Here are my simple tips on how to thaw a frozen turkey using the cold water method. It is very important to safely thaw a frozen turkey for your Thanksgiving meal.
Use my turkey brine recipe for a perfect juicy turkey recipe any day of the year and don’t forget I can teach you how to carve a turkey breast. If you want to make a juicy turkey in less time, a spatchcocked turkey is for you! Save the bag of giblets to make homemade giblet gravy. New this year is a whole smoked turkey!
How To Easily and Safely Thaw a Frozen Thanksgiving Turkey
Nothing will make a Thanksgiving meal take a turn for the worse than a turkey that has not been thawed fully or one that has been improperly thawed.
How To Thaw A Frozen Turkey
Think of your frozen turkey as a huge ice cube. A huge, 15-25 pound ice cube. But an ice cube that is made of meat. Delicious, succulent meat. But this huge ice cube can not be thawed quickly or at high temperatures. It is just bad food handling.
What size container should I use?
Make sure you have a pot large enough to hold the entire frozen turkey. If you have a bird that is bigger than a pot you own, you could use a large insulated cooler.
There is no need to take the frozen turkey out of the store packaging. The packaging is sealed and will help keep the juices of the turkey from making a mess.
How to thaw a frozen turkey:
- Fill the large pot (or cooler) with cold water to start thawing frozen turkey. Be sure the turkey is completely submerged.
- You will see that the frozen bird will have a tendency to want to float. That is because of the air pocket of the cavity of the bird will want to make the bird buoyant.
- It is important that the entire bird be submerged in the cold water. If a portion of the bird is out of the water, it will thaw at a different rate and could reach an unsafe temperature.
- So to keep the bird completely submerged, put a lid on the pot.
- Now, set a timer and change out the cold water every 30 minutes or until the turkey is completely thawed.
Turkey Defrost Times:
Cold Water Thawing Times (approximately 30 minutes per pound)
- 4 to 12 pounds — 2 to 6 hours
- 12 to 16 pounds — 6 to 8 hours
- 16 to 20 pounds — 8 to 10 hours
- 20 to 24 pounds — 10 to 12 hours
*These are approximate times and you should check each bird individually for temperature.
Thaw Turkey In Sink Overnight
Here is a tip we would use when I was in the commercial food service industry.
If you are not able to change the water every 30 minutes run a small trickle of water in the pot and allow it to overflow. This will constantly refresh the water, keeping the temperature cold. Just be sure the drain is open! The last thing you want is to come home to a flooded kitchen.
A turkey thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately. After cooking, meat from the turkey can be refrozen.
originally published Nov. 2017
Sarah Mock is a classically trained Chef and graduate of Johnson & Wales University. A culinary blogger for 12 years Sarah helps the home cook prepare her recipes with professional results.