Learn how to quickly thaw a turkey using the method I learned from Alton Brown.
No need to stress if your turkey is still frozen the day before, there is still time to defrost it with this quick method.
Make sure you check out our table below to see how long per pound your turkey will take.
How long to quick thaw a turkey in an ice bucket per pound? It should take around 1 hour per 2 pounds of turkey weight.
Are you finding yourself the day before the big day and your turkey still a solid block?
Do you need to rush to the store and get a fresh turkey instead or are you doomed to cooking at least partially frozen bird?
Do not fear, all hope is not lost. You can safely defrost your turkey and have it ready for the next day.
👨🍳 Ice Bucket Method
Under no circumstance do you want to place a frozen turkey in the oven. There is no way you are going to end up with an evenly cooked turkey. If you are in a hurry there is something you can do.
But first I must tell you that NEVER, EVER, EVER leave a turkey to thaw at room temperature. This is a good way to miss those great Black Friday sales because you are too busy visiting your toilet. The outer part of the turkey will defrost before the inner part, so bacteria can start to grow before the inner part of the turkey is defrosted.
Bacteria can start growing at 40 degrees which is why it's important to keep raw turkey below that temperature.
A much safer option is the one Alton Brown (of Good Eats) recommends. Which is to take a frozen turkey and put it in a bucket with ice water.
This method is faster than doing it in the fridge and safer than doing it at room temperature.
Why This Method Works? It's all about conduction. The turkey will become the temperature of it's surroundings. It would become the temperature of the fridge eventually. So why is water faster? Well water is a better conductor than air is, making the process faster.
Here are my tips on this method.
- Take your frozen turkey. Do NOT remove the original wrapping. Keep it on. Place it into a 5 gallon bucket, full of cold water. Your turkey should defrost (approximately) at a rate of 2 pounds every 1 hour.
- If you have a small turkey, you might be able to fit in an extra large stock pot instead of a bucket. The same size pot you would use for canning. I did that with a under 12 lb bird.
- If you are concerned let it go an extra hour. Sometimes I find that I think it's fully defrosting, only to find a little ice in the cavity, which isn't the biggest deal if you find that and you are out of time. Still go ahead and cook it.
🛁 Defrost in Bath Tub
The easiest place to defrost your turkey is in the bath tub. Let me share why.
- It's important the water you are using stays cold. That means at or below 40 degrees. If it rises above 40 degrees you may need to change the water, which is why it's best to do this in the bath tub where it will be a lot easier to change dump and refill a 5 gallon bucket.
- On average you may need to change the water every 2-3 hours. If you are not concerned about being able to check it that frequently you can put some ice in the water or some cold packs. This will probably slow down the process, so you might want to give yourself an extra hour or two.
- Even if your water is 32 degrees with the ice, the turkey will still thaw. A turkey isn't just water and it's freezing point is lower. A turkey is considered a fresh turkey when it's 26 degrees or above.
⛰️ Can I Do This Outside?
If you live in a place where it's cold this time of year and you don't have to worry about animals getting after your turkey, you could do this outside. I did that this year and I didn't have to change the water whatsoever.
When I was thawing my turkey it was 40 degrees or under outside, the whole time. So I never needed to change the water or add ice at all, the water stayed the right temp. But how did I know that for sure?
I was monitoring the temperature of the water and air the whole time! It takes all the guesswork out.
🌡️ How to Check the Water Temperature
My recommendation for checking your water temperature is to use a probe thermometer. It's the same thing I use when I put the turkey in the oven to know when it's done. It can also monitor the temperature of the water to make sure it stays at or below 40 degrees. The one I own I can use two probes so I had one in the water and one monitoring the outdoor temperature.
Use what you have to clip the probe to the side of the bucket. You also could use an infrared or instant read thermometer to get a quick check of the water temperature if you don't have a probe.
Check out my post on Using Thermometers for Thawing and Temping a Turkey. Learn more about what thermometers works best.
🥶 Defrosting Times
I want to give you an idea of how long the defrosting take per pound. These times are approximate, so it's good to give yourself a little wiggly room.
|5 ½ hours
|6 ½ hours
|7 ½ hours
|8 ½ hours
|9 ½ hours
|10 ½ hours
As long as you can hold that water temp below 40, you can go as long as you like.
🧱 If Your Turkey Floats
Every turkey I placed in a 5 gallon bucket has wanted to float on me. All you need to do is weigh it down. Use a pot or a clean brick. Make sure to come back and check to make sure it's still submerged.
🦃 More Thanksgiving Questions
I hope this helped you out this Thanksgiving. I have been cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the blog since 2009. I have gotten plenty of questions in all those years. My most common one is Should Pumpkin Pie Be Jiggly?
Here are some other common questions I have answered: