How to Deal if You Forgot to Thaw the Turkey

November 27, 2014

There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it every day leading up to Thanksgiving to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to help you host the least stressful Thanksgiving yet. No promises on the crazy relatives.

Today: Sometimes to-do lists aren't enough; we'll help you get your frozen bird to room temperature in no time.


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"Help! It's Thursday, 18 people are about to enter the flood gates (a.k.a. the front door) and my turkey is frozen solid."  

You can't predict it, but if this happens to be you on Thanksgiving, we have ways for you to deal with it. There's a lot of lead up and anticipation before Thanksgiving: You started menu planning and grocery shopping a month ago -- you even ordered your bird way ahead of time. But your nightmares have come true -- you realize your refrigerator is remarkably spacious. No, you didn't forget to make cranberry sauce in a can, but you did forget to take your 20-pound bird out of the freezer. Sadly, you've missed your shot at brining (both wet and dry), but that doesn't mean you can't still have a beautiful juicy bird sitting on the table. (Do know that it might be a bit later than you anticipated if you remember to defrost the morning of the meal, however.)

Roast Turkey

When all goes as planned, we recommend allowing 1 day of thawing in the refrigerator for every 4 pounds -- so ideally, that 20-pounder should have come out of the freezer on Saturday. 

But if you remember after that point, our community has a few creative ways for last-minute thawing (of course, the sooner you remember, the sooner you can have that turkey on the table!):

The Pros Propose

  • Executive Editor Kristen Miglore's never-fail turkey advice: Soak the bird in cold (never hot!) water, changing the water every 30 minutes. It should take about 30 minutes per pound. Then, cook it immediately.
  • Steven Raichlen cautions: "It’s important for food safety reasons to keep the water at 40° F or less. You can add resealable bags of ice to the water to keep it cold. Never thaw the turkey in hot water as the outside will thaw long before the inside, risking dangerous bacterial growth."

Alternate Thawing Methods 

  • If you don't have a big enough container to soak the turkey in, you can always put the frozen bird in a bath tub, or the sink with a steady slow stream of cold water, says Chefbaltz and vvvannessa

Spatchcocked Roast Turkey

Shorten Cooking Time

  • Once you've successfully defrosted (well done!), you may have a shorter cooking window. Lbowie suggests spatchcocking to cut your cooking time in half.

Tell us: Have you ever forgotten to thaw your turkey? 

Have you missed any of our Thanksgiving roundup of Burning Questions? Catch up now:

Photos by James Ransom

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • JP
  • Nancy Martin
    Nancy Martin
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
Lactose intolerant cheese lover, who will walk blocks for a good cup of coffee. Recently escaped the corporate world, after discovering her favorite part of the job was ordering catering.


JP October 24, 2015
Just cook it from frozen. It is safe and results in a delicious and moist bird!
Nancy M. October 24, 2015
I'm confused. According to your calculations, it would take 10 hours to thaw a 20 lb turkey. If you discovered it at 8 am it wouldn't be thawed until 6:00 pm. Then you have to take some time for spatchcocking. If you can possibly get it done in 3 hrs, you would be eating somewhere between 9 and 10. My family would be rioting. Either you made a mistake in your stated thawing time or this is useless information.
Sarah J. November 23, 2016
Hi Nancy, You're right—if you remember the morning-of, dinner will be late (better than no turkey, I think! Make extra snacks). *But* if you remember to defrost the night before (or the afternoon before), that gives you a little more time but you'll still need a little bit of help speeding the process up. Which is where this comes in handy! So we hope we can help people who are remembering to defrost right about now... Happy Thanksgiving!
Sarah J. November 23, 2016
Oh, and I'm updating the article to make this a bit clearer. Thank you!