Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cooking a Rock-Solid Frozen Turkey!

With all the fantastic deals on turkeys going on right now, I have been able to acquire three of them for around $5 each. So when I found instructions on how to cook a turkey from a frozen state, I was willing to experiment and possibly sacrifice one of the turkeys. My thought was that if this really worked, how awesome would it be? No more stressing out if the turkey was not totally thawed in time! Just because I am a suspicious person, I consulted other websites to make sure this was able to be done. Other sites agreed that it was possible and stated that you have to cook the turkey 1.5 times the specified amount of time at a lower temperature.

So on Saturday I started with a rock solid 12.3 lb turkey right out of deep freeze. I used a rack in a shallow pan as the article suggests. Because I did not want it to cook the outside to a crisp before the inside cooked, I covered with two layers of aluminum foil. I was able to take the bag out of the center around hour 4. I also uncovered the bird at that time. I turned the bird over around 3/4 of the way just to be sure the bottom would cook and brown. I ended up cooking the bird just over 7 hours at 325 which is the amount of time suggested on other websites but a little longer than suggested in the article (I wanted to be totally sure it was cooked!).

What was the result? I probably would not know the difference if I had started with a thawed turkey. It was still tender and fully cooked. I used the leftovers the next day for turkey chili. Best of all, no one got sick (I did not think this would be the case). Probably not the best description for a recipe, but when handling turkey and using a new way to cook, it is always a concern.

Here is the article from a study conducted by O. Peter Snyder, Jr., Ph.D. about a new way to roast your Thanksgiving turkey by putting it in the oven frozen solid. Dr. Snyder is the president of the Hospitality Institute of Technology and Management in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Cooking Turkey From the Frozen State


A common problem on Thanksgiving is waking up on Thanksgiving morning and realizing that the turkey has not been thawed, and there is not enough time to thaw the turkey in the refrigerator or in flowing water at 70ºF, which takes hours.

However, there is a very simple solution – cook the entire turkey from the frozen state. The FDA Food Code allows this, and turkey hotlines suggest it. The following is a HACCP-based procedure for cooking a 12-to-13-lb. frozen turkey.


Start 5 to 5 1/2 hours before you want to serve the cooked turkey. Set the oven temperature at 325ºF. It is much better that the turkey be done 30 minutes before mealtime than to rush and serve an undercooked turkey. Remove the wrapping from the turkey and put the turkey on a rack on a pan that has been covered with foil to make cleaning easy (Fig. 1). You can also cook the turkey in a covered roasting pan if you have one.

Put the turkey in the oven (Fig. 2). Do not worry about the bag with the heart, liver, etc. in the neck cavity or the neck in the center of the turkey. They can be removed during cooking, after the turkey thaws. There will be Salmonella spp. and Campylobacter jejuni on the turkey. However, because it is frozen, there is no drip, and transfer to hands or counter is not a significant risk.

Cooking the turkey on a shallow pan on a rack assures even cooking. Cooking in a pan with sides shields the bottom of the turkey from heat, and the cooking on the bottom will be non-uniform.

In the first 2 to 2 1/2 hours, the legs and thighs get up to approximately 100ºF. The breast, about 1 inch into the flesh, is still at the soft ice point, about 25ºF. At this point, begin to monitor breast temperature with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer as it thaws. You may also use a dial roast thermometer. Insert it into the breast, because it is the slowest cooking part.

After about 3 1/2 hours, the legs and thighs will be around 150 to 160ºF, and the breast, about 40 to 50ºF. The bag of heart, liver, etc. and the neck can be removed at this time, to be made into stock, if desired (Fig. 3).

At 4 1/2 to 5 hours, the turkey is nicely cooked. Check the temperature. The leg and thigh should be tender and at a temperature of 175 to 185ºF, while the breast will be moist at a temperature of 160 to 170ºF. The pop-up timer (if there is one) should have popped. Cooking turkeys to these temperatures is adequate to assure the reduction of Salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni to a safe level. (Fig. 4).

Discussion and Conclusion

This is an excellent way to cook turkey. Actually, cooking a turkey from the frozen state has benefits over cooking a thawed turkey. Cooking can be done in a roasting pan, but it is unnecessary. If one thaws a turkey in a home refrigerator, there is a significant risk of raw juice with pathogens at high levels getting on refrigerator surfaces, other foods in the refrigerator, countertops, and sink, thus creating a hazard and a need for extensive cleaning and sanitizing.

The second benefit is that, because the breast has greater mass, it takes longer to thaw. Therefore, the thigh and leg are well cooked and tender, while the breast is not overcooked and dried out. The breast will cook to a juicy 160-to-165ºF endpoint without difficulty.


Cooking turkey from the frozen state produces an excellent, juicy, tender, and safe product. There is no need to remember to thaw the turkey four days ahead of time, and cooking a frozen turkey minimizes risk of pathogen cross-contamination from juices from the raw bird.

To assure a quality and safe turkey, monitor the final temperature with a tip-sensitive digital thermometer, and always wash your hands before touching and handling the cooked turkey.

Reference: FDA. 2005. Food Code. U.S. Public Health Service, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Washington, D.C. http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/fc05-toc.html.

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