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How to cook a frozen turkey

Whole raw turkey, dressed with butter, spices and surrounded with veggies - oven ready |

If you didn’t get your turkey thawed for your Thanksgiving feast, don’t worry – you can cook it frozen.

You may have heard that you can cook a frozen turkey, but is it really safe to do so?

The answer is yes, you can safely roast an unstuffed turkey even if it’s not thawed — it just takes longer, obviously.

To determine the correct cooking time, look at a timetable for oven-roasting a whole unstuffed turkey. Then cook the turkey for that amount of time plus 50 percent. For example, a thawed 12 to 14 pound turkey needs to be cooked three to 3-3/4 hours, compared to a frozen turkey that needs approximately 4-1/2 to five hours to cook. (Set your oven temperature no lower than 325 degrees F.)

Roasting frozen turkey helps prevent cross contamination. You don’t have to worry about bacteria from the raw juices contaminating your kitchen as you handle the turkey before cooking. Cooking turkey from the frozen state can produce an excellent, juicy, tender and safe dinner.

Here are a few suggestions when cooking your frozen turkey:

  • Giblet packages and the turkey neck may be found inside the turkey cavity or tucked under the flap of skin, at the front of the breastbone. Very carefully remove the giblets, using tongs or a fork, as soon as the turkey thaws enough to allow you to do so. If the giblets are paper-wrapped (which is the case with most whole birds), there is no safety concern if they cook completely inside the bird. If giblets were packed in a plastic bag and the bag has been altered or melted by the cooking process, do not use the turkey because harmful chemicals may have leached into the surrounding meat. If the plastic bag wasn’t altered, then the giblets and turkey are safe to use.
  • Don’t use a cooking bag when roasting a frozen turkey, it’s not safe to open the bag to allow you to remove the giblets.
  • The recommended roasting time (1.5 times the length recommended for a thawed bird) is approximate.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure all parts of the turkey are cooked to at least 165 degrees. Roasting times are always approximate, so toward the end of the cooking time check the turkey to see if it has reached 165 degrees. “Pop-up” thermometers found in some turkeys are quite accurate but still check the temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and the thickest part of the breast.
  • Do not smoke, grill, deep fat fry or microwave a frozen turkey. The turkey will not cook evenly using these methods and may not reach a safe internal temperature throughout the whole bird.
  • For quality, let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before carving to allow juices to set. The turkey will carve more easily.

If your turkey is partially frozen and partially thawed, it is perfectly safe to cook it that way too. Just remember that you need to add extra time to get it done to 165 degrees.

by Jeannie Nichols, Michigan State University Extension (Originally published November 15, 2012)

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