What to do if your turkey is still frozen

To avoid the frozen bird disaster, plan ahead. Here are some safe ways of quickly thawing and preparing a frozen turkey.

A person carving a turkey.
Photo: Pexels/Monstera.

The turkey is still frozen, and you have a big gathering. It is still possible to safely thaw and prepare the turkey for your event.

First and foremost, do not thaw the turkey at room temperature on the counter! As the frozen turkey begins to thaw, any bacteria present before freezing will still be present after thawing. In addition, thawing the turkey at room temperature allows the bacteria to grow and multiply. This creates an unsafe meal despite being cooked.

According to Michigan State University Extension, it takes 24 hours per four to five pounds of turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.  A 20-pound turkey takes four to five days to completely thaw in the fridge.

There are other ways to thaw a turkey, though.

Cold water thawing

One way is to submerge the turkey in cold water.  To do this, leave the turkey in the original package and put it in a properly sanitized sink or container full of cold water under 70 degrees Fahrenheit.   Set the timer for 30 minutes.  Next, change the water, replacing it with cold water.  Changing the cold water every thirty minutes until the turkey is completely thawed.  A 20-pound turkey will take up to 10 to 12 hours to thaw, while a four- to 12-pound turkey will take two to six hours.

Once the turkey is thawed, it must be cooked to prevent further bacterial growth.

Microwave thawing

Check and follow your microwave manufacturer’s instructions for thawing the turkey.  Once defrosted, cook the turkey immediately to prevent further bacterial growth. Since microwave ovens do not heat evenly, you may have a partially cooked turkey in one area and still frozen in another.

Cooking a frozen turkey

It is safe to cook a turkey that is frozen.  A solidly frozen turkey will take 50% longer to cook than a thawed turkey.  If it is only partially frozen, it will still take longer to cook than a thawed one. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends using a food thermometer to determine if the turkey has reached a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit in the innermost portion of the thigh and thickest part of the breast. Only when the turkey has reached that temperature is it ready to serve.  The oven should be at a minimum temperature of 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

For more information on safely preparing poultry, check out this Michigan Fresh Poultry factsheet.

Did you find this article useful?