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How Long Do Turkeys Need to be Thawed?

Don’t let a frozen bird get in the way of your Thanksgiving plans.

By Team Made In
Nov 16, 2023
A golden-brown roasted turkey in a roasting pan inside an oven, illuminated by the oven's light.
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Buying a frozen bird ahead of time so you don’t have to contend with the Thanksgiving rush is always smart. Since thawed turkey only keeps for one or two days in the fridge, it's best to keep your turkey frozen until it's nearly time to cook. In an effort to keep your Thanksgiving prep running as smoothly as possible, we’re prepared a guide on how long you need to thaw your bird based on its size.

Whether it’s your first time handling the turkey, or you just need a refresher from last year, here’s everything you need to know to ensure your bird is ready for the oven on Thanksgiving Day.

How Long Does a Frozen Turkey Take to Thaw?

The amount of time it takes to thaw a turkey will vary based on its weight and the method of thawing. If you’re using the cold water method, you should allow about 30 minutes of thaw time per pound. Thawing a bird in the fridge can take anywhere from one to six days depending on the size of the turkey.

You have two options for thawing a turkey: slowly defrost the bird in the refrigerator, or submerge it in cold water.

1. The Refrigerator Method

When you're thawing a turkey in the fridge, it's best to leave the bird in its original wrapper. Place the turkey on a Sheet Pan, keeping it breast-side up. Refer to these guidelines to see how long your bird will take to fully defrost.

  • 4 to 12 pound turkey: 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pound turkey: 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pound turkey: 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds: 5 to 6 days

2. The Cold Water Method

To thaw a turkey in cold water, keep it in its original packaging and place the bird breast-side down in your sink. Fill the sink with cold water so that the turkey is completely submerged. Drain and replace the water every 30 minutes, rotating the bird to ensure that it thaws evenly.

How to Know When Your Turkey is Thawed

You can confirm that your turkey is fully thawed by unwrapping the bird and removing its neck and giblets. Place your hand inside the cavity—if it's still slightly icy, return the turkey to the fridge and give it more time to thaw.

Alternatively, you can use a probe thermometer to check the temperature of the turkey's breast and thighs. When thawed, the temperature should be around 32–40F.

Additional Prep Tips

Once your turkey is fully thawed, it’s time to prepare it for the oven. To ensure that your bird cooks correctly, here are a few more tips to keep in mind.

Add a Brine

You can save time and enhance the flavor of your turkey by allowing it to brine as it thaws. There are two main types of brines—wet and dry. For a wet brine, once the turkey is partially thawed, transfer it to a room temperature brine. Then place the turkey and brine back in the refrigerator and allow it to continue thawing.

For a dry brine, once your turkey is mostly thawed, take it out of its packaging and remove the neck and giblets. Use paper towels to pat the turkey dry and loosen its skin with your hands. Use the dry brine to season the cavity, skin, and meat of the bird. Refrigerate the bird for at least a day so that it can soak up plenty of flavor before it’s cooked.

Use the Right Pan

To get a perfectly cooked bird, make sure you’re using the pan. A dark-colored, sturdy pan is best because it will absorb heat and support the weight of the bird. Our Roasting Pan is constructed from Carbon Steel, so it retains and distributes heat to give your bird a crispy exterior and juicy interior. The Roasting Pan comes fitted with a removable rack and can comfortably fit up to a 12-pound turkey.

Ready to Cook?

The key to a successful Thanksgiving is to plan ahead. Whether you choose to thaw your turkey in the fridge or use the cold water method, make sure to give yourself plenty of time.

We designed our Roasting Pan with Chef Tom Colicchio and he also provided us with the ultimate holiday turkey. Chef Colicchio slathers the bird in an herb compound butter and lets it air dry in the fridge for two days. It’s then roasted low and slow for up to five hours to become for the juiciest, most flavorful turkey.

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