Can you cook a frozen turkey? Expert tips for Thanksgiving cooks who don't have time to thaw turkey

You want the perfect turkey this Thanksgiving, but aren't quite sure on the rules for thawing and cooking.

How long should you let the turkey thaw? Can you cook it frozen?

Experts at Michigan State University have some thawing tips that will ensure you have a delicious Thanksgiving.

"To start, yes, a frozen turkey can be cooked without thawing," said Jeannie Nichols, MSU Extension educator, in her article, Frozen Turkey for Thanksgiving, "You can safely roast an unstuffed turkey even if it's not thawed -- it just takes longer."

"For example, a thawed 12- to 14-pound turkey needs to be cooked 3 to 3 ¾ hours. A frozen turkey that size needs approximately 4 ½ to 5 hours to cook.

Below you'll find ways to properly thaw a turkey and tips on roasting a frozen turkey!


Refrigerator– If you have a small turkey, you still have time to thaw it in the refrigerator. Thawing in the refrigerator does take time -- you will need to allow about 24 hours per 5 pounds of turkey. Thawing your turkey in the refrigerator is an efficient way to control temperature and ensure that your turkey stays safe.

Microwave– Depending on the size of your turkey, microwave thawing may be an option. Check the microwave manufacturer's directions and remember to continue the cooking process immediately after thawing in the microwave. 

Cold water–If you don't have enough time to thaw a turkey in the refrigerator, you can safely thaw it in cold water. Be sure the turkey is in leak-proof packaging and change the water every 30 minutes. Changing the water will enable you to assure safe and effective thawing. Allow about 30 minutes defrosting time per pound of turkey. Turkeys thawed by the cold water method should be cooked immediately because thawing conditions were not temperature-controlled.


* The recommended roasting time (1 1/2 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 cook 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 with these methods and may not reach a safe internal temperature throughout the whole bird.

* 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.

"Do not thaw the turkey on the kitchen counter," Laurie Messing, MSU Extension educator, said in her article, Thawing the Thanksgiving Turkey . "At room temperatures, a frozen turkey will thaw from the outside in. As the surface warms, bacteria will multiply."

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