If you find yourself with a frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning, relax. You can still have a beautiful, flavorful, juicy bird for your holiday feast…really! We have the time and temperature tips you need for a picture-perfect turkey direct from frozen when you’re in a pinch.
Extra dinner guests show up unexpectedly? Forget to pull the turkey from the freezer? Whatever the reason why your turkey is still frozen solid, don’t fret. You should never cook a partially frozen turkey because the outer layers of turkey will become a desert while the frozen center thaws and comes to a safe temperature, but if thawing isn’t an option, a completely frozen turkey can still be the centerpiece of your holiday meal.
Benefits of Cooking a Frozen Turkey
- Refrigerator Space: No thawing means no turkey taking up space in your fridge and no stressful thawing process.
Challenges and Considerations with Frozen Turkeys
- A Longer Cook Time: Just as you would expect, a frozen turkey will take longer to cook than one that is thawed before being placed in the oven. Plan on it taking approximately 50% more time to cook completely—so be aware that your dinner may be served later than originally planned. For example, our 14-pound turkey cooked in 5-3/4 hours.
- Oven Temp to Set? Set your oven temperature too low and the outer meat will overcook. Set it too high and you’ll end up with the same problem encountered when cooking a partially frozen turkey (dry, overcooked outer breast meat when the thermal center finally reaches your pull temp). A moderate oven temperature of 325°F (163°C) is the sweet spot.
Roasting is Best
Q: Can I smoke a frozen turkey?
A: No. Remember that the USDA recommends that turkey needs to be out of the danger zone within 4 hours of the turkey being taken out of the freezer or refrigerator. The temperatures of smoking (225-275°F [107-135°C]) are too low to cook a frozen turkey to a food safe temperature within 4 hours.
Q: Can I deep-fry a frozen turkey?
A: NO!! NEVER. The dramatic temperature difference between the hot oil and the frozen turkey will cause violent boil overs. Oil spilling over the top edge of the pot could ignite with the flame from the burner below. Trying to deep-fry a frozen turkey is what causes explosions. The turkey must be COMPLETELY thawed and patted dry before being deep-fried. Read our post, Deep Fried Turkey Made Safe and Delicious for more information on how to safely deep fry a turkey.
Cooking a Frozen Turkey Step-by-Step
How to take a turkey from a block of ice to a picture-perfect centerpiece:
1. Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C).
2. Remove the turkey from the wrapper and place on a v-shaped rack set over a sheet pan. Using a v-shaped rack is important to keep the frozen turkey from rolling around.
➤ Start with a Partial Cook: A frozen-solid turkey is impenetrable. Seasoning won’t adhere, the giblets and neck aren’t going anywhere, and thermometer probes can’t be placed. The turkey has to be partially thawed before proceeding with a recipe.
3. Cook the turkey at 325°F (163°C) for about 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
4. Once the first cook time is up, take a few temperatures in the turkey with an instant read thermometer like a Thermapen® Mk4. At this point the turkey will have dramatic temperature gradients, still being partially frozen in some areas. The thigh will likely be in the range of 80-100°F (27-38°C), while the breast’s temperature will be lower. If the thermal center of the breast meat is still frozen solid, return the turkey to the oven to cook it a bit longer until thawed enough to place the probe properly.
5. Once the breast meat is thawed enough to place a probe, remove the giblets and neck—the neck may still be surrounded by ice crystals.
6. Season the turkey as desired. We brushed the turkey with oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and filled the cavity with aromatic vegetables and herbs.
7. Place the ChefAlarm®‘s probe (we used a Pro-Series® High Temp Cooking Probe) into the deepest part of the breast laterally from the side of the neck cavity, avoiding bone. Set the ChefAlarm’s high alarm to 157°F (69°C). (See our post on Proper Probe Placement.)
➤ Optional: Dual Temperature Tracking Using Smoke™: After the breast meat’s probe is secured and its alarm set, place a Waterproof Needle Probe into the thickest part of the thigh laterally and set its high alarm to 170°F (77°C). (See our post on White vs. Dark Turkey Cooking Methods)
8. Cook until the breast meat’s internal temperature reaches 157°F (69°C) (about 3 to 3-1/2 hours longer). Pull the turkey from the oven when the ChefAlarm’s (or Smoke’s) high alarm sounds, and spot-check the breasts and thighs (the dark meat should be about 170°F [77°C]) in multiple areas with a Thermapen.
How to Properly Spot-Check Your Turkey’s Temperature
- When spot-checking with an instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen, probe the meat from the top going past the thermal center, then pulling back up slowly. You will be able to see the temperature gradients from edge to edge in the meat. The lowest temperature found after multiple spot-checks is what you’re looking for.
- If a lower temperature than 157°F (69°C) is found, replace the ChefAlarm’s probe to read that lowest temperature area and return to the oven to cook until it reaches 157°F (69°C).
9. When the turkey’s lowest temperature is verified at 157°F (69°C), pull from the oven and allow it to rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
➤ Track the Carryover: During the rest, the turkey’s internal temperature will continue to rise (carryover cooking).
To track this temperature increase, leave the ChefAlarm or Smoke probe in the breast meat during the rest and set a timer for 30 minutes (the ChefAlarm has a timer built in).
When the timer’s alarm sounds, the highest and lowest temperatures reached during the rest will be recorded as the ChefAlarm or Smoke‘s Max/Min reading, and you can be certain that your turkey has reached a safe temperature.
The internal temperature will rise by about 10°F (5°C) during the rest (arriving at a food-safe temperature of at least 165°F [74°C]).
10. Carve, serve, and enjoy.
Sure you can safely cook a frozen whole turkey, but how does it taste? Some of our willing taste-testing subjects said it was the best turkey they’d ever had! It was moist and flavorful, with beautifully golden-brown skin. A winning method you may even want to plan!
Cooking a completely frozen whole turkey seems to defy reason, but it really works.
Patty Kasiewicz says
What about the giblet bag and the neck ?? Doesnt that have to come out ????
Yes! Remove the giblets after the first 2-1/2 hours of roasting. Read through the post again. You’ll see directions to remove the neck and giblets in step 5, and also in a note “Start With a Partial Cook” just above step 3. After roasting for 2-1/2 hours the meat has thawed/partially cooked enough that you can easily remove the neck and giblets. That’s also the point when you season the turkey and place an alarm thermometer probe. It’s a fun method that can really get you out of a pinch!
bob arms says
What about something smaller like a frozen chicken?
A frozen chicken will work too. Apply the same steps to cooking your chicken. The cooking time will be the same—about 50% longer than a thawed chicken.
Bill Williams says
What a fantastic write up. Nothing like having new avenues being opened to cooking things and it does allow the stretching of ones cooky experience.
Paul Seabrook says
I would still smoke it on my Big Green Egg as I can achieve 325º easily. Kamados give extra flexibility.
Big Green Eggs are quite versatile with their cooking temperature range. As long as the ambient temperature is 325°F throughout the cook, smoking is a great option! Happy turkey cooking.
What great information, had a turkey-less Xmas one year when my huge frozen turkey never defrosted after a week in my fridge-water-thawed it for Boxing Day,but it wasn’t the same.
Breasts are always too dry for me,so I am going to deliberately cook a frozen turkey this year.
Let us know how your turkey cook goes tomorrow! Thanks for your comment.
I’ve never cooked a turkey over a sheet pan before. My first thought is what about the copious amount of liquid it gives off? I don’t see anything in the write up about dealing with that. I assume you must be pulling juice off as you go with a baster. But then I picture myself constantly in and out of the oven and wonder how the oven temp keeps up with that.
Good question! When a whole turkey is roasted on a sheet pan without high sides or a lid there is enough surface area exposed that the liquid given off will evaporate at a rate fast enough that you don’t have to worry about it overflowing past the edge of the pan. The oven is only opened when the ChefAlarm’s high alarm sounds to verify the turkey’s internal temperature–no basting required.
Thanks for your question!
Can you use a convection oven when cooking a fully frozen turkey?
Yes! Convection ovens have increased efficiency, and it is most often recommended to decrease the set oven temperature as specified in your recipe by 15-25°F.
I would like to try Sous Vide a butter ball turkey breast. Does anyone have any suggestions as to the temperature setting for the Sous Vide and for how long.
I’m doing that this year. I set my sous vide to 157°F and use a probe thermometer inside the breast, once it hits 152°F I start a timer and hold it at that temp for a few minutes. The whole process takes 60–90 minutes, I seem to recall. We have a whole post on cooking sous vide turkey, check it out!
.Here I was running cold water and thinking I was in trouble. I knew we’d likely not eat until 10PM.
Now my turkey is in the oven!