How to Thaw Turkey the Day Before Thanksgiving: Tips & Tricks

I was having a conversation recently about Thanksgiving traditions. An annual tradition for my family, it seems, is checking on the turkey the day before and finding that it was still frozen. Every year, there is a 20+ pound bird in the refrigerator that simply didn’t thaw out as it should. Then we are stucking having to thaw a turkey the day before Thanksgiving.

Thaw a turkey in a cold water bath the day before Thanksgiving

Luckily, that last minute thaw is pretty straight forward. It’s pretty similar to the quick thaw meathod I’ve previosly discussed, except that a whole turkey is a lot more mass than a package of ground beef or a couple of chicken breasts.

How to Thaw a Turkey in a Cold Water Bath

Start with a clean sink

The first thing you are going to want to do is make sure you have a clean sink. The plastic wrapping on the turkey should keep out anything in the water, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Cooking should kill any bacteria, but do you want it to come out tasting like last night’s meatloaf?

What I do is first wipe off any bits that may be sticking the the sink walls. Then I squirt a little dab of dish soap onto a damp sponge and wipe down the basin. Use the sprayer to rinse it off. Spray again just to be extra sure the soap is gone.

Put the turkey in the sink and fill it with water

Actually, the next step is to place the stopper in the sink. Can’t fill a sink without the stopper!

But once the sink is stopped up, you can put the turkey in. Unless you have a very deep sink or a rather small turkey, it won’t all fit. Over the course of the day, you;ll be rotating it. I start off with placing the turkey bottom down.

Fill the sink with cold water. Not hot, because that will encourage bacterial growth and may even start the cooking process on the outside of the turkey. Cold water. Fill the sink all the way to the top to get as much of the bird covered as you can.

Change the water periodically

Over the course of the day, that water is going to warm up. You don’t want warm water, or even room temperature water. Cold water is the key to a healthy turkey. So every 4-6 hours, drain the water out of the sink and re-fill it with more cold water. Assuming the top of your turkey is above the surface of the water, go ahead and flip it so it is now bottom up. When you drain the water again, flip it again to keep the thawing as even as possible.

Make sure you give it one last change of water before you go to bed for the night. I wouldn’t say to wake up in the middle of the night just to change the water. But if you do wake up, go ahead and do that. In the morning, the bird should be fully and safely thawed out and ready to be prepared for cooking.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Have you ever had to thaw a turkey out the day before Thanksgiving?

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2 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Edward Antrobus on 21.11.12 at 14:55

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll keep it in mind for the next time the the bird doesn’t want to thaw.

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