How to Thaw a Turkey in a Cooler (5 Easy Steps)

Can you thaw a turkey in a cooler? Yep! 

We’ll show you how to do it in 5 easy steps.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • The steps for thawing a turkey in a cooler
  • A few extra defrosting tips
  • And much more! 

Thawing a Turkey in a Cooler: What You Need to Know

No matter what happened with your original defrost plan, or if this is your original defrost plan, you can easily thaw your turkey in a cooler. 

Thawing a turkey in a cooler is a safe method used to bring the turkey to a good temperature for cooking, however, the steps must be followed properly. You must also have a proper cooler to thaw a turkey in.

If you don’t follow the cooler thawing method properly, there is a chance that your turkey meat could reach an unsafe temperature and cause members of your family to catch a foodborne illness

But, when used properly, the cooler turkey thawing message is a great and somewhat speedy way to defrost a turkey. 

Want to learn how to use the cooler method for your turkey? Read on!

Why a Cooler May Be a Good Idea When Thawing Your Turkey

While the fridge thawing method is the preferred method for thawing a turkey, you could run into several problems when doing so. First and foremost, it is a process that takes days. 

If you bought your turkey late, or maybe forgot until a day later than you calculated, then you could end up with a partially frozen turkey the morning you need to cook it.

Additionally, turkeys can take up a lot of room in the fridge while they thaw, which can be prime real estate if you’ve got a holiday meal you are preparing. 

Either way, thawing your turkey in a cooler saves you both time and space in the fridge. But do note that it does still take a few hours, though, and a proper cooler, so you will want to plan to use this method in advance. 

thanksgiving turkey resting in a pan

Supplies You’ll Need

You actually don’t need much to thaw your turkey in a cooler; you just need:

  • A cooler
  • Cold water
  • And the turkey!

While you can use ice packs, you don’t necessarily need these, especially when you use the cold water method (which we think is best!

You do need the right type of cooler, though. Ensure you have a hard-sided cooler that will fit your turkey on hand. A soft-sided cooler simply won’t work with our method. You also should use a cooler that can be sanitized afterward before you put any other sort of food in it. 

We recommend having a cooler just for turkey defrosting during the holiday season. A Coleman series hard-sided cooler tends to do the trick since these coolers are large and won’t break the bank. 

Coleman Ice Chest, 70 Quart, Rock Gray
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How to Thaw a Turkey in a Cooler

Have all the supplies on hand? Here are the steps for thawing your turkey in a cooler.

Step 1: Put the Turkey in the Cooler

In its original wrapping, place the turkey in the bottom of your cooler. 

Step 2: Add Cold Water

Pour cold water over the turkey until it is completely submerged. 

Step 3: Close the Lid

Close the lid of the cooler and wait. In a cooler, turkeys thaw at a rate of 30 minutes per pound, meaning your 10lb turkey will be thawed in 5 hours. 

Editor’s Note: We recommend having a temperature probe with an alarm in the cooler to ensure the temperature doesn’t climb above 40°F. 

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Step 4: Check the Water

A well-insulated cooler may not need the water to be changed, but you should still plan to do so at the halfway mark or whenever your temperature probe alarm alerts you that the temperature is too high. 

When this happens, simply dump the water and fill the cooler again with cold water. 

Step 5: Check the Turkey

Your turkey is thawed when it reaches a temperature of 37°F. You should check for this about an hour before you anticipate your turkey to finish thawing in order to ensure it doesn’t get too warm. And just like that, you’ve got a thawed turkey! 

carving a turkey

Is Thawing a Turkey in the Cooler Safe?

According to the FDA, the only safe methods of thawing a turkey are either in the fridge or using the cold water method. Because our cooler uses the cold water method, it is the same as the cold water method the FDA suggests, we just have you do it in the cooler, so your sink is free for cooking other items! 

That being said, you do need to take extra care when thawing your turkey in a cooler. As mentioned above, you should purchase a thermometer to ensure it doesn’t get too hot in the cooler and change the water halfway through. You should also check the temperature of your bird to ensure it doesn’t exceed 40°F for longer than an hour, as this is the time and temperature at which bacteria will begin to breed. 

Bonus Tips for Using a Cooler to Thaw Your Turkey

Ready to try the cooler thawing method this year? Here are some tips to help you get the best results!

1. Set a Timer

Remember that the cooler method can be dangerous if the cooler gets too hot. If you don’t have a temperature alarm probe, then set an alarm on your phone at regular intervals so you can check on the turkey. 

2. Use the Hose

Filling a large cooler in your sink can be challenging. The best way to do it is to grab your garden hose, screw it onto the sink, and fill the cooler directly. 

Do not use your outside hookup to fill the cooler. First of all, if you live somewhere warm, the water from your hose hookup may not be cool enough. If you live somewhere cold, you could damage your outdoor plumbing pipes using them in the winter months. 

Additionally, some areas don’t have food-safe outdoor water. So don’t take the chance and just borrow the hose for a few minutes. 

3. Use a Temperature Probe with an Alarm

You’ve read it once, but we will say it again, a temperature probe with an alarm is the easiest way to monitor your turkey thawing. They typically aren’t expensive, and you will definitely use it!

Final Thoughts

Overall, thawing a turkey in a cooler is a little bit faster way of thawing your turkey.

While it isn’t as recommended as the fridge method, when you are in a bind, the cold water cooler method is considered safe.

Just be sure you keep an eye on your cooler as it defrosts your turkey and ensure it never exceeds a temperature of 40°F.

Photo of author

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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