Help, It’s Thanksgiving Morning and My Bird Is Still Frozen! Here’s How to Quickly Thaw a Turkey and Save the Day

Adella Miesner

© GMVozd/Getty Images It’s Thanksgiving morning, and your bird is still frozen solid. Relax, there’s no need to run around like a chicken turkey with its head cut off. Here are two foolproof ways to quickly thaw a turkey and save the feast. Table of Contents But first, here’s what not […]




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© GMVozd/Getty Images



It’s Thanksgiving morning, and your bird is still frozen solid. Relax, there’s no need to run around like a chicken turkey with its head cut off. Here are two foolproof ways to quickly thaw a turkey and save the feast.

But first, here’s what not to do

We know it’s tempting but whatever you do, please don’t dump the bird on the counter and let it thaw at room temperature. Per the USDA, “A package of frozen meat or poultry left thawing on the counter more than 2 hours is not at a safe temperature.” And definitely ignore Uncle Ron’s advice about leaving it in the basement to defrost—you want a controlled temperature (and, um, not food poisoning).

If you’ve got a few hours to spare

Let’s say you woke up at 7 a.m. and realized that you forgot to take the bird out of the freezer last night and into the fridge. Fortunately, your guests aren’t coming over until later this afternoon. Here’s the plan: Submerge your bird breast-side down in cold water (a large pot or the sink should do the trick) and change the water every 30 minutes. Make sure the turkey is totally submerged (use a baking dish to weigh it down if you have to). It should take approximately 30 minutes per pound to completely thaw. So, for a ten-pound turkey, you’re looking at about five hours of thaw time. Note: Changing the water every 30 minutes is key for food safety, so be sure to set a reminder.

If you’re really short on time

Here’s the deal—you actually can safely cook a fully frozen turkey, says the USDA. But there’s a catch: Cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer. So, while a 12-pound, fully thawed turkey would normally take about three hours to cook in a 325°F oven, it will take four and a half hours to cook if it’s frozen.

If your guests are coming over in an hour

Ply ’em with drinks and appetizers while you give this recipe for maple-roasted turkey legs a go. Worst-case scenario? Team your delicious sides with a pizza delivery. (A slice of pepperoni fixes everything.)

And here’s some advice for next year

To thaw your frozen bird in the fridge, keep these guidelines from the USDA in mind: Allow approximately 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 to 5 pounds of poultry. Keep the bird in its original packaging and place it on a tray or in a pan to catch any juices that may leak. A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. Here are some approximate thawing times based on weight: 

  • 4 to 12 pounds — 1 to 3 days
  • 12 to 16 pounds — 3 to 4 days
  • 16 to 20 pounds — 4 to 5 days
  • 20 to 24 pounds —5 to 6 days

RELATED: 15 Easy Thanksgiving Side Dishes That Will Impress Everyone at the Table

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