How long does it take to defrost a 20 lb Butterball turkey?

Quick Answer

It takes about 4-5 days to safely thaw a 20 lb frozen Butterball turkey in the refrigerator. The general guideline is 24 hours for every 4-5 lbs of turkey. A 20 lb turkey would need 4-5 days in the fridge to thaw completely.

Detailed Answer

Defrosting a turkey properly is an important food safety step when preparing a turkey. You want to allow enough time for the bird to thaw completely while keeping the temperature low enough to prevent bacterial growth. Here are some key factors to consider when thawing a 20 lb frozen Butterball turkey:

Size of the Turkey

The size of your turkey is the biggest factor in determining thaw time. A general guideline is to allow 24 hours of fridge thawing for every 4-5 pounds of turkey. A 20 lb turkey would thus need around 4-5 days to thaw:

  • 20 lb turkey / 5 lbs per day = 4 days minimum thaw time
  • 20 lb turkey / 4 lbs per day = 5 days minimum thaw time

Always allow the full recommended thaw time for food safety. The center of the turkey needs to reach 40°F or below before cooking.

Thawing Method

Proper thawing methods are key for food safety. There are three main ways to safely thaw a turkey:

  1. Refrigerator thawing: The longest but safest method. Allow 24 hours per 4-5 lbs.
  2. Cold water thawing: Faster but requires diligence. Submerge sealed turkey in cold water, changing water every 30 minutes. About 30 minutes per pound of turkey.
  3. Microwave thawing: Fastest but can affect texture. Check manufacturer instructions for timing.

Refrigerator thawing is recommended for a 20 lb turkey. It keeps the turkey consistently chilled at a safe 40°F as it thaws slowly over 4-5 days.

Removing Giblets

When thawing in the fridge, it’s a good idea to remove the giblets from the turkey cavities as an extra food safety precaution. The giblets can harbor bacteria and may thaw faster than the dense breast meat. Removing them prevents contamination during slower thawing.

Monitoring the Process

It’s important to monitor the thawing process. Check daily and track the progress. The turkey should be completely thawed when the meat is soft when pressed and the inner cavity reaches 40°F. If any ice crystals remain, return to the fridge for more thawing.

Food Safety

Proper thawing temperature and time prevents bacterial growth. The “danger zone” for bacterial growth is between 40-140°F. Refrigerator thawing keeps the turkey below 40°F. Any turkey thawing method that rises above 40°F puts you at risk of foodborne illness.

Thawing Timeline for 20 lb Turkey

Here is a general timeline for refrigerator thawing a 20 lb frozen Butterball turkey:

Day Thawing Progress
Day 1 Place frozen turkey on tray in refrigerator. Ice crystals start to form on surface.
Day 2 Ice crystals continue melting, some superficial meat thaws. Center still frozen.
Day 3 About half thawed. Breast meat softening, but center still icy.
Day 4 Almost fully thawed, neck cavity and large areas thawed. Some ice may remain in deepest breast.
Day 5 Check turkey. Should be completely thawed, with no ice crystals remaining. Meat soft, cavity at 40°F.

This timeline can vary slightly based on refrigerator temperature. The progress should be checked periodically to ensure proper thawing.

What if You’re Short on Time?

Ideally, you’ll plan ahead and give your frozen turkey plenty of lead time to thaw in the fridge. But holiday hosts often find themselves short on time. Here are some tips if you’re in a rush:

  • Thaw turkey in cooler filled with cold water, changing water every 30 minutes. This can cut thawing time in half compared to the fridge method.
  • Thaw smaller turkey breast portions rather than a full bird.
  • Or skip thawing and cook your turkey directly from frozen. This adds about 50% more cook time.
  • You can bake a thawed turkey right away, but for optimal juiciness it’s best if chilled in the fridge 1-2 days after thawing.

With some flexibility, you can get your turkey safely thawed and ready for the big feast!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I speed up refrigerator thawing?

No, you should not try to accelerate fridge thawing. This risks unsafe partial thawing. Patience is required, allowing 1 day per 4-5 lbs.

Is it safe to thaw turkey at room temperature?

No. Room temperature thawing is unsafe. The turkey must be kept chilled below 40°F to prevent bacterial growth.

Can I roast a turkey still partially frozen?
You can roast a turkey with some ice crystals remaining, but it will require significantly longer cook time. The turkey also may cook unevenly. It is safer to thaw completely before roasting.

How do I know if turkey has thawed properly?
Check that meat is soft when pressed and inner cavity reads 40°F or below on a food thermometer. If there are any ice crystals remaining, return to the refrigerator for more thawing.

Can I refreeze turkey after thawing?
Once thawed, turkey should be cooked and not refrozen for food safety. The ice crystals break down cell walls, allowing bacteria to grow if refrozen.

Key Takeaways

– A 20 lb frozen Butterball turkey needs 4-5 days thawing in the refrigerator.
– Allow 24 hours fridge thawing time per 4-5 lbs of turkey weight.
– Monitor temperature and progress frequently when thawing.
– Cook from fully thawed or mostly thawed turkey for food safety and even cooking.
– Refrigerator thawing between 32-40°F prevents bacterial growth.
– Plan ahead, but if short on time cold water thaw or cook from frozen.


Thawing a turkey thoroughly is a crucial first step for a delicious and safe holiday meal. Allow plenty of time, about 24 hours per 4-5 pounds, when thawing a big frozen bird like a 20 lb Butterball turkey. Monitor the refrigerator thawing progress daily until the turkey is fully thawed, with no ice crystals remaining. Use a food thermometer to ensure the cavity reaches 40°F or below before cooking. With some advance planning, you’ll have a perfectly thawed turkey ready to roast and impress your guests!

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