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.

How Long Does it Take to Thaw a Turkey?

Infographic showing how long it takes to thaw a turkey

Most recipes and cooking times for turkey call for the bird to be completely thawed. The time it takes to thaw a turkey will vary based on the method used to thaw it. There are three common ways to thaw a turkey.

Thawing a Turkey in Cold Water

Immersing a turkey in cold water is one of the fastest ways to thaw it. According to the USDA, you should allow about 30 minutes per pound to completely thaw the turkey, and refresh the water every 30 minutes.[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

Putting a turkey in the refrigerator is another safe way to thaw it, though expect this method to take a little while. Food safety experts recommend allowing 1 day for every 4 pounds of turkey to thaw completely.[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

When time is of the essence, the microwave can sometimes be used to thaw a turkey more quickly. Verify that your turkey will fit in the microwave with plenty of room on all sides.

Because not all microwaves are equal, confirm with the owners manual that the it can safely defrost a turkey before attempting this method. Allow about 6 minutes per pound to completely thaw a turkey, and rotate it frequently for even defrosting.[3]

A word of caution – it’s possible the turkey will start to cook when using this method. If this happens, let it sit for about 5 minutes to rest before restarting the microwave.

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

These are some methods you might consider to thaw a bird, but beware as they present food safety risks as the outside thaws while the inside remains frozen.

Once part of the turkey reaches 40° bacteria growth will begin, and the longer the meat remains above this temperature while the inside is still thawing the more bacteria will grow, some of which can live after cooking.

  • 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.

References

  1. United States Department of Agriculture, Turkey Basics: Safe Thawing, https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/poultry-preparation/turkey-basics-safe-thawing/CT_Index
  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