How to Cook a Frozen Turkey (and Save Thanksgiving)
Forgot to thaw that Thanksgiving turkey? Get tips on how to cook a frozen turkey from a pro.
If it’s Thanksgiving morning and you’re reading this with a frozen turkey on the counter, let me put your fears to rest. I can teach you how to cook a frozen turkey! I’ve done it—and it’s not as hard as it sounds.
The first thing you need to accept is cooking a turkey the traditional way isn’t an option. You can defrost the turkey if there’s enough time. But at this point, don’t you just want a fully cooked and delicious turkey on the table? Let’s get started.
Cook Times for Frozen Turkey
For this tutorial, I based all my cooking times on using a 12-pound turkey. If yours is larger, plan to take about 50% longer than the usual roasting time.
Here’s how much time you’ll need, based on USDA guidelines:
- 8- to 12-pound turkey: 4 to 4-1/2 hours
- 12- to 14-pound turkey: 4 1/2 to 5-3/4 hours
- 14- to 18-pound turkey: 6 to 6-3/4 hours
- 18- to 20-pound turkey: 6-3/4 to 7-1/2 hours
- 20- to 24-pound turkey: 7-1/2 to 7-3/4 hours
Food Safety and Cooking a Frozen Turkey
It’s safe to roast a frozen turkey, but you shouldn’t try to fry or grill one. You want to make sure the breast reaches 165º and the legs and thighs reach 170 to 175°. The other important temperature to take is inside the cavity. It also needs to reach 165º or you risk contaminating the rest of the bird when you carve it.
- 1 frozen turkey (12 to 14 pounds)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
Step 1: Thaw turkey in the oven
To start, unwrap the frozen turkey and place it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Don’t worry about pulling out the bag of giblets; we’ll talk about that later. If you don’t have a rack, use something like a cooling rack to lift up the bird so hot air can circulate around it. Don’t worry about the taste either, no flavor is sacrificed if you are making a frozen turkey or one that’s already thawed.
Set the oven to 325ºF and pop the bird in for 2 hours. Don’t even think about peeking!
Step 2: Season and continue to cook
After the turkey has cooked for 2 hours, take a look at the bird. The drumsticks and thighs should read around 100°. The breast should be thawed about an inch or so, but will still be frozen past that.
It’s best to check the turkey’s temperature using an instant-read thermometer. To do this, insert the pin of the thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (or drumstick or breast), being careful not to come into contact with the bone.
You can also season the turkey now. Brush the outside with oil and rub on an ample amount of salt, pepper and dried herbs. Place the turkey back in the oven and roast at 325° for another 30 minutes, or longer if you have a larger bird.
Step 3: Remove the giblets
Check to see if you can get the bag of giblets out of the neck or cavity of the turkey. The cavity will still be partially frozen, so if the bag is in there, don’t try to force it out. Also, if there is liquid or ice in the cavity, remove it but don’t pour it over the turkey; reserve it for making from-scratch gravy. Return the turkey to the oven.
Test Kitchen Tip: You shouldn’t cook stuffing in your turkey, whether the bird is frozen or not.
Step 4: Check the temp
Let the turkey cook for 1 more hour. At this time, the thighs and legs should be around 130 to 150º and the breast will be around 50 to 60º. Brush with additional oil before returning to the oven for another 60 to 90 minutes.
Step 5: Finish roasting
The turkey should be nearly done about 4-1/2 to 5 hours after you start. Again, the breast should reach 165º and the legs and thighs should reach 170 to 175°. Once you’ve reached those temperatures, remove the bird from the oven.
Step 6: Let rest
Like any large cut of meat, the turkey should rest once it’s finished roasting. This will allow the juices to redistribute through the turkey. The resting time depends on how large it is—the heavier the turkey, the longer you should let it sit.
I like to let my turkey rest 30 minutes before carving. Don’t worry, it will still be hot by the time it gets to the table! You’ll find that the slices will be much juicier and easier to cut after the bird has rested. And don’t cover the turkey with foil while it rests—all you’re doing is trapping steam and making the skin soggy. Here are a few pros and cons of cooking turkey in a bag.
Step 7: Carve the turkey
Need help slicing your juicy, golden spoils? Check out our best turkey carving tips.