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How to Thaw a Turkey - Refrigerator Method

Put it in the Refrigerator - Not on the Counter

Turkey thawing in refrigerator Many people when considering how to thaw a turkey still don’t recognize the danger of thawing a turkey on the kitchen counter.  We have heard cooks explain that they have done that for years with no one getting sick. We have also heard from people who did not beat the odds one year and became very very sick together with all of their guests.

They requested that we pass along their warning NOT to defrost on the counter. Consider the warning  passed on.

The refrigerator method takes longer, but it is safe. If you really need to thaw more quickly use the water, microwave, or no thaw method. Otherwise use the refrigerator method as explained below.

Defrosting a turkey in the refrigerator is the most common method of thawing the bird.

Try to plan your turkey defrosting so that the bird is thawed one or two days before you will cook it. Depending on its size, you can see how long yours will take from the chart below.

After thawing a turkey, it can be safely be kept under refrigeration for 1 or 2 days.

How to thaw a turkey: do not remove the turkey from its original wrapper. Place the turkey in its wrapper over a bowl or tray on a lower shelf of the refrigerator so that any juices that leak are caught and do not contaminate other food.

The thawing time will depend on the initial temperature of your turkey, and on the temperature of your refrigerator, but the table below will give a good approximation of the time needed to defrost your bird in a 40 F refrigerator.

If you plan on brining your turkey, be sure to add the extra time brining will require into your planning.

Refrigerator turkey thawing is the most often used method of defrosting a turkey, but it is also the most time consuming. If your turkey is not satisfactorily thawed when you need it, you can combine refrigerator defrosting along with any of the quicker thawing methods.  

If the bird seems defrosted except for ice in the body cavity just running cold water through the cavity will remove the ice. Don’t forget to remove the neck and giblets when the turkey is defrosted.

How to Thaw a Turkey in the Refrigerator Turkey Weight Defrosting Time in Refrigerator




6 - 8 pounds

(2.5 - 3.5 kg)

30 - 40 hours

10 - 12 pounds

(4.5 - 5.5 kg)

50 - 60 hours

14 - 18 pounds

(6.5 - 8 kg)

70 - 90 hours

18 pounds+

(8 + kg)

90 hours + going on 4 - 5 days

About one day for every 4 lbs.

Other Turkey Thawing Methods

Thaw Turkey in Water

Thaw Turkey in Microwave

Cook Turkey without Thawing

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