University of Illinois Extension

Thawing Safely

In The Refrigerator

  • Thaw the turkey in its original wrap on a tray placed in the bottom section of the refrigerator.

  • Allow about 24 hours of defrost time for every 5 pounds of turkey. Example: a 20 pound turkey will take 4 to 5 days to thaw.

  • Do not thaw on the counter. Thawing at room temperature increases the risk of bacteria growth.

  • At room temperature, bacteria on the turkey can grow rapidly when the outside portion of the bird begins to thaw. These bacteria can multiply to dangerously high levels producing toxins that cooking may not destroy.

In Cold Water

  • Thawing in cold water is safe too. Submerge the bird in its wrapper in a deep sink of cold water and change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold.

  • Allow 30 minutes per pound to defrost a turkey in cold water. Do not use warm or hot water.

Microwave Thawing

  • Microwave thawing is another option. Make sure your microwave oven is large enough to hold the turkey especially if the oven has a rotating tray.

  • Check manufacturer's instructions for the size turkey that will fit into your oven.

  • Caution: Microwave defrosting is irregular, creating hot spots, which may encourage bacterial growth. Cook the turkey immediately after defrosting. Do not store in the refrigerator for cooking later.

  • Turkey Basics: Safe Thawing{Spanish}

    A turkey must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. Learn three safe methods.