Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to speed up the thawing process of a turkey, especially before Thanksgiving, and ensure the turkey is ready to go on schedule. Whether you’ve got a raw or precooked turkey, I will share the tips on how to quickly thaw a turkey.
You can either thaw your whole frozen turkey in cold water, or you can use a kitchen appliance like the fridge, microwave, or oven. Each of these ways of thawing requires special steps.
Whether you have a raw or precooked bird, with some planning and the proper technique, you’ll enjoy a delicious meal with friends and family before you know it. Choose a method, get started now, and you’ll be carving that bird in no time.
How to Quickly Thaw a Whole Uncooked Turkey?
When thawing your turkey, food safety should be at the top of your mind. Once thawed, cook the turkey immediately. Do not keep a thawed turkey in the fridge for over 2 days. For safety, I cook my turkey right after it’s done thawing. It’s not worth the risk of foodborne illness. 
Whether thawing in the fridge or cold water, be extremely careful. Raw turkey contains harmful bacteria like Salmonella that can contaminate your kitchen surfaces and utensils. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping until ready to cook, and wash your hands thoroughly after handling.
When thawing and cooking your turkey, keep a close eye on time and temperature. By following safe food handling practices, you’ll ensure your Thanksgiving turkey is delicious and worry-free. Stay safe and happy thawing!
Thawing a Raw Turkey in Cold Water
Thawing a raw turkey in cold water is my go-to method. It’s the fastest way to defrost a whole bird while keeping it at a safe temperature.
Ensure you have a container big enough to submerge the turkey in water. I use my largest stockpot or a cooler.
Place the turkey in its original wrapping to prevent cross-contamination as it thaws. Securely tie off the bag to prevent water from getting in.
Change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed. This keeps the temperature consistent and prevents bacterial growth.
Keep the turkey in its packaging and submerge for about an hour per 4-5 pounds. So a 12 to 16-pound turkey can take 3 to 4 hours to thaw completely.
Check if it’s thawed by seeing if the legs and thighs move freely and the flesh feels soft. The thickest part of the thigh should be pliable and the joints flexible.
Using the Microwave to Thaw a Turkey
Microwaving a turkey to thaw it quickly can be done, but you must be extremely careful.
First, you must know that you can only thaw a turkey in the microwave if it’s in an approved microwave-safe container. I use a large dish that’s meant explicitly for microwaving and flipping the turkey. Ensure it’s deep enough to catch all the juices as the turkey thaws.
You must stop and flip the turkey every 30 minutes while it’s thawing. I set a timer so I don’t forget.
The most important tip is never to leave the microwave unattended. Stay near the microwave the entire time in case of any issues. Keep a close eye on the turkey as it thaws to ensure even thawing. And never thaw the turkey on the counter after microwaving — cook it immediately.
Using the microwave to thaw a turkey quickly can save Thanksgiving if you forgot to thaw it in the fridge. But be extremely cautious, follow all the tips, and never leave the microwave unattended.
Thawing in the Refrigerator
When I have plenty of time before the big meal, thawing the turkey in the refrigerator is my preferred method. Starting the thawing process in the fridge 3 to 4 days before Thanksgiving gives me peace of mind that the turkey will be fully thawed and frees up my time to focus on side dishes, decorating, and cleaning the house.
To thaw in the refrigerator, I remove the turkey from its original wrapping, pat it dry with paper towels and place it on a rimmed platter or tray to catch any juices as it thaws. I allow about 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey to thaw completely. For example, a 12- to 16-pound turkey can take 3 to 4 days.
The key is planning ahead. As the turkey thaws, the juices will collect in the tray. I drain and discard these juices daily and flip the turkey over at least once daily so it thaws evenly. The turkey must be in its original wrapping or securely wrapped in foil to prevent cross-contamination as it thaws.
Thawing in the fridge is the safest method because the cold prevents bacterial growth. As you can see in the video, this way, the turkey will stay at a safe, consistent temperature as it thaws.
Thawing a Precooked Turkey in the Oven
The oven is your best friend if you have a precooked turkey that needs quick thawing.
Preheat your oven to 325 °F (160 °C). Place the turkey in an oven-safe container to catch any juices as it thaws. Remove any packaging before putting the turkey in the oven for the fastest thawing. Every 30 minutes, drain excess liquid from the container and flip the turkey over.
A 12 to 16-pound turkey can thaw in 3 to 4 hours using this method. Be very careful handling the raw turkey, as bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature. Wash hands thoroughly after contact and keep other foods away from the thawing turkey.
The turkey is thawed at an internal temperature of 40 °F (4.5 °C). To check, insert a food thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. The meat should also have a soft, pliable texture.
I like to get the turkey in the oven as soon as it’s thawed to avoid any food safety risks. Once thawed, cook the turkey immediately.
What Is the Fastest Way to Thaw Fully Cooked Whole Turkey?
The fastest way to thaw a fully cooked whole turkey is in cold water. This method allows the turkey to thaw in about an hour per 4-5 pounds.
Thawing the turkey in cold water is a quick method in a pinch, but for best quality, thawing in the refrigerator is recommended. The slower thaw helps the turkey retain moisture. Either way, be extremely careful and follow food safety guidelines to avoid getting sick from improperly handled turkey.
How do you usually thaw a turkey? Can’t wait to read the descriptions of your thawing process in the comments below!