How To Defrost a Turkey

Since defrosting the meat for a small dinner can take all day, it should come as no surprise that defrosting a whole turkey is a lengthy process, as well. There are several methods to defrost a turkey, but there is no fast way to do it. Be sure you start thinking about the defrosting process a few days in advance of the big meal. Most turkeys are sold frozen, but they will not cook correctly if you try to begin with a frozen bird. Here’s how to defrost a turkey:

  1. The refrigerator method. This is the most popular method to thaw a turkey, but it also takes the most time. A few days before you plan to cook it, move the turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator. It will take about 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey, so it could take four days to fully defrost a large bird. Make sure there is a pan under the bird to catch any drippings as the turkey defrosts. To use this method, of course, you’ll need to have enough space in your refrigerator. Now, this can be especially tricky if you have all of the other food for the big dinner in your refrigerator at the same time.
  2. The cold water method. This method is a little faster than the refrigerator method, but it also takes more work on your part. Place the bird in a very large pot of cold water, and soak for half an hour per pound. It will still take about 12 hours to defrost a large turkey, and you’ll need to replace the water every half hour. You can get away with fewer water changes by placing the large pot or bucket with your turkey into your bathtub, and then filling the bathtub with cold water. Make sure that the turkey is in a leak-proof package, or it will absorb the water.
  3. Use a large microwave. If you have a small turkey and a large microwave, it is possible to use the defrost setting to defrost it. Use a low heat setting to defrost for 6 minutes per pound. It will take about two to three hours to defrost a turkey using this method. Make sure to rotate it occasionally. Immediately after defrosting, switch the bird to a regular oven. Be aware that the microwave may begin cooking the bird during the defrosting process, so this method should only be used when you’re short on time.

Although you may be tempted to defrost your turkey by leaving it out overnight on the kitchen counter, do not use this method. It can make the bird susceptible to bacterial contamination. Defrosting a turkey will take hours, if not days. For best results, be patient.


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