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How to Thaw a Turkey

Amy Laskin
How to Thaw a Turkey

A frozen turkey makes planning ahead for Thanksgiving easy, because you can buy it early and avoid fighting the grocery-store crowds right before the holiday. But frozen birds can also lead to one of the most common mistakes in Thanksgiving-day prep: Not allowing enough time for defrosting.
Getting the turkey ready isn’t hard–but it’s important to do it the right way. These three turkey-thawing methods will help you prepare properly.


(One note: Don’t even think about speeding up defrosting by leaving the turkey out on the counter. It puts you and your guests at risk for food poisoning.)

Freezer Method


The method: You take the turkey out of the freezer and place it on a rimmed baking sheet to thaw in the fridge.


What you need to know: Plan on one day (24 hours) of defrosting in the refrigerator for every four pounds of turkey—so even a relatively small 12-pound bird needs to come out of the freezer (and into the fridge) at least three days before the holiday.


Remember: Don’t skip placing it on a cookie sheet (or another pan that can catch the juices as the turkey thaws), or you’ll have a real mess in your fridge.


Cold Water Method


The method: To defrost a bird faster than the freezer method, you take it from the freezer and place it in the sink or a large pot with enough cold water to cover it completely.


What you need to know: This is definitely not the easiest way to thaw a turkey, but good to know if you forget to take it out of the freezer on time. Immerse the sealed, wrapped turkey, breast-side-down, in enough cold water to cover it completely. Allow at least 30 minutes per pound, and change the water every half hour to make sure it’s cold. (Use a thermometer to ensure the water isn’t warmer than 40 degrees F.)


Remember: You must change the water every 30 minutes, so be prepared — that’s still 10 hours of defrosting for a 20-pound turkey.


Microwave/Last Resort Method


The method: You speed things up to warp by putting the turkey into your microwave, carefully following the manufacturer’s directions for thawing a turkey.


What you need to know: This thawing technique is doable, but it’s far from ideal. First, you’ll need a really large microwave (or a really small turkey)! It’s easy to end up with a turkey that’s already cooked in some parts while other parts are still frozen.


Remember: If you defrost in the microwave, you must cook the turkey immediately after defrosting.


If you do forget and it’s really too late, don’t risk anyone’s health over a turkey. Just laugh it off, order up some General Tso’s Chicken, and have the turkey another day. There’s always pumpkin pie to soften the blow.

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