How to Select the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey

Posted on October 24, 2014
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How to Select the Perfect Thanksgiving Turkey
Ever had a Thanksgiving dinner that started at 9 p.m.? I have. The late chow time was due to inexperience and a completely frozen turkey. Luckily, my past mistakes are now the catalyst for an informative and insightful post on how to select (and thaw) the perfect Thanksgiving Turkey. Use this guide and get it done right, the first time.

Sizing the Turkey

Have enough for everyone and some leftovers too by choosing a turkey that is just the right size. Start by estimating how many people you have to feed and use the below chart to calculate how big of a bird you need.

Type of Turkey Pounds to Buy
Whole Turkey 1 Pound per Person
Boneless Turkey Breast 1/2 Pound per Person
Turkey Breast (Bone-In) 3/4 Pound per Person
Frozen, Pre-Stuffed Turkey 1 1/4 Pound per Person


Fresh VS. Frozen Turkey

Rarely does a turkey come all thawed out and ready to go. If you are lucky enough to purchase a fresh – not frozen – turkey, make sure you’re making your purchase no more than 2 days before it is cooked. You’ll also want to double check the available storage space in your fridge. Turkeys take up A LOT of space.

But if you’re like the majority of us, you’ll be selecting your vacuum-sealed frozen poultry from a supermarket of choice – and that bird is gonna take some time to thaw. Plan on picking up the turkey at least six days, particularly if you are buying a bird over 20 pounds.


Thawing a Frozen Turkey

For those who decide to purchase a frozen turkey, the bird can be thawed in either the refrigerator or in cold water.

Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator

The safest method to thaw a turkey is in the refrigerator. This is because all areas of the bird are kept cold enough (below 40°F) to prevent bacterial growth. However, thawing in the refrigerator takes a long time. Use the table below to estimate how long it will take your turkey to thaw in the fridge.

Turkey Size Number of Days to Defrost
4 to 12 Pounds 1 to 3 Days
12 to 16 Pounds 3 to 4 Days
16 to 20 Pounds 4 to 5 Days
20 to 24 Pounds 5 to 6 Days


Thawing a Turkey in Cold Water

Thawing a turkey in cold water is the fastest method, but it is potentially the most hazardous if not done right. To keep bacteria from growing, you’ll need to change the cold water every 30 minutes. Failure to change the water every half hour can result in allowing some parts of the turkey to become warm enough for bacterial growth. Prepare and cook the turkey once it has thawed in the water. Below is a table that tells how long it should take for a turkey to thaw in cold water:

Turkey Size Number of Hours to Defrost
4 to 12 Pounds 2 to 6 Hours
12 to 16 Pounds 6 to 8 Hours
16 to 20 Pounds 8 to 10 Hours
20 to 24 Pounds 10 to 12 Hours

Once you have the right Thanksgiving turkey selected and your thawing planned out, it’s time to get cracking on the rest of the feast! Having all the right tools will go a long way. Check out FSW’s affordable kitchen and dining supplies and get everything you need for Thanksgiving this year.

Maggie Moulatsiotis Maggie Moulatsiotis (57 Posts)

Maggie is the Director of Marketing at, a pescetarian and a newly minted DIY and home cook extraordinaire. She lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and very cute puppy, Puka.

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