Help! I Forgot to Thaw the Turkey

You can roast a frozen turkey, but it will take a bit longer than a thawed one. (Photo: Slavica Stajic/Shutterstock)

I admit to once — just once — forgetting to thaw my Thanksgiving turkey. It was many years ago, before I started purchasing fresh, local turkeys. I had gotten a free turkey from the grocery store a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and put it in the freezer.

I ended up doing something that I now know could have been dangerous. The day before Thanksgiving, I filled my sink with warm water and plunged the turkey in. I changed the water frequently for the next 24 hours, and the turkey was mostly thawed by the time I went to stuff it. Fortunately, I didn't seem to poison anyone, although I could have. The warm water could have allowed bacteria to grow inside the turkey.

If you have forgotten to remove your turkey from the freezer in time for it to thaw, or if you find yourself shopping for your turkey on Thanksgiving eve and the only options are frozen, don’t worry. It turns out, you can cook a frozen turkey. The USDA says it's safe to cook a frozen turkey in the oven. (But it's NOT safe to smoke, grill, deep fat fry or microwave a frozen turkey). It will obviously take longer to cook, about 50 percent longer than if the turkey had been unfrozen, but it's much safer than trying to quickly thaw a turkey.

I threw a question out to some of my foodie friends, asking if any of them had ever cooked a frozen turkey. One of them said she had done it from a partially frozen state, and with a lot of basting up until the time it was finished, she ended up with a delicious turkey.

This video gives step-by-step instructions for cooking a frozen turkey, including what to do with those little bags of things inside.

One benefit to not thawing your turkey before cooking is that there will be no juices that could contaminate your refrigerator while it's thawing or your counter tops, utensils and cutting boards while you're preparing it.

Of course, you won't be able to stuff a frozen turkey. But most safety experts advise against that anyway.

As with any meat, fresh or frozen, there is always a risk of some sort of contamination if the meat spends too much in temperatures where bacteria thrive. So make sure that your turkey is cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit whether you start it in the oven from a fresh or frozen state. To make sure the whole turkey reaches that temperature, measure at the innermost part of the thigh and wing and then the thickest part of the breast.