As someone who’s in charge of Thanksgiving dinners in our household, I’ve cooked dozens of turkeys over the last several years.
Admittedly, I didn’t always think in advance, and I had to cook partially frozen and completely frozen turkeys on a few occasions.
I experimented with different cooking methods to find out what works best, and I’m finally confident to share my tips and tricks on how you can cook a partially frozen turkey.
If you’re ready to try cooking a frozen bird, check out our review of ButcherBox. They have a wide selection of poultry, including turkey.
- It’s completely safe to cook a partially frozen turkey.
- You need to use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey breast.
- Never try to thaw a turkey at room temperature.
Can You Cook a Partially Frozen Turkey?
Yes, you can cook a partially frozen turkey, according to the USDA. The most important part of cooking a partially frozen turkey is not to let it sit in the danger zone temperature (40 to 140 degrees) for over two hours.
The bacteria can spread if you leave the turkey out for longer than two hours, and you can get food poisoning . This means you shouldn’t try to thaw a turkey on your kitchen counter.
Keep in mind smoking frozen birds can increase the cooking time by 50%. You’ll have to wait longer than normal when you cook a frozen turkey.
Partially frozen meat takes about 25% longer to cook. For example, if you calculate your turkey will be done in four hours, you’ll need five.
Overall, the best thing to do is to cook the Thanksgiving turkey at a temperature higher than the danger zone. It’ll defrost as it cooks in an oven or a smoker.
Note: You can even cook a completely frozen turkey. However, you shouldn’t deep-fry, smoke, or grill it, but you can roast it in the oven. Also, completely frozen meat needs 50% more time than planned.
10 Ways to Cook a Partially Frozen Turkey
You can cook a partially frozen turkey in the oven or a smoker. The turkey will thaw as it cooks. Expect that the wings and drumsticks will cook faster than the muscles on the breast meat.
Also, the turkey will cook from the outside in, which means the meat close to the surface may be done when you check the temperature, but the meat closer to the bone will still be cool.
This is why it’s important to check the temperature at multiple places and depths.
Note: You can’t do any rubs or brines or prep the turkey in advance. Cooking a partially frozen turkey results in basic meat. However, you can brush the thawed bird partway through cooking to improve the texture and juiciness.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on cooking a partially frozen turkey in the oven and smoker.
In the Oven
Here’s how to cook a partially frozen turkey in the oven.
1. Preheat the Oven and Roast
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove any bags or plastic wraps from the turkey and put the turkey on a roasting rack in a roasting pan. Make sure there’s enough space in the roasting pan for excreted juices.
A turkey frozen solid needs an extended cooking time, which means a low and slow roast.
Note: Don’t start cooking frozen turkeys at a higher temperature to shorten the cooking time. Rushing the cooking process by increasing the temperature can result in an unevenly cooked turkey.
Pro tip: While it’s true you can’t brine a turkey that’s frozen solid, you can brine a partially thawed turkey before cooking. Put ice cubes in the turkey to avoid the danger zone temperature.
2. Calculate the Roasting Time
A thawed turkey needs 15 minutes of cooking time per pound. A frozen turkey needs 50% longer, which is about 22 to 23 minutes per pound.
For example, a 12-pound turkey will need to be cooked for four and a half hours instead of three (which is how long a thawed bird needs).
Roast the turkey for two hours without opening the oven door so the heat doesn’t escape, and you end up with an even longer cooking time.
3. Season the Turkey
After about two hours of cooking, you should season the turkey. You’ll know it’s time to season when the legs are around 100 degrees.
You can use salt and pepper to season or brush melted butter with seasonings all over the bird. If you want more flavor, use herb butter or herb seasonings.
Note: If you notice any ice cubes in the turkey, you can take them out if possible. If not, leave them to melt naturally.
4. Empty the Cavity
You should remove the giblets around the three-hour mark. Most giblets packages are frozen inside the turkey, so you can’t remove it before the bird thaws in the oven. Use tongs or a fork to reach into the bird’s cavity and pull out the bag.
Note: Don’t forget to remove the giblets as most bags are plastic, not paper or cheesecloth, and it can be a health hazard if the bag melts.
You can also use a baster to remove any liquid inside the turkey at this time. Use this liquid for making homemade gravy later.
5. Use a Meat Thermometer
I talked about how the turkey cooks from the outside in, so the dark meat will be done first.
Thick breast meat takes the longest to thaw and will be the last part of the turkey to reach a safe temperature.
Pro tip: Use a meat thermometer on several areas of the turkey to check it’s cooked through.
“A whole turkey is safe when cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 165 °F, as measured with a food thermometer. Check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.”
- U.S. Department of Agriculture
6. Rest the Turkey
Rest the turkey for 20 minutes so that the juices can redistribute, and you have juicy meat. Carve and serve.
In the Smoker
Cooking a partially thawed bird in the smoker is similar to the oven method. Here’s how to do it step-by-step.
1. Preheat the Smoker
Preheat the smoker to 250 degrees. This is the best temperature for smoking a partially thawed bird to make sure it cooks thoroughly, and you don’t end up with dry meat.
A temperature of 250 degrees cooks the turkey low and slow and keeps it out of the danger zone.
2. Put Turkey in the Smoker
Once the smoker is heated, place the turkey on the cooking grates to start cooking. Place the bird with the meatier side facing forwards for the best results.
Note: You can apply your favorite rub before placing the turkey in the smoker.
3. Smoke the Turkey
Calculate the smoking time. You should set the timer 25% longer than when smoking thawed bird.
Remove the giblets at around the two to three-hour mark.
4. Use a Meat Thermometer
Same as with the oven method, use a probe thermometer to check the internal temperature and remove the turkey from the smoker when it reaches 165 degrees. Let it rest, and serve.
Thawing a Frozen Turkey
You can thaw a frozen turkey in three ways, depending on how much time you have.
1. In the Fridge
The safest way to thaw a turkey is in the fridge. Leave the turkey in the fridge for a few days so it thaws.
However, this method takes a long time and isn’t always possible, which is why you can turn to the next two.
Also Read: How to Tell if a Turkey Is Thawed
2. In Cold Water
Using a cold water bath is a faster way to thaw a turkey. This method keeps the turkey at a constant temperature, so it’s safe during the thawing.
Find a large container and fill it with cold water. The turkey should be completely submerged in the water. Change the water every half an hour so it remains cold.
You can also use your sink or a cooler. You don’t need to change the water as often in a cooler, but make sure to disinfect it.
3. In the Microwave
You can defrost a turkey in the microwave if it has a defrost setting. However, even then, it’s recommended to avoid this method.
Microwave thawing heats the bird unevenly, so you can end up with parts of the bird frozen while others start to cook.
If you must use a microwave, rotate the turkey every six minutes and start cooking as soon as it’s deforested.
How Long Do I Cook a Partially Frozen Turkey?
Cook a partially frozen turkey 25% longer than the thawed bird. Cook a 100% frozen bird 50% longer than the thawed one. Thawed meat cooks 15 minutes per pound, so a frozen turkey will need 22 minutes per pound.
What Is the Fastest Way to Thaw a Partially Frozen Turkey?
The fastest way to thaw a partially frozen turkey is to use the microwave defrost setting. However, this isn’t recommended as the turkey won’t thaw evenly. Try a cold water bath if you have more time.
What to Do if You Forgot to Defrost Turkey?
If you forgot to defrost the turkey, thaw it using a cold water method if you have time. This method takes half an hour per pound to thaw. If you don’t have time, cook a frozen bird.