Thawing a Whole Turkey

defrosted whole turkey


Turkey Smoke Team

Prepping a whole turkey for the grill or smoker involves a little TLC. But before massaging in your favorite rubs and spices, make sure to take the time to let your turkey properly thaw. This important step will lessen the risk for foodborne illness and keep your delicious, golden-brown bird safe to eat.

Ready, set, thaw!  The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends using the refrigerator to defrost your turkey at a consistent, safe temperature, which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. But buckle up because this method takes some time. For every 4-5 pounds of weight, allow one full day (24 hours) for thawing. Based on the size of your bird, it may take a few days before you’re ready to fire up the grill. Just remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

turkey thawing times guide

Pro Turkey Tip: Don’t forget to factor any time needed to brine or marinate, which may require starting this process a day early.

If the grill is calling your name, a quicker method to defrost your turkey is submerging it in a cold-water bath. Leave the turkey in its original wrapping and place it in a sink or container full of cold water (~40°F), refreshing the water every half hour. This method will thaw a whole turkey in the time it takes to watch your team on the gridiron…or roughly 30 minutes per pound.

Thawing is just the first step in making sure your food is safe to eat. Before firing up the coals, refresh your memory – and maybe your beverage – and make sure you’re following these additional food safety reminders:

  • Use different cutting boards, plates and utensils to separate raw turkey from other foods
  • Clean all surfaces, including hands, with warm, soapy water
  • Use a meat thermometer to confirm an internal temperature of 165°F
  • Never reuse marinade as a sauce at the table
  • Discard any food left out for more than two hours