Thawing a frozen turkey can take days, it is true. This feels like an especially long time because just about every other food on the planet can now be prepared in 2 minutes or less. Frozen turkeys definitely have not kept pace with the rest of the food industry!

The biohazard part of turkey-thawing comes from bacteria (see How Food Preservation Works for details). If you thaw a turkey incorrectly, bacteria grow quickly. For example, if you thaw your turkey on the kitchen counter, bacteria can be a problem. As the turkey starts to thaw from the outside in, part of it will reach room temperature (60 to 70 Fahrenheit), and that is prime temperature for bacteria to thrive. You should keep the entire turkey at 40 degrees F or below to avoid bacteria. Here are three safe ways to thaw a turkey.

  • Thaw in the refrigerator. (This takes the most time.)
  • Thaw in cold water. (This is a quicker method.)
  • Thaw in a microwave. (This only works with small turkeys or turkey parts.)
If you want to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, you need to start days before cooking (that's why HSW is running this as the QotD on Monday...). Keep the turkey in its original wrapping and put it in a pan to catch the moisture. Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every 5 pounds of turkey.
  • 8 to 12 pounds: 1 to 2 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds: 2 to 3 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds: 3 to 4 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds 4 to 5 days
One of the good things about using the refrigerator method is that you can keep the defrosted turkey in the refrigerator for a day until it's time to roast.

If you need to thaw your turkey faster, use the cold water method. Immerse your packaged turkey (make sure there are no tears in the packaging) in ice-cold water. You need to change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold and allow about 30 minutes of thawing time per pound of turkey.

  • 8 to 12 pounds: 4 to 6 hours
  • 12 to 16 pounds: 6 to 8 hours
  • 16 to 20 pounds: 8 to 10 hours
  • 20 to 24 pounds: 10 to 12 hours
If you use the cold water method, you should cook your turkey as soon as it is thawed.

The microwave method works for small turkeys and turkey parts. The best guide for how long it will take is your microwave owner's manual, but it could take about 60 to 90 minutes on the defrost cycle. Once you've thawed the turkey, you will need to cook it right away.

To prepare the turkey for roasting, you should take the giblets out and rinse the turkey inside and out. Be careful to wash your hands and anything in the kitchen that has touched the raw turkey.

Here are a few tips on cooking your turkey. You should use a meat thermometer to determine when your turkey is done. The turkey is done when the thermometer registers 185 F when you stick it in the inner thigh or in the thickest part of the turkey.

Here are some rules of thumb for turkey roasting time at 325 F:

  • 8 to 10 pounds:
    • 2 hours, 45 minutes to 3 hours, unstuffed;
    • 3 hours to 3 hours, 30 minutes, stuffed.
  • 12 to 14 pounds:
    • 3 hours to 3 hours, 45 minutes, unstuffed;
    • 3 hours, 30 minutes to 4 hours, stuffed.
  • 14 to 18 pounds:
    • 3 hours, 45 minutes to 4 hours, 15 minutes, unstuffed;
    • 4 hours to 4 hours 15 minutes, stuffed.
  • 18 to 20 pounds:
    • 4 hours, 15 minutes to 4 hours, 30 minutes, unstuffed;
    • 4 hours, 15 minutes to 4 hours, 45 minutes, stuffed.
  • 20 to 24 pounds:
    • 4 hours, 30 minutes to 5 hours, unstuffed;
    • 4 hours, 45 minutes to 5 hours, 15 minutes, stuffed.
Here are some helpful links: