How to Defrost a Turkey the *Right* Way

Bird still frozen on Thanksgiving Day? No problemo.

August 21, 2019
Photo by Mark Weinberg

Easily, one of the most asked Hotline questions in Food52 history is: How do I defrost my turkey?

From stuffings and casseroles to pie crusts and dinner rolls, the freezer is a prepared cook’s best friend during Thanksgiving. But as the big day approaches, there’s one thing you’ll need to take out of the ice box: the turkey. And, depending on how big it is, you should probably do it days before Thanksgiving.

The easiest and safest way to defrost your turkey is in the refrigerator (kept at 40°F). Our golden rule: 1 day of thawing in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds.

(So if you have a 15-pound bird, then you’ll need to start defrosting nearly four days in advance to be on the safe side.)

Make sure to place the wrapped turkey breast-side up on a tray near the back of the refrigerator, where it will remain consistently cold. You might also want to keep it on a bottom shelf to prevent contamination from leakage. Once your bird has thawed, cook it within the next 4 days.

If you don’t have room for turkey in the refrigerator (or only have Wednesday to prep), then the second way to defrost the bird is in cold water breast-side down, changing the water every 30 minutes. In this method, budget 30 minutes of thawing per pound.

(So, plan 7 hours for the same 15-pound turkey as above, then cook immediately.)

In cold water–thawing, it’s very important that the entire turkey remains submerged in 40°F water. Chances are that your tap water won’t be cold enough, so add some ice cubes. If you don’t have a large enough container, try using your sink or ice chest. Another way to keep the turkey covered is to hold it underwater with a heavy plate. Make sure to stir the water occasionally to break up the cold envelope surrounding the bird.

How do you defrost your turkey? Let us know in the comments below.

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Katie is a food writer and editor who loves cheesy puns and cheesy cheese.