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How—and When—to Defrost Your Turkey

We don’t need to tell you that Thanksgiving involves a little prep, but defrosting the turkey is one of those things that seems like it should just happen. You’re busy filling the fridge with casseroles and potatoes and pies—there’s not a lot of room (physical or mental) to add a raw, frozen bird. But (surprisingly!) the turkey won’t magically thaw the morning of. In fact, depending on how big the bird is, you might even need to take it out now.

The easiest and safest way to defrost your turkey is in the refrigerator (kept at 40°F). The USDA recommends 1 day of thawing in the refrigerator for every 5 pounds. So if you have a 15-pound bird, you’ll need to start defrosting at least three days in advance. Make sure to place the wrapped turkey breast-side up on a tray near the back of the refrigerator, where it will remain consistently cold. You might also want to keep it on a bottom shelf to prevent contamination from leakage. Once your bird has thawed, cook it within the next 4 days.

If you don’t have room for turkey in the refrigerator (or you’re reading this on Wednesday—it happens!) the second way to defrost the bird is in cold water. Simply cover the the turkey breast-side down in cold water, then change the water every 30 minutes. In this method, budget 30 minutes of thawing per pound. So, plan 7 hours for the same 15-pound turkey as above, then cook immediately.

No Matter What You Do, Your Turkey Will Be Just Fine
No Matter What You Do, Your Turkey Will Be Just Fine
by Josh Cohen

In cold water–thawing, it’s very important that the entire turkey remains submerged in 40°F water. Chances are that your tap water won’t be cold enough, so add some ice cubes. If you don’t have a large enough container, try using your sink, ice chest, or even a bathtub. Another way to keep the turkey covered is to hold it underwater with a heavy plate. Make sure to stir the water occasionally to break up the cold envelope surrounding the bird.

Looking for more turkey tips? Check out some of our best guides below, or ask the Food52 team on our hotline—we’ll be online from 8 A.M. to 10 P.M. EST starting Sunday, poised to answer all of your kitchen queries in 10 minutes or less (though we appreciate your patience!).

Let’s Talk Turkey

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What It’s Like to Cook 50 Turkeys (And What You Can Learn From It)
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Our 9 Best Turkey Strategies (You Only Have to Pick One)
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Have you ever forgotten to thaw the turkey? Tell us your strategies in the comments.

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