How to Defrost a Turkey Quickly—Without Getting Everyone Sick

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This year, I took on the massive responsibility of hosting Friendsgiving. But between juggling work and prepping for guests, I made the biggest rookie mistake—I forgot to thaw the bird. So, I did what lots of 20-somethings might do in this situation: I opened TikTok and searched for advice on how to defrost a turkey quickly.

The clips, though, seemed a little…suspect, especially from a food safety perspective. That made me wonder: What’s the quickest way to thaw a turkey that won’t get all your guests sick? Here’s what you should know if you find yourself in a similar time crunch.

Some defrosting methods might be quick, but they’re risky.

If you thaw your meat incorrectly, you increase your chances of getting sick from gnarly foodborne illnesses, thanks to bacteria like salmonella or Campylobacter in your turkey, Meredith Carothers, MPH, a consumer education specialist at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), tells SELF. These bugs, which go dormant when frozen, start to multiply as the temperature rises. “The warmer your frozen turkey gets, the more rapidly bacteria will grow,” Carothers says.

That’s why it’s not a good idea to thaw your bird in a bathtub or sink filled with warm water, she explains. (The same goes for just letting it hang out on your counter.) Sure, it’ll defrost, but you also may spoil the turkey. “Eventually, [these methods will] place your poultry in unsafe temperatures where bacteria can multiply,” Carothers says. That’s what’s known as the “danger zone”—between 40 °F and 140 °F.

Even if you cook the turkey thoroughly to 165 °F, Carothers says you can still get sick if you follow these defrosting methods. Some germs can produce heat-resistant toxins, so the roasting process won’t necessarily kill them.

Is there a way to defrost a turkey quickly and safely?

In an ideal world, you’d give yourself enough time to prep your bird the USDA-sanctioned way: by defrosting your turkey in the fridge for one day per four to five pounds of meat. But sometimes life gets hectic and you’re stuck with rock-solid poultry and guests arriving in less than 24 hours. Still, you’re not necessarily screwed if you forgot to thaw your turkey leading up to your dinner. Here are some quick defrosting tips that Carothers recommends if you’re in a pinch:

Submerge your turkey in cold water and change it every 30 minutes.

This option prevents bacteria from multiplying since you never let it enter that danger zone, Carothers says. Keep the meat in its original packaging and put it in a large basin filled with cool water, she explains. Use a thermometer to make sure it stays below 40 °F. Just don’t expect this to be super quick: It’ll take about 30 minutes per pound, so if you have a 12-pound bird, you’ll need to spare six hours for thawing, according to the USDA. Still, this method is likely going to be your best bet, since you’ll be able to brine, season, and roast your turkey without compromising flavor or texture.

Microwave your turkey.

This one comes with some caveats. For one, your bird might just be too big to fit into your microwave. And even if it can squeeze in, you’ll need to remove the plastic packaging beforehand, which gets tricky when you’re dealing with a frozen product, Ted McCall, EdD, a food safety professor at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, tells SELF.

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