temperature above 40 ºF. unless proper thawing methods are used.
  • Poultry thawing on the counter longer than 2 hours is not safe. Typically, the outer layer is defrosted quickly, putting it in the 40-140 degree F range where harmful bacteria grow, while its center remains frozen.
  • For more information contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline:1-800-535-4555 (Toll-free Nationwide) or the  SIS website.

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