CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) — If you purchased a frozen turkey for your Thanksgiving meal, preparation needs to begin days ahead of time. 

Depending on the size, some turkeys can take days to thaw. If your frozen turkey is over 20 pounds, the Friday before Thanksgiving is the best day to take it out of the freezer to thaw in the refrigerator before cooking.

Safely Thawing a Turkey

Simply removing a turkey from the freezer and setting it on the counter is NOT a safe way to defrost a Thanksgiving bird. While the inside remains frozen, the outside of the turkey will quickly enter the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees, where foodborne bacteria can quickly multiply. A turkey can enter this “danger zone” after sitting on the counter for just two hours.

There are three safe ways to defrost a turkey. The following are recommendations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to thaw your Thanksgiving turkey and avoid foodborne illness.

Thawing in the Refrigerator

  • Allow approximately 24 hours for each 5 pounds in a refrigerator set at 40 degrees or below.
  • Place the turkey in a container to prevent juices from dripping onto other items in your refrigerator.
  • A turkey thawed in the refrigerator can be left in the fridge for up to two days before cooking.

Refrigerator Thawing Times 

  • 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

*Make sure to calculate thawing time based on when you plan to start COOKING your turkey.

Thawing in Cold Water

  • Allow 30 minutes per pound.
  • Place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag to prevent cross-contamination and to keep the turkey from absorbing excess water.
  • Submerge the wrapped turkey in cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

Cold Water Thawing Times 

  • 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

Thawing in the Microwave

  • Follow the instructions on your turkey’s packaging for thawing in the microwave.
  • Cook the turkey immediately after thawing because some areas may begin to cook during the thawing process.