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How to Cook a Frozen Turkey

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Figure 4

Figure 4

Dr. Peter Snyder, Jr.

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.

Summary

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.

I think this is an excellent way to cook a turkey for the holidays or any time. As Dr. Snyder states in the article, there won't be any danger of cross contamination from dripping juices and the result is superb because of the physics of the turkey.

I did ask him about stuffing the turkey. He said that when the giblet bag is removed (Figure 3), the turkey can be stuffed. You may need to wear silicone gloves to protect your hands because they turkey will be hot. As always, don't overstuff the turkey and be sure to remove all of the stuffing when the bird is done. Take the temperature inside the middle of the stuffing: it should be 165 degrees F. And think about heating up the stuffing before putting it in the turkey according to the directions in the Stuffing Science article for more safety.

Leslie wrote and asked me about using this method to cook larger turkeys, 19-20 pound birds. Dr. Snyder says, "the old data from the USDA would say add 2 hours more at most, so 5 hours becomes 7 hours. Do have a way of hot holding ready, in case it gets done a little ahead of schedule. It is okay to hold hot so long as it is above 130 F. If it goes below 130 F, then one still has a very safe 4 hours before there is any risk at all."

I use this method when preparing turkeys. The result is a tender, juicy bird that is perfectly cooked. Every single time.

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