Frozen Turkey: How to Safely Thaw Turkey for Christmas Eve

Best Christmas Turkey Recipe
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Many people are preparing for their Christmas 2016 dinner and that means getting their frozen turkey all ready to go.

If you are working with a frozen turkey, there are certain ways to thaw it safely. So, are you wondering: how do I safely thaw turkey for Christmas dinner? Read on to find out how to do it properly.

Christmas Eve Dinner: Turkey Time—How to Safely Thaw a Frozen Turkey

Before getting into how to properly and safely thaw a turkey for Christmas Eve, let’s take a look at how not to thaw a turkey.

These thawing techniques are not recommended:

  • Do not thaw a turkey on the counter, back porch, or in the garbage (that last one might be common sense)
  • Do not thaw a turkey in a brown-paper grocery bag or even a plastic garbage bag
  • Do not thaw a turkey by putting it in the dishwasher (creative, but unadvisable)

Turkey is generally safe when frozen. When it begins to thaw, however, there is bacteria that begins to grow. These bacteria may have been present before freezing. The three safest ways to defrost your turkey include doing it in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave oven.

Let’s look at each of these methods in more depth.

Refrigerator Thawing (Recommended)

According to the USDA, it is recommended that you thaw your turkey in the refrigerator. This is considered the safest method because the turkey is allowed to thaw at a consistent and safe temperature. Although it is more time consuming, it is safer, so make sure you allow one day for every four to five pounds of weight.

For example, if you have a turkey that weighs 16 pounds, it will take around four days to thaw. Once it’s thawed, the turkey is safe for another two days. This method gives you extra time after it’s thawed.

However, you must cook the turkey immediately if you’re using the other two methods (cold water and microwave).

Cold-Water Thawing

For this method, leave the turkey in its original wrapping and submerge it in a sink (or container) full of cold water. The water must be very cold so that the turkey is thawing at a safe temperature. The water should be changed every 30 minutes. Continue to replenish the sink or container with cold water. For this method, you must allow 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound, e.g. a 16-pound turkey will take eight hours to thaw. Once the turkey has thawed, you must cook it immediately.

Microwave Thawing

Before you choose this method, be sure that your turkey fits in your microwave. You may also want to check the microwave manual to determine the number of minutes it will take per pound to defrost the turkey and the power level required.

Remove all the outside wrapping from the turkey and place it on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that leak. Use the defrost function on your microwave based on the weight of your turkey. A general rule of thumb: allow six minutes per pound when thawing a turkey in the microwave. Make sure to rotate it several times and even flip it during the thawing process.

Sometimes the turkey can begin to actually cook instead of just defrost and if so, let it rest for five minutes before you resume thawing. Once completely thawed, cook the turkey immediately. This last method is the least recommended of the three.

Happy holidays!


Gravely, M., “How to Safely Thaw a Turkey,” web site, November 17, 2016;, last accessed December 22, 2016.

“How to Thaw a Turkey,” Butterball web site;, last accessed December 22, 2016.