Skip to Content

4 Ways To Thaw A Turkey Overnight (From Safest To Fastest!)

4 Ways To Thaw A Turkey Overnight (From Safest To Fastest!)

Sharing is caring!

A celebration is around the corner (read: Thanksgiving) and you’re thinking about the best ways to thaw a turkey overnight. 

You want to thaw your turkey in the easiest and safest way possible, right? Worry not. Today you’ll learn how to thaw a turkey overnight, the pros and cons of each thawing method, along with plenty of tips and tricks! 

NOTE: According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the safest way to thaw a frozen turkey is in the refrigerator. However, I’ll also include some other methods of thawing a turkey overnight, so you can choose which one suits you best:

1. Thawing a turkey in the refrigerator

turkey in refrigerator

Thawing time: A turkey weighing 4-5 pounds will thaw in the refrigerator within 1 day. A 16-pound turkey will thaw for around 4 days in the refrigerator. 

Post-thawing time: Once thawed in the refrigerator, the turkey is safe for another 2 days. 

STEPS

• Step 1: Keep the turkey in its original packaging and place it on a large plate or vessel. Make sure that the sides of your plate or baking dish are high enough to catch any juices that may leak out during the thawing process. 

• Step 2: Leave the turkey in the refrigerator until it fully thaws. The thawing time depends on the size of your turkey (see thawing time above). Pro tip: If you also have frozen stuffing, then it would be best to synch the thawing time of these two.

Tips for thawing a turkey in the refrigerator

• Seasonings and herbs added to the turkey can prolong its thawing process.

• If you want to speed up the turkey thawing process in the refrigerator, consider adding some water to a turkey plate or tray.

• Make sure you have enough space in the refrigerator for thawing turkey. 

Pros of refrigerator thawing

• Thawing turkey in the refrigerator is one of the safest methods because the turkey will thaw at a consistent temperature. 

Cons of refrigerator thawing

• Thawing turkey in the refrigerator is time-consuming. If you’re on a tight schedule, this might not be the best thawing method for you at the moment. 

2. Thawing a turkey using cold water

turkey under the cold water

Thawing time: A turkey weighing 4-5 pounds will thaw in 2-3 hours with this thawing method. A 16-pound turkey will take 8 hours to thaw using cold water. 

Post-thawing time: Once thawed using cold water, the turkey needs to be cooked immediately.  

STEPS

• Step 1: Leave the turkey in its original packaging and place it in a container (or sink) filled with cold water.

• Step 2: Make sure to replace the water with fresh cold water every 30 minutes. 

Tips for thawing a turkey using cold water

• If your turkey isn’t fully immersed in the water, then add some weight on top of it. 

• If the water reaches room temperature, the bacteria will start growing. Because of that, it’s strongly recommended to change the water every 30 minutes. 

Pros of cold water thawing

• This is one of the fastest ways to thaw the turkey. Thawing time using cold water is 30 minutes per 1 pound of turkey, so do the math!

Cons of cold water thawing

• Changing cold water every 30 minutes is a not-so-enjoyable process.

• Thawing using cold water must be done immediately before you start cooking the turkey. 

3. Thawing a turkey in the microwave 

turkey in microwave

NOTE: Make sure to check your owner’s manual for the turkey size, minutes per pound, and power level you should use when thawing your turkey.

Thawing time: A turkey weighing 4-5 pounds will thaw in 30 minutes with this thawing method. A 16-pound turkey will take 1,5 – 2 hours to thaw using the microwave. 

Post-thawing time: Once thawed in the microwave, the turkey needs to be cooked immediately.  

STEPS

Step 1: Remove the wrapping and place the turkey in a microwave-safe container or a microwave-safe plate that is high enough to catch any juices that may leak during the thawing process. 

Step 2: Rotate and flip the turkey a few times during the process. 

Tips for thawing a turkey in the microwave

• Microwave the turkey low and slow for the best results and to avoid cooking.

If the turkey starts cooking instead of just defrosting, then let it rest for 5 minutes before you continue thawing it. 

• Consider covering the tips of the drumsticks and wings with foil to keep them from cooking. 

Pros of microwave thawing

• This is definitely the fastest way to thaw the turkey. Thawing time using the microwave is 6 minutes per 1 pound of turkey, which is amazing!

Cons of microwave thawing

• Thawing turkey in the microwave may result in uneven heat distribution causing the turkey to start cooking on the outside.

• Thawing in the microwave must be done immediately before you start cooking the turkey. 

4. Thawing a turkey on the countertop

turkey on countertop

NOTE: Here’s what the USDA says about this thawing method: Even though the center of the package may still be frozen as it thaws on the counter, the outer layer of the food could be in the “Danger Zone,” between 40 and 140 °F — temperatures where bacteria multiply rapidly.

Thawing time: An entire day or overnight depending on the size of your turkey. 

Post-thawing time: Once thawed on the countertop, the turkey needs to be cooked immediately. Also, you can refreeze meat thawed at room temperature.

STEPS

Step 1: Place your turkey on a kitchen countertop in an adequate dish or a tray. 

Step 2: Maintain the room temperature to a minimum to avoid bacterial growth. 

Tips for thawing a turkey on the countertop

• Change the thermostat to make sure your kitchen is cool.

• Put ice bags next to the turkey on a counter in order to maintain a minimum temperature. 

• If the temperature in your kitchen is not adequate for thawing the turkey, then consider placing the turkey in another (colder) room in your house.

Pros of countertop thawing

• The biggest advantage of thawing turkey on the countertop is simplicity. You don’t need to worry about anything except temperature (which in some cases can also be seen as a disadvantage). 

Cons of countertop thawing

• Thawing on the countertop must be done immediately before you start cooking the turkey. 

• Countertop thawing comes with potential risks if the room temperature is inadequate for the thawing process.

• Checking the room temperature every few minutes or hours can be nerve-wracking. 

The Verdict

From the safest to the potentially unsafe thawing method, here’s the final verdict for each thawing method that we discussed above:

• THE SAFEST THAWING METHOD: In the refrigerator.

• THE FASTEST THAWING METHOD: In the microwave. 

• THE STRENUOUS BUT RELATIVELY FAST THAWING METHOD: Using cold water.

• THE SIMPLEST BUT POTENTIALLY UNSAFE THAWING METHOD: On the countertop.

Make sure to choose the appropriate thawing method according to your preferences and lifestyle. 

Also, don’t thaw your turkey at the last minute. 😉