How to defrost turkey in time for Christmas Day lunch

Find out how to defrost turkey safely in our mini guide

How to defrost turkey: Christmas food - Turkey
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Knowing how to defrost turkey properly is a must in the run up to Christmas – both so that it's as tasty as can be, but also safe to eat. You've probably heard horror stories about turkeys that never cooked through in the middle because they weren't defrosted properly; fortunately, this particular fiasco is easily avoidable. Follow our guidelines to thaw your turkey safely in our simple step-by-step guide. 

For more recipes ideas and food know how, see our dedicated page, and browse our Christmas dinner ideas for more festive inspiration.

1. Defrost a turkey in the fridge

This is the ideal because it's certainly the safest way to defrost a turkey. Ensure the fridge temperature is lower than 4ºC, keep the turkey in its packaging, put it in a deep tray to catch any drips, and allow between eight to 12 hours per kilogram. 

Once it's defrosted it will keep safely in the fridge for up to two days – so it's better to start defrosting a little early rather than too late. 

2. Defrost a turkey in a cool room

If there's absolutely no room to defrost your turkey in a fridge, the next best option is in a cool room (by which we mean below 15ºC). This might be a cool utility, an outhouse or perhaps even a shed; if so, make sure the space isn't accessible to local foxes/the cat/the dog. Allow three to four hours per kilogram to defrost; again, keep it in its packaging and on a tray (or even in a bucket). 

3. Defrost a turkey at room temperature

You know what? We wouldn't. You're compromising food safety by doing so. But if it's absolutely your only option, allow no more than two hours per kilogram, keeping it on a tray and in its packaging while it thaws. Once it's thawed it needs to go straight in the oven or into the fridge.

4. How to tell if your turkey has defrosted

There will be no sign of ice on or inside the turkey and you'll be able to wobble its legs and wings if it's thawed properly. 

5. What to do once your turkey has defrosted

Remove all its packaging, plus the giblets, which can be stored in the fridge for making stock. Place the turkey back on its deep tray, wash your hands thoroughly and cover it. Put it back into the fridge, ideally in the lower half, and check fridge temperature is no higher than 4ºC.

6. Can frozen turkey be refrozen?

Not unless it's cooked (see below). Once you've defrosted raw turkey, it cannot be refrozen. 

7. Can cooked turkey be frozen?

You can keep your leftover turkey in the fridge for up to four days, but if you want to freeze it, first remove the meat from the bone, then put it into a freezer-proof container, pour over some stock or gravy, put on a lid and freeze. Using the stock/gravy in the container will help the meat stay moist while frozen.

To defrost cooked turkey, keep it in its container and place it in the fridge until it's entirely thawed. It can then be reheated thoroughly, but do not refreeze. 

8. How to defrost turkey in the microwave

This method is a little finicky, but if you've got no other option and not much time left before the turkey needs to be cooked, then you can defrost your turkey in the microwave – provided it fits, of course.

First, remove all packaging and the giblets. Then, place the turkey onto a microwave-safe tray and heat on the defrost setting for half an hour. After that, you'll need to keep defrosting in five-minute increments until the turkey has completely defrosted in the middle – just be careful not to overdo it, or you'll start cooking your turkey. 

Lucy Searle

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.