Consumers can safely thaw a frozen turkey in a refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave by observing some basic guidelines. Experts at the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service recommend only these methods.
A cook may thaw the turkey in the refrigerator, allowing about 24 hours per 4 to 5 pounds of weight. Thawing the bird in cold water requires an intact plastic wrapper and submerging the bird in cold water, which the cook must change every 30 minutes. A 4-to-12-pound bird should defrost in two to six hours with the water method. A microwave can safely thaw a turkey using the manufacturer's instructions for thawing meats.