Since Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday, it's best to start shopping for a turkey the weekend before the main event, especially if you're expecting a big crowd. The larger the bird, the more days/time it takes to thaw.
Thawing a Turkey in the Refrigerator
Once you are ready to begin thawing the turkey, take the bird out of the freezer and place in a pan, keeping the packaging wrap in place. Leave the bird in the refrigerator for approximately 24 hours for each 5 pounds of turkey. Allow larger turkeys to stand for a maximum of 5 days in the refrigerator. If you want to expedite the thawing process, be sure to remove the packaged giblets and neck from the cavity of the bird towards the end of the thawing process.
Thawing a Turkey in Cold Water
Place the sealed turkey in a leak proof package or zipper-seal plastic bag. This will prevent bacteria from being introduced into the meat and it also prevents the bird from absorbing water. The turkey should remain in cold water for approximately 30 minutes per pound and it's always best to change the cold water every 30 minutes of thawing. After thawing in cold water, immediately begin cooking the turkey.
Thawing a Turkey in the Microwave
This is a method I don't highly recommend but if you insist on thawing in this fashion, be sure to remove the bird from all of its packaging and then read the manufacturer's instructions on size, minutes per pound and power level for thawing. I also want to advise you to never use the microwave to cook a whole, stuffed bird. Poultry bones and the stuffing will prevent even and thorough cooking.
Following these instructions, as well as the instructions on the packaging of the turkey, will ensure a safe handling of the main entree. Please let me know if you have any questions!
And for instructions on how to prepare a turkey, be sure to check out this post: How to Prepare a Turkey.