How to thaw your turkey safely and efficiently

Tips for using the refrigerator, microwave or water

Photo of Chris Carr
FILE—Before carving your turkey this year, make sure it's been properly thawed and cooked.

FILE—Before carving your turkey this year, make sure it's been properly thawed and cooked.

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For many Americans, turkey dinners take center stage on Thanksgiving and there’s nothing more inconvenient than a still frozen bird.

With so many dishes to prepare and family members to chat with, it’s easy to forget to thaw the main course. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are many ways to make sure it’s ready to pop into the oven.

For the longest storage, the USDA recommends thawing turkeys in the refrigerator. This is the safest method and will allow the turkey to thaw at a consistent temperature. Make sure to allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. Once the turkey is thawed it is safe to store in the refrigerator for approximately two days.

For more immediate thawing, there are a couple of different strategies. A turkey can be thawed in the microwave. Make sure to double check the microwave's manual for information on cooking time and size of turkey that the machine will allow. Once the turkey has been thawed, it should be cooked in the oven immediately.

Another immediate thawing method is submerging the frozen bird in a tub or pan of cold water. The water should be changed out for fresh cold water every 30 minutes. Overall, taking this route will take about 30 minutes per pound and the turkey must be cooked immediately once it is thawed.

The microwave and cold water methods both take less time to thaw, but require constant attention and effort. When thawing, make sure to take into account the cooking time as well.

A frozen turkey can be cooked in an oven without thawing but will take approximately 50 percent longer than cooking a thawed turkey.

For more information on safely thawing and cooking turkeys for Thanksgiving, visit USDA.gov.