Is Your Turkey Thawed? (And Tips for Thawing It!)

You’ve pulled your turkey out of the fridge. It’s been in there for 2 days, so it should be thawed. But how can you tell? We’ve got the answer!

In this guide, you will learn:

  • How to tell when a turkey is thawed
  • How to thaw your turkey
  • Tips for properly thawing a turkey
  • And much more!

How to Tell if a Turkey is Thawed

If your home is anything like ours, then the turkey is the star of most holiday dinners. But turkey is only delicious when properly cooked, which only happens when it is properly thawed in advance. But how can you tell?

When a turkey is thawed and ready to cook, you should be able to press down and feel the meat give a little. You should also be able to jiggle the legs. If you have a temperature probe on hand, know that a thawed turkey will temp at between 32°F and 39°F. 

But what happens when your turkey isn’t thawed yet, and you need to start cooking? Read on to learn more about thawing a turkey and what to do when yours isn’t thawed enough.

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an uncooked turkey with hock lock on the legsbrining in a bucket in the kitchen sink.

Why Should You Thaw a Turkey?

Of course, life would be much easier if you could just buy a turkey, keep it in the freezer until the holiday, and plop it right in the oven, right?

Wait…can you do that?

Yes, you can cook a frozen turkey, however, there are several problems with this. First and foremost, it will take 50% longer to cook.

This means instead of a predicted 8-hour cooking time, you could be looking at 12 hours before your turkey is ready to eat. So you’ll have to be ready to get up early on the holiday in question!

Also, when a turkey is frozen, you can’t brine it or baste it properly. This is because the frozen meat won’t absorb the brine or basting until it has been thawed.

Therefore if you don’t thaw your turkey, be prepared to not be able to use your favorite brine or basting technique!

Truly, if you want to have the most flavorful and positive cooking experience with your turkey, you should just work on thawing it properly.

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How to Thaw a Turkey 

Defrosting a turkey is easy. Below we’ve covered the method in just 3 easy steps. 

Step 1: Calculate

In general, turkey takes about 24 hours to defrost in the fridge for every 5 pounds of meat it contains (in a fridge that is 37°F). That means if you’ve got a 27lb bird, you’ve got to start defrosting a whopping 6 days in advance. 

You need to time it properly, however, thawing your meat too early could cause it to deteriorate. Generally, it is not advised to leave a thawed turkey in the fridge for longer than 1 to 2 days. 

So take the time to calculate when you will need the bird to be ready and how many days it needs to be in the fridge. Then, set a timer on your phone for that day.

Step 2: Place the Turkey in the Fridge

When the alarm goes off, remove the turkey from the freezer and place it in the fridge. We recommend thawing it in a pan or other disposable container to catch any juices that could leak and contaminate your other food. 

Step 3: Pull it out and Temp

On the morning of the holiday, pull out your turkey and check that it is properly thawed. If it isn’t, don’t panic, as we’ve got some quick thaw techniques below! 

If your turkey is properly thawed, either put it back in the fridge until it’s time to put it in the oven/smoker or put it in the oven/smoker. Leaving a turkey out at room temperature can cause dangerous bacteria to form that could give your family food poisoning

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How to Thaw a Turkey Fast

So you’ve pulled your turkey out, and it’s not defrosted enough. Or maybe you forgot. Either way, you need to defrost your turkey and fast! Here’s our quick defrosting method. 

Editor’s Note: This method is only recommended as a full defrost method for small birds under 15lbs. Larger birds should only use this method to complete a defrosting process that was already started in the fridge.

Step 1: Make a Cold Water Bath

Plug the sink, or grab a large container like a cooler and fill it with cold water. There needs to be enough cold water to fully submerge the turkey. Keep the turkey in its original package.

Step 2: Set a Timer

The turkey will defrost at a rate of 30 minutes per pound, meaning a 10lb bird will defrost in 5 hours. You need to change the water every 30 minutes, however, so set a timer for 30 minutes now. 

Step 3: Continue to Change the Water

Every 30 minutes, refresh the turkey with cold water. If you are using the cooler thaw method, this is not required. 

Step 4: Cook the Turkey Right Away

Once your turkey has been in the water long enough that its temperature checks as thawed, you need to cook it right away. 

Note that you cannot refreeze the turkey after performing this process.

Can You Defrost a Turkey in the Microwave?

While it may be tempting to stick a smaller turkey in the microwave to defrost, this is never advised, as most microwaves defrost buttons are unreliable. They will result in a bird that is cooked partially in the microwave prior to you cooking.

Instead of sticking a turkey in the microwave, we recommend the aforementioned cold water defrost method. 

Additional Tips for Defrosting a Turkey

Defrosting a turkey is almost as much of an art form as cooking one! Here are some tips to help you get the job done.

Tip 1: Never Use Warm Water

The cold water technique works.

And while it might be tempting to cut corners and use warm water, never do this as it could cause bacteria to get into the turkey meat. This can lead to food poisoning

Tip 2: Wash Your Meat Thermometer

After you check that your meat has reached defrosted temperature, it can be tempting to set the temperature probe down and begin your brine.

Don’t do this, as you will likely reach for the temperature probe to see if the turkey is done later.

Wash it immediately after each time you put it in the raw turkey. 

Tip 3: Don’t Panic If You See Ice

Sometimes a properly thawed turkey will still have an ice patch or two when you pull it out of the fridge.

Trust the temperature probe.

Take a deep breath and run it under some cold water, and the ice will disappear. 

Tip 4: Disinfect Your Sink

Whatever container you put the turkey in for thawing, whether it’s your sink or a cooler, will need to be disinfected after the thawing process.

This is because the bacteria from the raw turkey can stick around even after the turkey is gone. Especially if you plan to rinse sides like green beans in your sink later that evening. 

What to Do When Your Turkey is Partially Frozen

Sometimes, the turkey is partially frozen even if you put it in the fridge well in advance. Either way, you can still cook it, just know that it will take 25% longer than you originally anticipated. 

We recommend that if your turkey is still partially frozen, you do the cold water method above. Oftentimes it will still be quicker than adding 25% to your cooking time! And it is always better to start with a thawed turkey.

Final Thoughts on Thawing Turkey

Overall, a turkey is thawed when it reaches the same temperature as your fridge, something between 32°F and 39°F. If that’s not the temp your turkey is at, don’t be afraid to use the cold water method to get you there.

Just be sure once your turkey is thawed, you start to cook it right away and don’t leave your turkey just sitting out, as this will cause bacteria to grow.

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Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

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