Frozen turkeys take twenty-four hours for each five pounds of meat to thaw in the refrigerator.
More Info: The best way to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator is to leave it in its original packaging and place it on a cookie sheet or platter in the refrigerator.
Example Thaw Times:
10 Pounds: 2 days
15 Pounds: 3 days
20 Pounds: 4 days
25 Pounds: 5 days
Isn't It Faster to Thaw a Turkey without Refrigeration?
It is definitely faster to thaw a frozen turkey on the counter, but also more dangerous. As the turkey begins to thaw, any bacteria that is present in the meat will begin to multiply. In the length of time it takes a turkey to thaw from the outside in, bacteria on the surface can multiply to dangerous levels. Cooking can't be relied upon to kill all bacteria because some produce toxins that will survive cooking. [University of Arizona Cooperative Extension]
Can I Thaw a Frozen Turkey in the Microwave?
If your microwave oven is large enough and has the capability to defrost items, then you could thaw a turkey in it. This is probably the fastest way to thaw a turkey, but it is also the most unreliable. Most microwave ovens cook and thaw unevenly, especially on a food item as large as a turkey. This means that while parts of the turkey remain solidly frozen, other parts may begin to cook. The uneven defrosting may also cause hot spots, which promote the growth of bacteria, while the rest of the turkey is defrosting.
If you do defrost a turkey in the microwave, it must be cooked immediately.
Cold Water Is the Fastest AND the Safest Method of Defrosting a Turkey
If time allows, defrosting in the refrigerator is the easiest method of defrosting a turkey. You simply put it in and forget it. If you are pressed for time, then a cold-water bath is the next best thing, but requires more attention.
To defrost a turkey in this manner, place the turkey in its original wrapping in a sink filled with cold water. Allow to soak for thirty minutes, then replace the water that has warmed with a fresh sink full of cold water. Replace the water every 30 minutes until the turkey has thawed.
A cold-water bath requires 30 minutes of defrosting time per pound.
Example Thaw Times:
10 Pounds: 5 hours
15 Pounds: 7-1/2 hours
20 Pounds: 10 hours
25 Pounds: 12-1/2 hours
How Long Will the Turkey Keep After It Is Thawed?
Many factors will alter defrost times, such as the temperature of your refrigerator, so be sure to thaw your turkey a few days prior to cooking it. A defrosted turkey will keep in the refrigerator for two to four days.