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How to Thaw a Turkey / Thawing Time

You’re planning to roast or fry a turkey for Thanksgiving or another event. The first decision you have to make, is whether to get a fresh or a frozen turkey. If you’ve decided to buy a fresh turkey, then all you need to do is prepare and cook the bird. Fresh turkeys should be bought just before you are going to use it.

For the vast majority of us, we go to our local grocery store and buy a frozen turkey. It can be purchased days, weeks, or even months in advance. If you are not going to immediately thaw and cook it, place it in the freezer immediately when you get home.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to take it out of the freezer and safely thaw it out. There are two basic ways to thaw a turkey, and one definitely wrong way. There’s actually a third way to thaw a turkey…. in the microwave. However, most turkeys do not fit inside of a microwave.

First, lets talk about the wrong way. Never thaw a turkey by leaving it on the counter. At room temperature, bacterial growth is maximized. Thawing from the outside in, bacteria multiplies on the warm, outer surface. This can make you and everyone who eats it very sick.

Did You Know? You can refreeeze a partially thawed turkey as long as ice crystals are still in the cavity. Note: refrezzing the turkey can affect flavor and juiciness.

To safely thaw a turkey, it can be thawed either in the refrigerator, or in cold water.

Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator is easy, but it takes time. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping. Place a pan under it, to capture any leaks or moisture from condensation. Allow enough time for the turkey to thaw out in the refrigerator using the chart below.

Turkey Thawing Time in the Refrigerator:

Turkey Weight:

Thawing Time:

8 to 10 pounds

1 – 2 days

12 to 16 pounds

2 to 3 days

16 to 20 pounds

3 to 4 days

20 to 24 pounds

4 to 5 days

Your turkey is properly thawed, when there are still a few ice crystals in the inside cavity.

Turkey Thawing Time in  Cold Water:

Thawing a turkey in cold water can be done fairly quickly. But, it takes more effort. The day before you are going to cook the bird, take it out of the freezer and check for tears in the plastic wrapper. If you find a tear, put the bird in another plastic bag. Then, put it in the sink and fill it with water. The water should completely cover the turkey. He National Turkey Federation recommends changing the water every 30 minutes. Thawing times are listed in the chart below.

Turkey Thawing Time in Cold Water:

Turkey Weight: Thawing Time:
8 to 10 pounds 4 to 6 hours
12 to 16 pounds 6 to 9 hours
16 to 20 pounds 9 to 11 hours
20 to 24 pounds 11 to 12 hours






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