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Turkey Times


Post by community member:

The days and the weeks are flying by! Thanksgiving Day is less than two weeks away and I just realized it! Out-of-town family will be here in eleven days and I don’t even have the turkey bought. Or the menu planned. But I do know I need to buy my turkey and start it thawing in the refrigerator (my preferred thawing method) by this coming Friday–it’s a big bird.

We roast, grill, or rotisserie whole turkey all year long, not just at Thanksgiving, so I have the thawing and cooking times memorized for a frozen turkey.

BUT that wasn’t always the case! When I started hosting Thanksgiving dinners, I never would have imagined a bird would take 5-6 days to thaw in the fridge. My first year, I was still defrosting that darn thing on Thanksgiving morning in a sink of cold water. Dinner was only a little late.

Until the last couple years (when I figured out how cheap a turkey really is per meal and make them at least once a month), I always had to search online for thawing and cooking times. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has/had difficulties, so I’ve made a little cheat sheet here on Farm Bell.


  • 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. This is faster, but when I’m down to the last day, there are many more things I need to accomplish and I don’t want to babysit that turkey in the sink or huge pan!

    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 in the microwave oven.

  • 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. 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!

Print the cheat sheet it out here: Turkey Thawing & Cooking Times

Happy safe turkey thawing and cooking!

Do you have a favorite method or recipe you use to cook your turkey? Brine recipes you use? Rubs? Submit the recipe to Farm Bell! There are only just a couple here now. Or submit a blog post explaining how you grill, roast, or rotisserie your turkey (or anyway you do it)!

Cindy blogs at Our Life Simplified.

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Posted by on November 13, 2011 | Permalink  

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7 comments | RSS feed for comments of this post

  1. 11-13

    Thank you so much for this turkey info, CindyP! Very helpful.

  2. 11-13

    Wow, this is great,,,I’ve been afraid to defrost a turkey too soon and so I usually keep them frozen until that Monday and then wonder why they aren’t defrosted by Wed night~ never thought to keep track year-to-year. BTW, where do you find a 4-12 lb bird anymore? I have a wonderful exotic turkey recipe which requires an 8-10 lb bird and can’t find same. Buying parts is less acceptable and more $$ than a whole bird.

    • 11-13

      The 4-8 lb would fall into the turkey breast category. Or a chicken! They had 10# at Walmart…but it was the expensive brand…almost $2/lb.

  3. 11-14

    I asked my butcher for a smaller turkey b/c all the ones in the case were 20# and up. He went to the back and got me a 12 pounder. In fact, he brought out a whole cart full. This was at Albertsons and they were on sale for .39/lb. I think they still are on at that price. Honeysuckle White.

  4. 11-14

    Oh, and looking at the ads this week…hens are the smaller ones listed as 10-16# and the toms at 17-14#. Hope that helps!

    Wish we had an Albertson’s! That’s cheap! The best price I’ve found in this area so far this year is .79/lb.

  5. 11-14

    Bonita– have you posted your exotic turkey recipe somewhere or here? I’d love to see it. I’m always looking for good (and way different!) ways to use turkey!

  6. 11-15

    @ CindyP, Yep, I’m beginning to think Ill have to combine breast and drumsticks. Not optimum…expensive, and really need entire carcass for broth. You used to be able to ask the butcher to saw a frozen bird in half…that worked for a time, but now there is virtually no service at the meat counter at all. The size limit is due to the recipe proportions and stock pot size considerations.

    @ murphala, no, not yet. I was going to try to make it for my winter get together and post it as blog w/pix. But I may give in and just post. I’ll got rooting around for recipe.

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