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How to Quickly Defrost a Turkey

How to Quickly Defrost a Turkey

It could be Thanksgiving morning or any other day that you are craving turkey. Unfortunately, your bird is frozen solid. The good news is that there are some ways to thaw your turkey quickly and begin cooking. However, in future, it is essential to adhere to the USDA guidelines, which I’ll list later. For now, here’s how to quickly defrost a turkey

How to quickly defrost a turkey

Use cold water

Thawing a turkey in cold water is one of the quickest ways to thaw. You will need a large pot, or you can use your kitchen sink. Get your turkey out of the fridge and submerge it in cold water with the breast-side down, ensuring it is fully submerged. To speed up thawing your turkey, change the water every 30 minutes until your bird is ready to cook. Changing the water is also important for food safety. The time it takes to thaw your turkey will depend on its weight. Approximately a pound completely thaws in 30 minutes.

Thaw your turkey outdoors

This method is the fastest if the temperature outside is between 32-40 degrees. Place your turkey in a bucket and cover it, then place the bucket on your back porch. You should stay alert, however, of any air temperature changes.

Cook as it is

If you are short on time, you can cook your turkey while still frozen. The downside to this method is that the cooking time takes 50% longer than usual. If a fully thawed turkey takes about three hours to cook, your frozen turkey will take almost 4 ½ hours to cook.

Another downside to this method is that it can only work for a completely frozen turkey. A partially frozen turkey will cause disappointment. Turkeys thaw from the outside first, then to the inside. Cooking a partially frozen turkey will result in an overcooked outside and an undercooked inside. It is therefore essential to check the turkey’s temperature now and then as it thaws. You can do this by inserting an instant-read thermometer deep into your turkey’s breast and checking that reading against other parts.

The ideal temperature should be between 32°F and 40°F. Any temperature warmer than this results in food poisoning as pathogens typically grow in temperatures above 40°F and may not be killed in the oven. It is advisable not to leave your frozen bird in areas where you cannot constantly monitor temperatures, like in the basement or car trunk.

Defrost in a refrigerator

Upon purchase, you can put your frozen turkey in a refrigerator for a few days before cooking it. This is the best way to defrost a turkey. The downside to this method, however, is that it takes several days for the bird to thaw, according to the USDA guidelines completely.

How to thaw a turkey overnight

You can defrost your turkey overnight by putting it in ice-cold water. To ensure the water temperature does not fall to room temperature, it is best to use a cooler rather than a bucket or sink. The latter will require you to constantly monitor the temperature every 30 minutes, which means you cannot sleep.

Even when using a cooler, it is essential to monitor the temperature. You can program an alarm on your digital thermometer that will go off when temperatures rise above 40 degrees.

Importantly, ensure the turkey is completely submerged into the ice-cold water. This method is super fast as you can thaw a 24-pound bird in a cool 12 hours!

How to quickly defrost ground turkey

Defrosting ground turkey requires great care to minimize the risk of harmful bacteria growth. You should never thaw a ground turkey at room temperature to prevent the meat from reaching the danger zone, that is, anything between 40-140°F. At this temperature, harmful bacteria rapidly multiply, resulting in food poisoning.

Also, you should not re-freeze your ground turkey once thawed.

Use a microwave

A microwave is the fastest method to defrost our ground turkey, requiring about 10 minutes depending on the ground turkey’s weight and thickness and your microwave wattage. Ensure to use the defrost setting and not leave the turkey inside for too long as the microwave may begin to cook the meat. When you thaw your ground turkey using a microwave, you should cook it immediately.


  • Remove your ground turkey from the freezer
  • Place it inside a microwave-safe plate
  • Microwave the turkey for 5 minutes on low power or defrost setting.
  • Check whether the meat is fully thawed. If partially frozen, leave it inside the microwave for a minute. Repeat this step until the meat is completely thawed.
  • When fully thawed, cook the ground turkey

Use cold water

This method is a method you can use to defrost ground turkey quickly without a microwave. It takes about 30 minutes to thaw your ground turkey entirely, and you can refrigerate the thawed ground turkey for up to 48 hours.


  • Take a bowl and fill it with cold water
  • Take your frozen ground turkey from the freezer and remove the packaging.
  • Place the meat in the bowl of cold water and let it sit for a few minutes.
  • Change the water after every 7 minutes until the turkey is fully thawed.

Use a refrigerator

This method takes a thawing time of between 8-12 hours and is the safest. It is the best way to thaw your ground turkey overnight. Upon thawing, you can refrigerate the turkey for up to 48 hours.

Here’s how it works:

  • Remove your turkey from the freezer 8-12 hours before cooking.
  • Wrap it with plastic wrap while still in its original packaging and place it in a bowl.
  • Place the bowl on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator and let it sit for 8-12 hours or overnight.
  • When wholly defrosted, you can cook the turkey or leave it in the refrigerator for up to 48 hours.

How to thaw turkey breast fast

The fastest way to thaw a turkey breast is to use a microwave. Ensure the breast can fit into your microwave.

  • Remove the breast from its original package.
  • Place it in a container/plate that is microwave-safe and is deep to collect any juices that leak from the turkey breast.
  • Position the breast inside your microwave.
  • Use a low power or defrost setting to microwave the turkey breast for around six minutes.
  • Check whether fully thawed, and cook.

How to thaw a turkey breast in cold water

Coldwater is effective in defrosting a turkey breast. Ensure that you leave the breast as packaged and submerge it entirely in the cold water.

  • Find a container large enough to fit the turkey breast and keep it fully submerged in water.
  • Fill the container with cold water until the turkey breast is fully covered.
  • After every 30 minutes, change the water and check how the meat is thawing—the smaller/larger the breast, the shorter/longer the thawing time.

How long to thaw a turkey at room temperature

When defrosting your turkey at room temperature, the rule of thumb allows two hours per kg. So, if your turkey weighs 5kgs, the expected thawing time at room temperature is ten hours.

Is it safe to thaw a turkey in cold water

It is safe to thaw a turkey in cold water if you constantly change the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water deters possible harmful bacteria growth, which causes food poisoning. Also, thawing should take place in your kitchen sink, not in the bathroom.

Check this too: How to Get Rid of Bacon Grease

Bottom Line

To enjoy a sumptuous turkey, you should observe the set guidelines for thawing to prevent contamination. Below are the USDA guidelines for thawing.

USDA Thawing Guidelines

For every 4-5 pounds, allow about 24 hours of thawing time and keep your bird in the original packaging. It is also essential to place the bird in a pan because of the juices that may leak. When thawed, a turkey can stay refrigerated for about two days.

Here’s the thawing time approximation based on the bird’s weight:

Weight (pounds)Thawing time in days

Always remember that keeping your bird in temperatures of between 40-140°F is dangerous as it is at this temperature that food-borne bacteria grow rapidly.