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Turkey Thawing & Cooking Times

Submitted by: cindyp on November 13, 2011
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Turkey Thawing & Cooking Times

Happy safe turkey thawing and cooking!

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Whole Turkey


  • Refrigerator–the safest (but not only) way to thaw a turkey.

    Place the turkey in its original package, breast side up, in a baking pan with sides (to contain any juices that may leak out) on the lowest shelf in fridge (so not to cross-contaminate anything below it). A thawed turkey can remain in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days. It can also be refrozen if thawed properly in the refrigerator.

    Turkey Weight — Thawing Time

    4-12 lb — 1-3 days
    12-16 lb — 3-4 days
    16-20 lb — 4-5 days
    20-24 lb — 5-6 days

    Cold Water–another alternative if you’ve waited too long to buy or pull your turkey out of the freezer.

    Wrap the turkey tightly with plastic wrap (to keep juices from leaking). Fully submerge the wrapped turkey in cold water in a clean sink or large pan. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the water cold.

    Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed. Do not refreeze.

    Turkey Weight — Thawing Time

    4-12 lb — 2-6 hours
    12-16 lb — 6-8 hours
    16-20 lb — 8-10 hours
    20-24 lb — 10-12 hours

    Microwave–another alternative if your turkey is small enough or you have a HUGE microwave!

    Check your owner’s manual for the size turkey that will fit in your microwave oven, the minutes per pound and power level to use for thawing.

    Remove all outside wrapping.

    Place on a microwave-safe dish to catch any juices that may leak.

    Cook your turkey immediately. Do not refreeze or refrigerate your turkey after thawing.

  • Whether grilling, roasting, or using the rotisserie, cooking times are about the same for a turkey. This is assuming the heat source is around 325°F (recommended). If you’re planning to grill or rotisserie your turkey, though, you should keep the weight below 15 pounds so the inside is cooked before the outside is charred.

    Also, whether it’s stuffed or unstuffed will play a role in how long the cooking time is.

    These are guidelines to cooking a turkey to help with your planning. Always check the turkey with a food thermometer to make sure the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast is at 165°F or more. Even turkeys with a “pop-up” timer should be checked with a thermometer.


    Turkey Weight — Cooking Time

    8-12 lb — 2 3/4-3 hours
    12-16 lb — 3-4 hours
    16-20 lb — 4-4 1/2 hours
    20-24 lb — 4 1/2-5 hours


    Turkey Weight — Cooking Time

    8-12 lb — 3-3 1/2 hours
    12-16 lb — 3 1/2-4 hours
    16-20 lb — 4-4 3/4 hours
    20-24 lb — 4 3/4-5 1/4 hours

    Also check the stuffing with a thermometer–it should be at 165°F, also.

    Cooking from Frozen State

    According to the USDA, it is safe to cook a turkey from the frozen state. So this is also an option! The cooking time will take at least 50 percent longer than recommended for a fully thawed turkey. Remember to remove the giblet packages during cooking after it’s thawed enough!

Categories: Holiday, Poultry, Tips & Tricks


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  1. 11-13

    I am so glad you posted this. I cook turkey maybe once or twice a year and spend at least an hour looking up reasonable directions, recipes, combining info that sounds good to me and generally stressing myself out. Thanks CindyP!

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