Yes, You Can Roast a Frozen Turkey!

Holidays, Learn, Thanksgiving, Tips & Techniques

This post comes to us courtesy of food writer and editor James Schend, blogger at Dairy Freed

 

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.

 

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 – Just stick it in the oven

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. 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

41/2 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.

 

About the author: A graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, James Schend’s culinary career began when he won his first cooking contest at 8 years old. He’s gone on to write and develop recipes for national magazines and culinary websites. His own blog Dairy Freed focuses on the challenges of dairy-free cooking.

14 comments about “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!
    Patience!
    Happy Thanksgiving. wb

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
    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. http://www.fsis.usda.gov/factsheets/Keep_Food_Safe_Food_Safety_Basics/index.asp. 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.

      Reply
      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

        Reply
  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!

    Reply
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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.

    Reply
  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!

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply

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