How to thaw a frozen turkey

How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey 101

Publish Date October 5, 2023 7 Minute Read

Turkey may be an overlooked meat most days of the year, but on Thanksgiving, it has the spotlight. Most of us are more comfortable cooking a cut of meat - a chicken breast or a pork tenderloin - than we are roasting a whole bird. Cooking a whole turkey can be intimidating even without knowing that it’s the main course for a family holiday. But it doesn’t have to be. Knowing how to thaw a frozen turkey is half the battle, and we’ve compiled some of the most used methods and best tips. But before you can thaw your turkey, you need to know what to look for.


Choosing the Right Turkey

There are a few ways to make sure you end up with the tastiest turkey.

Size: Determine which size turkey you’ll need by estimating that each guest will eat roughly 1½ pounds.

Grade: Turkeys get a grade from the USDA. The highest quality is grade A, with the grades going down to C.

Avoid Additives: Some turkeys have been injected with additives. Luckily, the packaging should state this. Be sure to read the labels before choosing the right turkey for you and yours.

Reviews: Reading reviews about turkey brands can help you make an informed decision.

Sell-by Date: Pay attention to the sell-by date to make sure your turkey is fresh.

Now that you’ve chosen your frozen turkey, it’s time to learn how to thaw it.


How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey in the Refrigerator

The USDA recommends allowing your turkey to thaw in the refrigerator. This allows for a consistent temperature throughout the thawing process.

  1. Keep your turkey wrapped and place it breast-side up on a tray in the fridge.
  2. Every 4 pounds of turkey needs 1 day of thawing. So, if your bird is 12 pounds, allow 3 days to thaw.
  3. Be sure to maintain the temperature of the refrigerator by only putting room-temperature things inside while the turkey is thawing. Placing hot dishes in the fridge could raise the temperature.
  4. Once the turkey has thawed, you can either cook it immediately or wait up to 4 days from when you began thawing.


  • This is the USDA-recommended way to safely thaw your turkey.
  • This method is very hands off, allowing you to focus on other dishes.


  • It takes up refrigerator space you could use for make-ahead dishes.
  • It takes more time.


How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey in Cold Water

  1. Keep your turkey wrapped and lay it breast-side down in enough cold water to completely cover the turkey.
  2. Change the water every 30 minutes to maintain water temperature.
  3. Each pound of turkey requires 30 minutes of thawing. So, if your bird is 12 pounds, allow 6 hours to thaw.
  4. It’s recommended to cook the turkey immediately after thawing this way. Keep this in mind when planning Thanksgiving morning.


  • It’s faster than the refrigerator method.
  • This method frees up valuable space in the refrigerator.


  • It requires more attention.
  • It requires a deep sink, bowl or pot that’s available to use for the allotted time.'


How to Thaw a Frozen Turkey in the Microwave

Check your microwave’s manual for information about what size turkey will fit, the minutes per pound and the level of power to use when thawing a turkey.

  1. Remove all wrappings from the turkey and place on a microwave safe dish.
  2. Use the microwave’s defrost option based on weight.
  3. Most microwaves have an average thaw time of 6 minutes per pound.
  4. Rotate and flip throughout the process to ensure even thawing.
  5. Cook immediately after thawing.


  • This is the fastest way to thaw a frozen turkey.


  • If you have a larger turkey, it may not fit in the microwave.
  • Thawing could be uneven, which could affect the final texture of the turkey.


How to Cook a Frozen Turkey

If none of these options are what you’re looking for, you can always cook your turkey frozen. The key to this method is to remember that it’ll take longer to cook, so it may be more difficult to keep your turkey moist. Check the internal temperature frequently to avoid overcooking.

  1. Unwrap the turkey and place it on a rack over a shallow roasting pan. It needs to be elevated so that the heat can reach all of the bird.
  2. Set the oven to 325ºF and roast for 2 hours.
  3. Check your turkey. It should be thawed about an inch or so, and the internal breast temperature should be around 100°F. Season before putting the turkey back in the oven.
  4. A 12-pound turkey should take roughly 5 hours, but make sure you’re checking the internal temperature to avoid either undercooking or overcooking.


Tips For Cooking the Tastiest Turkey

No matter how you thaw it, here are a few tips to keep in mind for any roast turkey.

  • The internal breast temperature and cavity should be 165ºF. The legs and thighs should be between 170°F-175°F.
  • Season your bird. You can place lemons and herbs underneath the skin, rub the whole turkey with a compound butter, stuff your bird with aromatics or all the above.
  • Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before carving.
  • Covering the turkey with foil for most of the cooking process will ensure that it remains moist (and that the skin doesn’t get too brown). Remove foil for the last hour of cooking.

Want more inspiration for Turkey Day? Visit our blog on turkey tips or visit our Thanksgiving page.

Turkey Recipes

Shop Turkey