How to defrost a turkey for your feast

July 4, 2024
by HelloFresh Tips & tricks

    Defrosting a turkey can be a challenge. It’s the largest piece of meat that most cooks ever handle, so getting it out of the freezer and into the oven is a major cause of Christmas stress. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. Just follow our tips for perfect defrosting every time.

    Defrosting turkey

    Defrosting a turkey can be quite time-consuming, but this is one culinary adventure where it pays to play it safe. We mean that literally: if you try to defrost your bird in an unusual way, you may well end up contaminating everything in the kitchen.

    How long to defrost turkey

    The safest way to defrost a turkey is in the fridge. You’ll have to plan ahead, though. A turkey takes up a lot of space, so you may need to play a bit of fridge Tetris. Plus, this is quite a lengthy technique. In fact, it’ll take about 24 hours for each 2 kg of turkey to defrost, so if you’ve got a 6 kg bird, you’ll need to start the process three days in advance.

    If you really don’t have time or space, then you can try submerging your turkey in water. For safety reasons, the water must be cold – never hot – and you should change it every 30 minutes.

    How to defrost turkey in the fridge

    Ideally, your fridge should be set to 4°C, which is the perfect temperature for defrosting turkey. You might want to check before you get started. After all, if your fridge is too cold, you’ll still be stuck with a giant slab of frozen meat, even after a few days.

    Keep the turkey in its original packaging to avoid the risk of cross-contamination. Place it in a spacious container to collect the dripping liquid. Then, adhere to our recommended timing of 24 hours for every 2 kg.

    Top tip:
    Take the turkey out of the fridge an hour before you plan to start cooking it. If it’s still chilled when you put it in the oven, it won’t cook evenly.

    How long to defrost a 5kg turkey at room temperature

    Avoid attempting to defrost a turkey at room temperature. This is a potential recipe for disaster: while the outer layer thaws, the bird’s core remains frozen solid, creating an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive.

    A better option is to keep it in a large bucket of cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. The turkey should defrost at a rate of about 1 kg per hour.

    Turkey thawing chart

    The time your turkey will take to defrost depends on its size. Here are some general guidelines:

    • Turkey crown 1 kg to 1.4 kg: 10-14 hours
    • Turkey crown 1.5 kg to 1.9 kg: 15-19 hours
    • Turkey crown 2 kg to 2.3 kg: 20-23 hours
    • Whole turkey 2 kg to 2.5 kg: 20-25 hours
    • Whole turkey 2.6 kg to 3.8 kg: 26-38 hours
    • Whole turkey 3.9 kg to 5.2 kg: 39-52 hours

    Larger birds will take even longer, so make sure you’ve left yourself enough time before the big day.

    These are guidelines only. Ensure the food is piping hot before serving. Do not reheat.

    Frozen turkey thawing instructions

    To defrost turkey in the fridge, here’s what you need to do:

    1. Calculate how long you’ll need to defrost your turkey and make sure there’s enough space in the fridge.
    2. Keeping the turkey in its original packaging, place it inside a large container, such as a plastic box with a lid.
    3. Leave it in the fridge until the time is up.

    To defrost turkey using cold water, follow these steps:

    1. Prepare a large bucket or basin with enough cold water to fully cover your turkey.
    2. Keeping the bird in its original packaging, submerge it in the water.
    3. After 30 minutes, carefully pour the water down the sink and replace it.
    4. Continue this, changing the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is defrosted.

    These are guidelines only. Ensure the food is piping hot before serving. Do not reheat.

    Turkey cooking tips

    After defrosting, make sure you cook the turkey properly. To ensure a perfectly succulent bird, like in this butter-basted turkey with rosemary recipe, make sure the turkey is at room temperature before you start cooking. Cover the breast with melted butter or a lattice of streaky bacon in order to keep it moist, and don’t be tempted to turn up the heat for faster cooking.

    Get the trimmings right, too. A festive feast is all about indulgence, so don’t skimp on the side dishes. Gravy is the perfect accompaniment to your centrepiece bird, along with roast potatoes and your favourite veggies.


    Can I leave a turkey out overnight to thaw?

    No. We strongly recommend against trying to thaw turkey at room temperature, as it can easily become contaminated with bacteria.

    What is the easiest way to defrost a turkey?

    The easiest way is also the slowest: put your turkey in the fridge. It may take a few days, but it’s a gentle, safe method that doesn’t need hands-on attention.

    How long does a turkey take to defrost?

    This depends on the size of the bird. A small turkey crown may be fully defrosted in under 12 hours, but a 6kg turkey will take three days in the fridge.

    Can you thaw a turkey in water and then put it in the fridge?

    Yes. Before you put it in the fridge, pat it carefully dry. Stand it alone in a container to catch any liquid that might drip out from the defrosted bird.

    All food products vary. The instructions printed on the food packaging always supersedes those printed in this article and must always be followed.
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