Forgot to Thaw the Turkey? Cook it Anyway

It’s Thanksgiving morning and the turkey is still frozen — solid as a rock. But you needn’t despair nor call all the relatives and cancel your holiday festivities. Thanksgiving dinner can be saved, says Sam Beattie, an Iowa State University Extension food safety specialist.

“So you forgot to thaw the turkey for holiday dining — everything will be OK,” Beattie said. “Actually, from a food safety standpoint it’s safer to cook the turkey when it’s still frozen. A frozen turkey will not spread raw juices around the kitchen, will not waste water as you try to thaw it and will produce an excellent and juicy cooked product.” 

What matters is that the final internal temperature of the deep portions of the turkey (breast or thigh) reaches at least 165 F, Beattie said. “If the temperature reaches 165 F, you have a safe food product.”

The Turkey Federation recommends that for taste and quality purposes, turkey be cooked until the internal temperature reaches 175 to 180 F in the leg/thigh portion, Beattie noted. 

But what about the giblets? Beattie said they could be removed from the turkey’s center cavity after about three hours of cooking. “If the giblets are in a paper bag, they can be left inside the turkey until the turkey is done cooking.” 

To cook a 12-14 pound turkey that is still frozen, you will need a food thermometer (bimetallic quick read or digital quick read), a shallow baking pan and rack large enough for the turkey, and aluminum foil. Cooking time (at 325 F) depends upon the size of the turkey and final internal temperature (165 to 180 F).  Plan on 5 to 5 1/2 hours cooking time for a 12-14 pound turkey, but measure the internal temperature before finally removing the turkey from the oven.

Beattie recommends the following procedures.

1. Pre-heat the oven to 325 F, making sure that the shelving will fit the turkey (middle shelf).

2. Line the shallow baking pan with aluminum foil and place the rack in the pan.

3. On a clean surface, unwrap the frozen turkey and place the turkey on the rack.  (You will need to clean and sanitize this surface after the turkey is in the oven)

4. Put the turkey into the oven and bake.

5. At 3 hours, determine if you can remove the giblets package.

6. At 4 to 5 hours, measure internal temperature at deepest point in the breast. The minimum temperature should be 165 F before removing the turkey from the oven.  If the temperature isn’t at least 165 F, leave the turkey in the oven for more cooking time. 

7. When 165 F is reached in the breast, remove the turkey from the oven and place a foil tent over it.  Let it rest for 20-30 minutes before carving.

8. Enjoy.

9. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.

For answers to other food safety questions, contact ISU Extension's Answer Line (800) 262-3804 toll-free Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. - noon and 1 - 4 p.m., or  Also see for more information.

Sam Beattie, Food Science/Human Nutrition, (515) 294-3357,
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communication and External Relations, (515) 294-0775,