Thanksgiving Countdown: Yes, You Can Roast a Frozen Turkey!

Holidays, Learn, Thanksgiving, Tips & Techniques




Have you ever gotten up Thanksgiving morning to find your turkey isn’t completely thawed, or worse yet, you forgot to take it out of the freezer? As you sit there wondering how you can get the turkey thawed out in time, I know one thought will cross your mind, because it’s crossed all of ours when we’re in this situation…”Can I cook it frozen?”


The simple answer is YES. Keep reading to find out how!


The first thing you have to realize is that at this moment you are in damage control mode, so don’t even begin to think about how to inject your secret seasoning blend into it or figure out how to stuff it with Grandma’s cornbread stuffing. Remember, this isn’t about putting the best turkey you’ve ever eaten on the table, it’s about getting a delicious, COOKED turkey on the table.


Roasting a Frozen Turkey: How to Do It


All times listed below are calculated using a frozen 12-pound turkey. For other sizes, a good guideline is to plan for the roasting time to be 50% longer than a fresh or thawed bird.  So if it normally would take 4 hours to roast an unstuffed turkey, then it will take approximately 6 hours if it’s frozen.


Step #1: Stick it in the oven. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Unwrap the turkey and place it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan or a baking sheet. You want a pan that has low sides so you can get good air circulation around the turkey. Place the turkey in the oven for 2 hours—and don’t peek.  You want to keep as much heat in the oven as possible.


Cleaning Tip: To help with clean up later, try lining the pan with foil or a silpat. Since the turkey is basically a block of ice at this point, don’t worry about getting the bag of giblets and the neck out of the cavity.  We’ll take them out a little later on. Also, don’t worry about seasoning the outside of the turkey with salt and pepper or brushing it with butter or oil.  We’ll do this a little later as well.


Step #2: Take your first temperature. After 2 hours the legs and thighs should be nicely thawed and around 90 to 100 degrees.  The breast will be thawed about an inch or more deep but will be cooler than the thighs. If you’d like to, you can brush the outside with butter or oil and season with salt and pepper.


Often when a turkey is packaged, they will put the bag of giblets not in the cavity but in the neck area of the bird. By this point that area of the turkey should be thawed enough to remove it.  The cavity should still be partially frozen so if a bag is in there don’t try to pull it out yet. There may also be liquid in the cavity you will want to remove with a baster.  Don’t pour it over the turkey, though; just reserve it in a  a glass bowl or measuring cup and use it to make gravy.


Before you put the turkey back in the oven, brush the outside with butter or oil and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Return turkey to the oven and roast another hour.


WARNING! If the bag holding the giblets is plastic you need to be sure to remove it long before it starts to melt.  If it does melt at all, you will need to throw the bag away as well as the turkey. Harmful chemicals will be released into the turkey if it melts.


Step #3: Remove the giblets and neck. After 3 hours the cavity should be thawed enough to remove the bag of giblets and the neck. (See warning to the right!) Remove any liquid or ice chunks that are in the cavity.


The thighs and legs should be around 130 to 150 degrees and the breast will be around 50 to 60 degrees. Brush with additional butter/oil or baste with pan drippings before returning to the oven for another 60 to 90 minutes.


Step #4: Check progress. 4 1/2 to 5 hours after you start, the turkey should be close to being done.  The breast should reach 165 degrees and the legs and thighs should be 175.  The other important temperature to take is inside the cavity. It also needs to reach 165 or you risk contaminating the rest of the bird when you carve it.


Step #5: Let it rest. As with any turkey or large cut of meat, you should let it rest after it’s done roasting.  This will allow the juices to redistribute through the turkey.  The amount of resting time depends on how large it is.  I like to let my turkeys rest at least 30 to 45 minutes before carving.  Don’t worry, it will still be hot, but you’ll find the slices will be much juicier and easier to cut.


Follow along as we continue to gear up for Thanksgiving! Earlier on our Thanksgiving Countdown:

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Get a Head Start With Our Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Menu

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Thanksgiving Countdown: Break Tradition With New Recipes

Thanksgiving Countdown: Master Step-by-Step Turkey Prep

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Thanksgiving Countdown: Make Room in Your Fridge and Freezer

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Thanksgiving Countdown: Don’t Overlook These Holiday Essentials

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Thanksgiving Countdown: Our Chefs’ Collective’s Advice for Making 2015 the Best Ever

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38 comments about “Thanksgiving Countdown: Yes, You Can Roast a Frozen Turkey!

  1. Warren Bobrow

    Resting time is most important. Too many a perfect Thanksgiving turkey dinner is ruined because the bird did not rest!
    Happy Thanksgiving. wb

    1. Sandy

      OMG, NO!! This is incredibly dangerous!! Do this only if you enjoy food poisoning! You should only ever use cold water.

      1. Sandy

        My comment above was related to the person thawing a turkey with hot water.

  2. Craig Bathurst

    Another idea is, if you have the time (24hrs.) you can place the turkey in a very well cleaned out sink filled with the hottest tap water. You will have to change the water every 15-20 mins. until it’s thawed out. I’ve done this once.

    1. James Schend Post author

      Although the method you mention will thaw the turkey quickly, it is a very dangerous way to thaw it. There have been many studies on this very thing. When you’re thawing your turkey, or anything for that matter, you should keep it at 40 degrees or below in order to inhibit bacterial growth.

      According to the USDA, bacteria grow tremendously when exposed to temperatures between 40 and 140, often called the danger zone. You can thaw it fairly quickly in the same way you describe but using cold tap water. I’ve done this a number of times and although it takes a little longer than with hot water, you should be able to maintain a safe environment for the turkey.

      1. Alan The Cook

        Hey I was a little wary cooking a turkey from frozen, but OH BOY it was wonderful and like U say it had a very juicy breast meat. Thanks

        1. Muzhik

          Yes, the bacteria might be killed. But the bacteria has been producing toxins for hours, and will continue to produce toxins until the meat reaches a minimum of 165 degrees and the bacteria begin to die. It’s these toxins that make you sick or kill you.

    2. Joe Schmoe

      NEVER, EVER use hot water to thaw meat or poultry. This is “first day” stuff for anyone trained in food safety.If you must thaw something quickly, it is important to keep it out of the temperature danger zone. Use cold water and change it every 30 minutes (recommended by Butterball), or cold, running water is the standard method in the food service industry. This will help ensure that your turkey stays at 40F or below while thawing, and all the nasty pathogens do not have a field day reproducing inside your 90F bird. thawing slowly under refrigeration or cooking from a frozen state are both much better options than quick-thawing, but hot water as Craig suggests is absolutely the worst thing you can do, next to letting it sit out on the kitchen counter all day.

  3. ann marie

    thank you very much for this information. I love to cook, but have no knowledge or training so this is very helpful. i want to prepare delicious food for my family and friends and am delighted when my dishes turn out well and they exclaim how good the food tastes!

    1. Sidney Ray

      Question: I’ve used Jenny O freezer to oven birds. They are wonderful! But what I have in my freezer is a 20#, cheaper after Christmas, off brand turkey. My thought is: Jenny O is fairly costly but I assume part of that cost is because they’ve cleaned the bird thoroughly for me. And whenever I use, even a high end brand turkey for dinner, I always scour and then rince my sink with boiling water, just like my mother used to do. I then pat the insides dry and rubbing with a clove of garlic. There always seems to be pinkish tinted (blood) water rinceing from the bird, as well as odd bits of stringy stuff in the back bone, etc… QUESTION: Is a regular (non Jenny-O) frozen turkey REALLY CLEAN ENOUGH, without washing it out, to put right into the oven? I’ve seen TV reports showing turkey’s hanging from hooks, being gutted and SLIGHTLY hosed out and processed to freeze. I’ve always believed poultry (especially whole tukeys) to not be clean enough when it’s right out of the grocery packaging.
      Someone who KNOWS for sure…..please answer……and thank you eversomuch! Sidney

      1. Muzhik

        Sidney Ray, yes, the turkey is clean enough to put in the oven right from the freezer. The reason your mother (and you) wash, rinse, and dry the turkey is because you’ve let it thaw. Even if it has been thawed in the refrigerator (the preferred method) there is the danger of some germs (microbes) growing in there. Washing, rinsing, and drying the turkey removes most microbes that may be trying to set up house. Roasting the turkey to 165-175 degrees is enough to kill any remaining microbes, which is why you should start roasting the turkey as soon as you’re done washing and rinsing. Complete any oiling, spicing, infusing, etc. ASAP then put the bird in the preheated oven. Don’t put the bird back in the fridge for any length of time.

        When you’re cooking a frozen turkey, things are different. Since you’re not thawing ahead of time, you’re not allowing any new microbes to settle in. The heat of the oven thaws and then quickly cooks the meat, so there’s no time for any existing microbes to start growing. Provided you cook the turkey to the recommended temperatures, any microbes that were present should be dead and the turkey should be safe to eat.

        As for the “off-brand” turkeys, what you’re buying with the Jenny-O turkeys is the brand name. They’ll strive more to make sure the product (the turkey) is consistent from bird to bird, but they’re not necessarily “cleaner”. IOW, you don’t need to worry about getting sick from eating an “off-brand” turkey, especially when going from freezer to oven. (See above warning about recommended temperatures.)

        The only concern I would have would be to check the origin of the bird and where it was processed. I would trust birds that were raised in the USA or Canada and which were processed in the US. I don’t know enough about inspection standards and such for birds raised in Mexico to comment on that.

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  7. Will Brewer

    This happened to me two years ago. I followed these instructions and the turkey came out perfect. Saved our Thanksgiving. I recommend this way to anyone as I feel its one of the safest ways to cook a turkey.

  8. Sheri McGreen

    I pray you’re right about cooking a frozen bird! I’m going to give it a try tomorrow!

    I took our original frozen turkey out of the freezer and put it in the fridge in the garage three days ago. At that time, I turned down the temp a bit because the beer kept getting frozen. Yesterday I found all of the ice cream thawed in the freezer and nothing in the fridge very cool. The bird thawed over the last three days for sure, but so much so that I’m afraid that the temp in fridge may have not been cool enough! Out of fear of bacteria, I’m now faced with cooking a frozen turkey tomorrow (14 pounds). I will follow your directions explicitly! Thank you for the information! I want everyone to be thankful that it’s safe to eat!

  9. EB

    For cleanup ease, I have used a sheet of aluminum covering the bottom of the roaster, and then a sheet of parchment baking paper (available in most grocery stores). The juice and bird won’t come in contact with the aluminum and the parchment is safe. After cooking, just crumple up both and throw away.
    I think saw on Martha Stewart’s show (before it was cancelled) a product they came out with that has aluminum on one side and parchment on the other, but it’s basically the same thing. Just make sure the piece of parchment is big enough so that the juice is contained in it and doesn’t seep into the aluminum layer.

  10. dave

    yikes, did you say to SAVE the uncooked juices?
    the bird has not been washed by you and the uncooked juices have the highest potential for salmonila.

    there will be plenty of juice in the pan for gravy from the cooked bird. the 1/4 cup of mostly ice water is best dumped.

    the only times I ever cook a turkey is on Thanksgiving, you can count the times on your hands. but almost half are frozen turkeys. so I know that this works.

  11. Lucy

    It’s February 1 and I had a 14-pound turkey in my freezer. At noon, I decided to do something spontaneous. I should cook that turkey at my friend’s house while he is out of town–before he returns tomorrow! I had never cooked a turkey straight out of the freezer, and I wanted to try cooking a turkey in his convection oven to see what results I’d get. The results were excellent! It took about 5 hours, which is not much more time than for a thawed turkey. But remember, this was a convection oven.

    So if you have a frozen-solid turkey AND a convection oven, it works great. The drumstick was more moist than any turkey I’d ever roasted in my non-convection oven.

  12. Heather

    Thank you for this information. I followed the directions today and cooked one of the best turkeys I have ever made. The giblets came out between 2.5 and 3 hours but the bird was still too frozen for the neck. I was able to get the neck out after 3 hrs.
    There were so many drippings terrific for a gravy.
    The bird also browned beautifully.
    I cooked the bird in a pan with a rack and never covered it.
    I did add butter/seasoning at 3 hrs. I probably should have done it again. I did also baste at 4 hours.
    Thank you, again.

  13. Cookie

    I have never cooked a frozen turkey but sounds interesting – might try it. I have always thawed my turkey in the sink in cold water – when thawed, I stuff it and put in in paper bags from the grocery store – I now need two bags because they are smaller then the used to be so I have to use one on one end and one on the other end to be able to cover the turkey completely – I butter the outside of the turkey before I put it in the bag and then cover the bags with oil – any kind will do – then place the turkey in the roasting rack and put it in a preheated oven at 325 degrees – I put it in overnight and the next morning – depending on the size of the turkey it is done about 7-8 hours – My turkey is usually about 24-26 pounds – get lots of juice in the botton for gravy and tear open the top of the bag to brown the skin of the turkey about an hour or two before removing the turkey – I have been doing this for over 40 years and my mother did it for many years before that – the turkey is always moist and delicious. But it’s your call which way you cook it – this has worked for me and I will continue to cook it in bags as long as there are paper bags! Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  14. Laine

    I first cooked a frozen turkey about six years ago, when I discovered on Thanksgiving morning that it was still frozen solid. It turned out so well that I’ve done the same thing every year since, and I’ll never cook a turkey any other way. It’s flavorful, juicy, delicious – and safer. I like not worrying about salmonella germs getting smeared all over my sink as I’m rinsing the turkey before roasting. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

  15. Kevin

    I cooked my first frozen turkey a few years ago after stumbling upon an article written by a nutritionist who also spoke about the decreased risks of salmonella contamination. I never ever cook one thawed anymore unless I am going for a specific injected flavor. If you have not cooked the frozen turkey as of yet, do so, you will NOT be disappointed!

  16. Denise Thorburn

    I have a 26 lb turkey my friend said it takes around 5 days to defrost so front the 22 I put in fridge and now it’s the 24 and it’s almost defrosted will it be alrite for thanksgiving or should I put it in freezer again

    1. Muzhik

      Do NOT put the bird back in the freezer. If you do, it won’t matter what you do your bird will be dried out and probably freezer burnt. So long as your fridge stays below 40 degrees your bird will keep for another 2 or 3 days. Just make sure to wash, rinse, and pat dry before roasting.

  17. Terri

    After cooking my turkey from frozen the first time I have NEVER gone back to the old way! Its sooooo much easier and safer, plus the turkeys come out so moist….even more moist than expensive fresh turkeys I used to purchase in the past. Now I just get Butterball or store brands on sale and throw them in the freezer for the next occasion….means spending half or less than the $75+ I used to spend on a 25 lb. turkey and enjoying a superior result each and every time without question. Plus there’s always lots of liquid for delicious gravy. Note of caution–I do find it takes much less time than the instructions always say–a 12 lb. cooks in my oven in about 4 hours max. Scatter some roughly cut up onions, carrots and celery in the bottom of your pan which will caramelize and make your gravy even better–just mash them up when you make the gravy and then strain them out.

  18. Terri

    After cooking my turkey from frozen the first time I have NEVER gone back to the old way! Its sooooo much easier and safer, plus the turkeys come out so moist….even more moist than expensive fresh turkeys I used to purchase in the past. Now I just get Butterball or store brands on sale and throw them in the freezer for the next occasion….means spending half or less than the $75+ I used to spend on a 25 lb. turkey and enjoying a superior result each and every time without question. Plus there’s always lots of liquid for delicious gravy. Note of caution–I do find it takes much less time than the instructions always say–a 12 lb. cooks in my oven in about 4 hours max. Scatter some roughly cut up onions, carrots and celery in the bottom of your pan which will caramelize and make your gravy even better–just mash them up when you make the gravy and then strain.

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  20. Nancy

    Do you cook the turkey breast side up or down? I have started with the breast down and will switch it part way through.

  21. Mary

    See those dark purple red marks on the leg and back of the frozen turkey in your picture? That is severe bruising from an animal that was kicked, hit or tortured before death (animals cannot bruise after slaughter). By now there are so many undercover videos and reports proving consistent severe abuse in turkey facilities, not to mention data on how incredibly fat these birds now are (35% fat on average), it’s hard to believe we eat them any more.

  22. Lance

    I suspect that my turkey won’t be fully thawed in time for Thanksgiving, so I’ll be trying this. One thing I do every year that’s worked very well, is throwing the turkey in my barbecue. It’s incredibly easy – I keep the heat at medium, put the turkey right on the grill, and put a shallow tray under it that I keep topping up with water, juice, wine, etc. I was dubious the first time I tried it, but it was childishly simple and as long as you keep that tray full, the bird is moist and delicious. Put some tinfoil on the legs if they look fully cooked. Try it, I’d never go back to using the oven now.

    1. Nancy

      Lance, I was interested in your putting liquid in the pan. We always do our turkey breast on the gas grill indirect medium heat. The juices always burned so I couldn’t use them for gravy. So one year I decided to put water in the underneath pan. Grease hitting the liquid splattered out flamed up and caught the breast on fire. My daughter claimed it was the best turkey ever, but then she likes hers dry and well done. Wonder why mine didn’t work.

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  24. Theresa

    This is the ONLY way I do a bird now. Never dry and easier for those last min planning.


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