Skip to Content

How Long Does it Take to Defrost a Turkey?

When calculating how long it will take to defrost a turkey prior to cooking, there are two main factors you need to think about. One is the weight of the turkey and the other is the method you’ll be using to thaw it. 

Roasted Turkey Photo

The easiest way to thaw a turkey is by simply placing it in the refrigerator. It also happens to be the method that takes the longest amount of time, with a really large bird taking a couple of days to defrost! If this is the method you want to use, be sure to plan ahead.

As a rough guide, it takes about 24 hours to defrost a 5lb turkey.

The turkey may start to leak some juice as it thaws, so it’s very important those juices can’t drip onto other foods in the fridge and contaminate them. Place the turkey in a shallow container before placing it in the fridge and keep it in its original wrapping. It can stay in the fridge for up to 2 days after thawing.

Roasted Turkey Picture

If that sounds a little too long to wait, you can defrost your turkey more quickly by using the cold water method. To do this, place the turkey – still in its wrapping – in a large zip top bag, then seal. 

Fill a sink with cold water and place the turkey into the water, breast side down. You need to keep it under the water, so put a couple of heavy plates on top if it keeps bobbing up. Change the water every 30 minutes.

Using this method, a 5lb bird will that in about 2.5 hours. Unlike turkey thawed in the fridge, turkey thawed in cold water needs to be cooked as soon as it’s fully defrosted.

Roasted Turkey Image

Note: It can be tempting to use hot water instead of cold, to hurry things along! But it can be dangerous to do so, as the outside of the turkey will begin to heat up whilst the inside is still frozen, encouraging the growth of food-borne bacteria.

If five hours still seems too long to wait, then as a last resort you can use the microwave. You will need to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for details on timing, which can vary greatly from one microwave to another and may be at least an hour for larger turkeys. 

Before putting a turkey in the microwave, make sure it doesn’t have any metal clips attached to it. Sit it in a pan to catch any juices as it thaws and clean the whole microwave thoroughly when it’s done. 

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast Pic

As with turkey thawed in cold water, turkey thawed in the microwave should be cooked straight away.

Now your turkey is ready to cook, here are some great recipes to try.

Pressure Cooker Turkey Breast

Turkey Manicotti

Roast Turkey