How you thaw your turkey is important when it comes to preventing foodborne illness. Frozen turkeys can be safely thawed in the refrigerator, microwave or cold water, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If you choose to defrost your turkey in the refrigerator, allow 24 hours per four to five pounds of bird. So, a 16-pound turkey would likely need four days. A 20-pound turkey would need five.
It’s faster to defrost the turkey in cold water – about 30 minutes per pound – but make sure you seal your turkey in plastic so no water can leak inside. Use only cold water. It will need to be changed every 30 minutes. Cook your bird as soon as it thaws.
Those who choose to defrost their turkey in the microwave will need to make sure the bird fits inside the oven. Consult the owner’s manual for what settings you need and the length of time it will take.
Remember to cook the turkey immediately. Never refreeze or refrigerate a raw turkey after you thaw it in the microwave. And always use soap and water to wash your hands, utensils and anything else that comes into contact with raw turkey.
Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics