How to Cook a Frozen Turkey
If your Thanksgiving turkey didn’t thaw in time and you’re left with a block of ice, here’s how you can roast that frozen fowl and still enjoy your holiday dinner.
You did your best: You bought the turkey two weeks ahead of Thanksgiving Day (just like we asked you). You put it in your fridge to thaw four days before you needed to brine it. But, whether it was the will of a stubborn bird or the frosty temps inside your fridge, the centerpiece of your meal (which is probably less than a day away if you just asked Google how to cook a frozen turkey) is still a solid block of ice.
What’s a Thanksgiving host supposed to do?
You’re going to roast that frozen turkey.
Yes, you read that correctly.
You’re going to put that block of ice that should be a slippery, pliable hunk of poultry right into the oven, and out will come a beautiful, presentation-worthy turkey.
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Cooking a frozen turkey is pretty straightforward. There are no bells and whistles or fancy tricks. You’re just going to roast the bird. You’re going to roast it for a lot longer than you typically would—and that’s the part that’s tricky.
How to Cook a Frozen Turkey
First things first, you need to tell your guests of the dilemma if this delay is going to set back your dining time. Frozen turkeys require more time than thawed ones, so don’t leave your guests hanging out in the living room, wondering what’s taking so long. Honesty is the best policy. You can simply push dinner back so your turkey will be done on time with no one waiting.
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
Many turkey-roasting recipes have you start the roasting process at a higher heat so you get a deliciously golden skin, but the extended cook time a frozen turkey will require mandates a low, slow roast.
2. Put the turkey on a roasting pan.
Remove any plastic wrappings or bags. Place the still-frozen turkey on a non-stick roasting rack in a roasting pan. Put the turkey directly into the pre-heated oven.
3. Calculate your roasting time.
Thawed turkeys require about 15 minutes of cook time for every pound of meat. With a frozen turkey, you need at least 50 percent longer, or about 22 ½ minutes per pound.
A 12-pound turkey, which would cook in about three hours if it’s fully thawed, now requires 4 ½ hours.
4. Remove the giblets.
Most packages of giblets are frozen inside the turkey. That means you’ll be unlikely to pry it from the side of the bird before it goes into the oven. Instead, go ahead and put the turkey in the oven. In about two hours, you should be able to pull the bag away. Use tongs or a fork instead of your hand to reach into the neck cavity and pull out the bag.
Important: Make sure you set a reminder to do this. Most giblet bags are plastic, not cheesecloth or paper. That can present a health hazard if the bag stays in for too long and melts. (And by health hazard, we mean you’ll probably just have to throw the whole bird away.)
5. Use a probe thermometer.
The turkey cooks from the outside in, which means the wings and drumsticks will be the first sections done. The thick breast, which takes the longest to thaw, will likely be the last to reach temperature. The only way to know, however, is to use a thermometer.
A digital probe thermometer is best. It offers quick, accurate reads so you don’t have to stand in the door of the open oven and wait for an analog thermometer to slowly rise.
Cook the turkey until the thickest parts of the turkey reach 165°F. Test the temperature several times to make certain all areas of the bird are cooked through.
6. Let the turkey rest.
Pull the turkey out of the oven—once you’ve verified the thickest parts are 165°F— and cover it in aluminum foil. Let it rest 30 to 45 minutes before you carve the bird.
How Long to Cook a Frozen Turkey
8- to 12-pound turkey: 3 to 4.5 hours
12- to 14-pound turkey: 4.5 to 5 ¼ hours
14- to 18-pound turkey: 5 ¼ hours to 6 ¾ hours
18- to 20-pound turkey: 6 ¾ hours to 7 ½ hours
20- to 24-pound turkey: 7 ½ to 9 hours
Can You Cook a Partially Thawed Turkey?
Yes, if you started the thawing process but the inside portions of the turkey remains icy and solid, you can still roast the turkey. You’ll just need to reduce the total cook time from frozen, depending on how thawed the turkey is when it goes into the oven.
Here, a digital thermometer is going to be your right-hand gadget. Since you don’t have a real idea of how quickly a partially-thawed turkey will cook, you should start to check it about the time it would be ready if it were fully thawed. This will give you an idea of how “close” it is to fully cooked, and you can pull the turkey from the oven before it overcooks and dries out.
Is It Safe to Cook a Turkey That’s Still Frozen?
Yes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says so, but you have to do it correctly to avoid an undercooked turkey that’s a cesspool of potentially harmful bacteria.
Do not attempt to thaw the turkey on your kitchen cabinet first. Take the frosty turkey right from the fridge to the oven so that temperatures rise evenly and steadily above the “danger zone” that allows bacteria to grow.
How Does a From-Frozen Roasted Turkey Taste?
Roasted turkeys that are cooked from frozen don’t get any special flavor awards. You can’t use a brine or rub, injection or marinade. It’s going into the oven plain and simple, and that’s how it will be on your plate, too.
You also cannot deep-fry or grill a turkey if it’s still frozen. A deep fryer will likely boil over—or worse—when ice is present. A grill won’t be able to cook the turkey to temperature before the outside portions turn chewy and stringy.
Still, a from-frozen roasted turkey is pretty good, considering it was a block of ice just a few hours before. It’s not the best turkey you’ll ever eat—don’t expect anyone to request this method for next year—but it will show up, and you’ll save the day.
As a bonus, a from-frozen roasted turkey may actually have juicier breast meat. In thawed turkeys, the breast is one of the first areas to dry out, while the legs get to temperature. But breasts are slow to thaw, even in the oven. That means the breast meat may remain juicy and moist longer.