How to Cook a Frozen Turkey (and Save Thanksgiving)

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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? If you wish to lock in the juice and flavor, learn how turkey is cooked in a bag. Let’s get started.

How to Cook a 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 to budget for, 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

Tools You’ll Need

Directions

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.

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 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.

For safety’s sake, grab your thermometer and check the bird’s internal temp again. The breast should reach 165º 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 165º 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

thanksgiving turkey plated on a tableTMB Studio

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.

Step 7: Carve the turkey

Need help slicing your juicy, golden spoils? Check out our best turkey carving tips.

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James Schend
As Taste of Home’s Deputy Editor, Culinary, James oversees the Food Editor team, recipe contests and Bakeable, and manages all food content for Trusted Media Brands. Prior to this position, James worked in the kitchen of Williams-Sonoma and Southern Living. An honor graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, he has traveled the world searching for great food in all corners of life.