How long does it take to thaw a turkey breast, and what’s the safest way to do it? Our ultimate guide to defrosting turkey breast will provide you with the answers you need. As long as you know how much the turkey weighs, thawing it should be a breeze.
How Long To Thaw a 6 lb Turkey Breast
In the refrigerator, turkey breast should thaw at a rate of 24 hours for each 4 to 5 pounds. So a 6-pound turkey breast will take a day and a half, more or less. If you want to err on the side of caution, take it out of the freezer two days before you plan to cook it.
Best Methods For Defrosting
When it comes to thawing meat products, the refrigerator is your best bet. It might seem counterproductive to store meat in the fridge when your goal is to warm it up, but this is the safest way to do it.
When meat is frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below, the cold temperatures halt bacteria in their tracks. In theory, the meat can keep indefinitely in the freezer, but long storage periods might lead to a drier texture when it’s time to thaw it out.
Refrigerators should be set between 32 and 39 degrees. At these temps, bacteria can still grow, but the process is a slow one. That’s why you can keep meat products stored in the fridge for a few days before cooking them.
If you try to keep meat at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees for too long, the types of bacteria that cause food poisoning can grow at a rapid pace. This span is known as the “danger zone,” and you want to keep the meat out of that zone as much as you can.
It’s also permissible to thaw meat in a cold water bath. Fill a container with plenty of cold water and submerge the wrapped meat inside, making sure no moisture can seep through the wrapping. Thaw for about 30 minutes per pound of meat.
You’ll need to swap out the cold water every 30 minutes or so to ensure that it doesn’t warm up to room temperature. Also note that when you use this method, you’ll need to cook off the meat as soon as it’s finished defrosting.
Don’t attempt to thaw meat by leaving it out on the counter. If you do, it will spend far too much time at room temperature, and it will no longer be safe to consume.
More Temperature Tips
While we’re on the subject of food safety, we should point out that bacteria can leave toxins behind even when you cook the meat afterward. So even if the turkey looks and smells fine, don’t try to cook it if it spent too long in the danger zone.
Poultry should cook to 165 degrees before you consume it. At this temperature, any hazardous bacteria will die off in a few seconds. You can take it off the heat at 160—the meat will continue to cook as it rests.
While it’s important not to overcook the white meat of the breasts, it’s better to cook the dark meat to at least 180 degrees. Otherwise, it might not have the silken texture that makes dark meat so appealing.
If you’re cooking the turkey breast alone, this isn’t an issue. Just remove the meat from the oven or smoker when the internal temperature hits the 160-degree mark, then let it rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
What About Brining?
Those of you who want to brine your turkey breast in a saltwater solution should take the meat out of the freezer a day earlier than you would otherwise. The method works best when the turkey is completely thawed.
That said, you can add a partially frozen turkey to a brine if there are still a few icy patches here and there. The bird will finish thawing as it sits in the liquid. Just remember to cook it off as soon as possible after the brining period is up.
How Long To Thaw a 3 lb Turkey Breast
Meat that’s stored in the refrigerator thaws at a rate of 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat. That means a turkey breast weighing in at just 3 pounds could be finished thawing in 15 to 18 hours.
Just to be on the safe side, though, we would take the turkey breast out of the freezer 24 hours before you plan to start cooking. A few extra hours won’t make any difference. In fact, once turkey is fully defrosted, it can keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.
How Long To Thaw a 4 lb Turkey Breast
Using the guidelines we established in the previous section, you should thaw a 4-pound turkey breast in the fridge for 24 hours before prepping it for the smoker. At this point, the meat should yield to gentle pressure while remaining chilled throughout.
How Long To Thaw a 5 lb Turkey Breast
Plan on taking a 5-pound turkey breast out of the freezer 24 hours before you plan to cook it. If the meat is still frozen in patches, try running it under cold water to dislodge some of the ice.
Remember that if you run raw poultry under cold water, you could be spreading bacteria around the sink area. Be sure to disinfect the sink and countertops as soon as you’ve moved the turkey to a prepping station.
How Long To Thaw a 6 lb Turkey Breast
If your turkey breast weighs over 5 pounds, it might take more than a full day to defrost.
Try taking your 6-pound turkey breast out of the freezer about 36 hours before you want to fire up the smoker. That should give it plenty of time to reach the optimum texture.
Depending on what time you want to get started, this time frame could be problematic. For example, if you want to have the turkey in the smoker at noon, you might not want to stay up until midnight two evenings beforehand in order to pull the meat from the freezer.
If this is the case, give the turkey two full days to thaw in the refrigerator. It’s better to err on the side of caution, and you shouldn’t have to worry about the turkey breast going bad within this time frame.
How Long To Thaw a 7 lb Turkey Breast
For a turkey breast that tips the scales at 7 pounds, aim for a 48-hour defrosting period. This gives it a bit more time than it’s likely to need, but two days is a decent guideline to follow.
How Long To Thaw a 8 lb Turkey Breast
Likewise, try to move an 8-pound turkey breast from the freezer to the fridge two days before you plan to start.
Using these guidelines, the meat should be thawed in time, but even if it’s still partially frozen, there’s no need to panic (see separate section below). It’s fine to season and cook meat that hasn’t had a chance to thaw all the way through.
How Long To Thaw a 9 lb Turkey Breast
A 9-pound turkey breast could take more than just a couple of days to thaw. Aim for a defrosting time of 55 to 60 hours. If those numbers are difficult to plan around, just pull the turkey from the freezer three days in advance.
How Long To Thaw a 10 lb Turkey Breast
Depending on the fridge temperature, a 10-pound turkey breast might finish thawing in just two days, or it might need to sit on the bottom shelf for three days before it’s ready for the smoker.
To give yourself plenty of time to season and prepare the meat, plan on a three-day thaw for a turkey breast that weighs 10 pounds. Don’t worry about what time of day you take it out of the freezer—you’re giving yourself a broad enough window that it shouldn’t matter.
How Long To Thaw a Whole Turkey
Whether you’re thawing a whole bird or just the breast, the guidelines remain the same: 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds of meat.
That said, whole turkeys can be more complicated to deal with when they’re still partially frozen. You’ll have to remove the neck and the giblets from the cavity, and that’s tough to do if you have to chip your way through a block of ice.
We try to take whole turkeys out of the freezer 4 to 5 days in advance, even if they’re on the smaller side. A 10-pounder might not need quite that much time, but it isn’t likely to defrost so quickly that it spoils, either.
Can You Cook a Partially Frozen Turkey?
Turkey breast—or even whole turkeys—can still be cooked if they’re not fully thawed. You’ll just need to plan on a longer cooking time.
What if you forgot to thaw the turkey altogether? Surprisingly enough, this isn’t necessarily a grave error. You can still cook the meat, but it could take up to 50 percent longer.
This can be problematic with larger cuts, as they might spend too much time in the danger zone once the meat is on the smoker. Fortunately, for turkey breasts weighing 8 pounds and under, you shouldn’t need to worry about this.
The Bottom Line
Once you understand the basic guidelines for thawing large cuts of meat, you can apply them to turkey breasts and whole turkeys alike. Just make sure to plan ahead, especially if you want to use a brine.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!