Thawing your Holiday Turkey


Hayley Duke, Graduate Student of Applied Nutrition at the University of New England
A picture of a refrigerator with a turkey thawing inside.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service

Frozen turkeys are a great option for your holiday dinner but thawing them can be a pain. This holiday season follow the USDA’s Food Safety Guidelines for thawing a frozen turkey. For more information on what to do with a frozen turkey, the USDA blog has some helpful tips.

There are only 4 safe ways to thaw a frozen turkey. You can thaw: in a refrigerator, in cold water, in a microwave, or in the cooking process.

1. In a Refrigerator

  • Place your frozen turkey in a container to prevent spills and cross contamination.
  • For every 4-5 pounds of turkey, it will take 24 hours to thaw in the refrigerator.
  • Your turkey can safely be stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days after thawing.
  • This is the safest but longest way to thaw a turkey.

2. In Cold Water

  • Make sure the turkey is in a leak proof plastic bag to prevent cross contamination.
  • Fully submerge the turkey in cold water.
  • Change the water every 30 minutes. This limits bacteria growth.
  • Expect 30 minutes of thaw time for every 1 pound of turkey.
  • A turkey thawed in cold water should be cooked immediately after thawing to limit bacteria growth.

3. In a Microwave

  • This technique requires you to have a big enough microwave to fit your turkey!
  • Follow your microwave’s instructions on how to thaw a turkey in your microwave.
  • Cook your turkey immediately after thawing it in the microwave.
  • Microwaving begins the cooking process. There is no safe way to store partially cooked turkey.

4. In the Cooking Process

  • Cooking a frozen turkey will take at least 50% longer than a thawed turkey.
  • Bake your turkey (Don’t use an oven bag). The typical roasting time for a 15 lb. turkey is 2 to 2 ½ hours at 350°F. The same sized frozen turkey will take about 3 to 3 ¾ hours to cook.
  • DO NOT fry a frozen turkey.
  • The bag of giblets may be difficult to remove from the frozen turkey. If you are unable to remove them at first, allow your turkey to cook for 20-30 minutes and then remove the bag with tongs.
  • Measure your turkey’s temperature. Once the turkey reaches 165°F, your turkey is ready!

Food Safety Tip:

The internal cooking temperature of a turkey must reach 165°F. Place a food thermometer in the thickest part of breast, thigh, and the innermost part of the wing, to check that the temperature has reached 165° F. This will ensure that your turkey is perfectly (and safely) cooked.

To learn more about poultry food safety, go to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection website at https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/poultry/turkey-basics-safe-thawing or contact UNH Cooperative Extension at https://extension.unh.edu/health-well-being/food-safety.

Picture of a festively prepared turkey roast.