Can I safely cook a frozen Thanksgiving turkey without thawing it first?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Yes, you can safely cook a frozen Thanksgiving turkey — but with a few restrictions. Keep these factors in mind when cooking a frozen Thanksgiving turkey.

Cooking method

You can cook the bird in the oven, but don't grill, smoke, microwave or deep-fry a frozen Thanksgiving turkey.

Grilling and deep-frying use higher temperatures that will quickly cook and char the bird on the outside but leave the inside undone or only partially cooked, increasing the risk of foodborne illness. Smoking generally uses temperatures that are too low and take too long for the frozen turkey to fully cook, also increasing the risk of food poisoning. Microwaving also isn't a safe option because it cooks a frozen bird unevenly.

Oven bags aren't recommended for frozen turkeys either because they can be unsafe — at some point you will need to remove the giblets, and contaminated juices may be spilled or scalding steam can burn you.

Cooking time

It takes longer to cook a frozen Thanksgiving turkey. To determine the approximate cooking time for a frozen Thanksgiving turkey, follow this guideline from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA): Take the recommended cooking time for a thawed Thanksgiving turkey and add 50 percent of that time to the original time.

You can find an approximate cooking time either on the turkey's label directions or an online timetable for oven roasting whole turkeys. For example, a Thanksgiving turkey that should take about five hours to roast if already thawed will take about seven hours and 30 minutes to roast if frozen.

Stuffing and giblets

The USDA recommends buying a pre-stuffed frozen turkey only if it displays the USDA or state mark of inspection on the packaging, which indicates that the turkey has been processed under controlled conditions.

Don't try to thaw a pre-stuffed turkey before cooking. Doing so takes too long and increases the risk of foodborne illness. Remember that stuffing must reach at least 165 F (74 C) to be safe to eat.

A whole Thanksgiving turkey usually has a giblet package tucked inside. It's difficult to remove a giblet package from a fully frozen turkey. So carefully remove the package with tongs or forks when the Thanksgiving turkey has sufficiently defrosted during cooking. Then continue to cook the giblet package separately if you wish.

If the giblets are packaged in a plastic bag and the plastic melts, harmful chemicals may spread from the plastic into both the turkey and the giblets. If you suspect that a plastic bag has melted inside the turkey, you must discard both the entire turkey and the giblets. If the giblets were paper wrapped before being inserted into the turkey during processing, they can cook safely inside the bird.

Remember that roasting time is approximate, so check on your Thanksgiving turkey often as it cooks in the oven to make sure it's reaching a safe temperature. Periodically insert a food thermometer in the innermost part of the turkey thigh and the thickest part of the turkey breast. For safe consumption, roast the entire Thanksgiving turkey — and stuffing — at least to an internal temperature of 165 F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat.

Jan. 31, 2014