Remember how, not so long ago, you were lounging in the sunshine in shorts and shades and now it's fall? Before you know it, Turkey Day will be here, and the day requires a whole lot of prep. The star of the dinner table, the turkey, takes the most amount of planning. Making sure the bird is thawed properly is the key to having a great feast. If you chose a frozen turkey, you're already thinking about how—and for how long—you're going to thaw it. Since you have absolutely no time to waste, we did all the research and math for you to ensure you can thaw your poultry quickly and safely.

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Allie Folino

The Refrigerator Method

Any seasoned holiday host can tell you that there are two standard methods for thawing your bird. First is the refrigerator method. As you might have guessed, this involves moving your turkey from the freezer to the fridge, and allowing it to thaw (slowly) at 40°F or lower. The USDA recommends that for every four pounds of turkey, you allot 24 hours for defrosting. This process is generally considered to be the safest option to avoid any bacterial development, which can happen when meat stays at room temperature for too long. Here's the official breakdown:

  • 4 lbs: 1 day to defrost
  • 8 lbs: 2 days to defrost
  • 12 lbs: 3 days to defrost
  • 16 lbs: 4 days to defrost

Pro tip: Make sure the bird is in a large pan or on a cookie sheet so those melting turkey juices don't get all over your fridge. Once thawed, your turkey can stay in the fridge for one or two days before it's cooked.

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The Cold Water Method

If, however, your fridge is jam-packed with sides, cranberry sauce Jell-O shots, and pies, you might want to try cold water thawing. This method, though it is much faster, requires a bit more work than letting your bird sit in the fridge for days.

First, you need to double check to make sure there are no holes or cuts in the plastic wrap of your turkey. Next, fill a large bucket (or your sink) with cold tap water. Finally, submerge that sucker, still fully wrapped, in the water and let it sit, changing the water every 30 minutes. According to the USDA, you should allow 30 minutes of soak time for every pound of turkey. The official breakdown:

  • 4 lbs: 1 hours to defrost
  • 8 lbs: 4 hours to defrost
  • 12 lbs: 6 hours to defrost
  • 16 lbs: 8 hours to defrost

A turkey defrosted by the cold water method should be cooked immediately after it is thawed. But the sooner the better, right? We're already hungry.

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Allie Folino
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