Turkey Thawing Time Calculator

Are you trying to find out when you should pull your turkey out of the freezer? Use this calculator to estimate how long it will take to thaw your turkey.

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How Long Does It Take to Thaw a Turkey?

Cooking a turkey before it’s fully thawed is a recipe for disaster (pun intended). But what’s the best way to get that holiday bird roasting-ready? Cooking times and methods vary, but we have three of the best ways to thaw a turkey (chef-approved)!

Infographic showing how long it takes to thaw a turkey

Thawing a Turkey in Cold Water

The cold water method is fast and simple. Submerge your bird in clean, cold water for 30 minutes (use a large pot or sink) for every pound, and don’t forget to change the water every 30 minutes for the best results.[1]

Chart showing the estimated time required to thaw a turkey in cold water.
Turkey Size Thawing Time
4 to 12 lbs 2 – 6 hours
12 to 16 lbs 6 – 8 hours
16 to 20 lbs 8 – 10 hours
20 to 24 lbs 10 – 12 hours

Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator

You can thaw your turkey in the refrigerator if space is not an issue. Allow one day for every 4 pounds of turkey for a thorough thaw. This requires some pre-planning (start your Thanksgiving countdown!), but it’s a surefire method that avoids extreme temperature fluctuations that could invite foodborne illness.[2]

Chart showing the estimated time required to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator.
Turkey Size Thawing Time
4 to 12 lbs 1 – 3 days
12 to 16 lbs 3 – 4 days
16 to 20 lbs 4 – 5 days
20 to 24 lbs 5 – 6 days

Thawing a Turkey in the Microwave

Lastly, don’t leave out the miracle of the microwave oven to thaw your turkey quickly. Just make sure your turkey has enough space on all sides to do its thing.

More importantly, check the owner’s manual to see if your model can safely defrost a turkey. Plan on around 6 minutes per pound and rotate that bird frequently. This may take some active attention on the cook’s part, but the result will be a fully thawed bird that’s ready to cook.[3]

Quick note: there’s a chance your turkey will actually start to cook, so again, be watchful. If this happens, however, simply let the turkey rest for about 5 minutes before hitting that restart button.

Chart showing the estimated time required to thaw a turkey in the microwave.
Turkey Size Thawing Time
4 to 12 lbs 24 – 72 minutes
12 to 16 lbs 72 – 96 minutes
16 to 20 lbs 96 – 120 minutes
20 to 24 lbs 120 – 144 minutes

How NOT to Thaw a Turkey

Don’t run afoul (pun intended) of these food safety hazards in the making. Just because the outside looks ready to cook doesn’t mean the inside isn’t still a frozen cavity.

When a protein reaches 40 °F (4.4 °C), bacteria start to grow rapidly even while the inside is still thawing. Worse, bacteria can continue to thrive even after cooking. It’s not a good look for any cook!

  • Do NOT thaw a turkey on the counter
  • Do NOT thaw a turkey outside on the porch
  • Do NOT thaw a turkey in hot water[4]
  • Do NOT thaw a turkey using a flamethrower (or other forms of heat)

Need help planning the right size turkey for the perfect portions? Try our turkey size calculator.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture, Turkey Basics: Safe Thawing, https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/poultry/turkey-basics-safe-thawing
  2. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Meat and Poultry Charts, https://www.foodsafety.gov/food-safety-charts/meat-poultry-charts
  3. Farmers' Almanac, How To Safely Thaw A Frozen Turkey, https://www.farmersalmanac.com/how-to-safely-thaw-a-frozen-turkey-33573
  4. Emma Christensen, All the Wrong Ways to Thaw a Turkey, https://www.thekitchn.com/all-the-wrong-ways-to-thaw-a-turkey-225711