Exactly When to Take Your Turkey Out of the Freezer

updated Nov 14, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Lauren Volo

Let’s say that it’s Thursday, the week before Thanksgiving. Do you know where your turkey is? If the answer is, in the freezer, guess what? It’s time to take it out and move it to the fridge. Because you know what no one ever said, at any time, about their Thanksgiving turkey? Man, I took it out of the freezer too early. Nope, doesn’t happen. Never heard it.

Despite the number the times I’ve cooked Thanksgiving dinner, there are certain things I can never totally remember, like when to take the turkey out of the freezer, the optimal oven temperature, and how long to cook the turkey.

Remembering to take the turkey out of the freezer with sufficient time to thaw has a particular knack for slipping my mind. And maybe yours, too. That’s why we’re here with a friendly reminder for when to thaw your turkey, so your bird has plenty of time to lose its icy chill.

Quick Overview

When to Take Your Turkey Out of The Freezer

At minimum, allow at least one day of thawing for every 5 pounds of turkey. To make sure your turkey is completely thawed, we recommend building in an extra day. So, if your turkey is between 12 and 15 pounds, you can take it out of the freezer a week before Thanksgiving (or the next day at the latest).

How Long Do You Need to Thaw Your Turkey?

The USDA recommends thawing a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, which translates to one day for each 4 to 5 pounds of weight. So for a 12-pound turkey that would imply at least three days of thawing, ideally with a bonus day thrown in.

Here’s the thing, though. I simply don’t find that that’s enough. Ever. Even after days and days of thawing, I often wake up on Thanksgiving morning to an icy bird, with rock hard giblets stuck inside the cavity like boulders on an ice field. So, I like to tack on an extra day for thawing as an insurance policy.

If you’re planning to brine or dry-brine the turkey for a day or two before cooking, it’s easier to have a thawed bird even earlier. Though you can start brining with a partially thawed turkey.

Basic Turkey Thawing Tips

  • Thaw in the refrigerator: The safest way to thaw your turkey is to take it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator (don’t thaw at room temperature).
  • Thaw in the bag: Leave the turkey in the bag or wrappings, too, and place it in a large pan or sheet to catch any dripping.
  • Don’t wait: When in doubt, get that turkey thawing, because there’s nothing worse on Thanksgiving morning than a half-frozen turkey!

More Tips for Thawing (and Cooking) a Frozen Turkey