Have you ever gotten up on a Thanksgiving or holiday 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, one thought will surely 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.
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 would normally 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 your 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 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 above!) Remove any liquid or ice chunks that are in the cavity.
The thighs and legs should be around 130-150ºF, and the breast will be around 50-60ºF degrees. Brush with additional butter/oil or baste with pan drippings before returning to the oven for another 60-90 minutes.
Step #4: Check progress.
4 1/2-5 hours after you start, the turkey should be close to being done. The breast should reach 165ºF and the legs and thighs should be 175ºF. 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 30-45 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.
How to Roast a Frozen Turkey