If it’s Thanksgiving morning and you’re reading this with a frozen turkey on the counter, let me put your fears to rest. Cooking a frozen turkey isn’t as hard as it sounds. Trust me, I’ve done it and it actually turned out great. Still skeptical? The USDA approves of this method, too. Now let’s get started.
The first thing you need to accept is cooking a turkey the traditional way isn’t going to be an option. That means no brining, no marinating or injecting it with a secret sauce. You can also forget about stuffing it with MeeMaw’s famous dressing, but at this point, don’t you just really want a fully cooked and delicious turkey on the table?
How to Cook a Frozen Turkey
Note: For this tutorial, I based all my cooking times using a 12-pound turkey. Don’t worry if yours is larger; simply plan for the roasting time to take about 50% longer than a thawed one. Here’s how much time you’ll need to budget for, based on the USDA’s guidelines:
- 8-12 lbs turkey: 4-4 1/2 hours
- 12-14 lbs turkey: 4 1/2-5 3/4 hours
- 14-18 lbs turkey: 6-6 3/4 hours
- 18-20 lbs turkey: 6 3/4-7 1/2 hours
- 20-24 lbs turkey: 7 1/2- 7 3/4 hours
Step 1: Prep and Begin the Thaw
Cooking a frozen turkey-sicle is easy, just unwrap it and place it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan ($24). Don’t worry about pulling out the bag of giblets; we’ll talk about it later. If you don’t have a rack, use something, like a cookie cooling rack, to lift it up so the hot air can circulate all around the bird. Try to use a pan with shallow sides. This also helps the oven’s hot air to do its thing.
Set the oven to 325 degrees 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 just about 2 hours, let’s take a look at the bird. The drumsticks and thighs should read around 100 degrees. The breast should be thawed about an inch or so, but it will still be frozen past that.
Psst! 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 as this will throw off the reading.
At this point, you can take the turkey out to oil-and-season it. Brush the outside with oil and rub on an ample amount of salt, pepper and any dried herbs you care to add. Place the turkey back in the oven and roast at 325 degrees for another 30 minutes, or longer if you have a larger bird.
Have some extra time on your hands? Here’s how to defrost a turkey the right way.
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 gravy. (Check out our from-scratch recipe!) Return the turkey to the oven.
Step 4: Check-In
Let the turkey continue to cook for 1 more hour. At this time, the thighs and legs should be around 130 to 150 degrees and the breast will be around 50 to 60 degrees. Brush with additional oil before returning to the oven for another 60 to 90 minutes.
Step 5: Finish Roasting
The turkey should be close to being done about 4-1/2 to 5 hours after you start. For safety’s sake, grab out your thermometer and check the bird’s internal temp again. The breast should reach 165 degrees and the legs and thighs should be 170 to 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.
Temps all good? 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 turkeys 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 please don’t cover it with foil while it rests—all you’re doing is trapping steam and making the turkey skin soggy.
Step 7: Carve and Enjoy!
Need help slicing your juicy, golden spoils? Check out our best turkey carving tips.