Skip to main content

Cooking frozen Thanksgiving turkey from brining to bag roasting

Written By | Nov 16, 2014

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2014 — A large turkey presented for table side carving is Thanksgiving’s traditional main course, however there are still millions who have never cooked one.

Turkey does present challenges. Some of the first things you need to determine is the size of the turkey you need and the amount of time it will take to to cook it. But with a little knowledge and some advanced planning, the challenges melt away.

Buy a turkey that is big enough for everyone. You should plan one pound of bird per each guest. If you think you want more white meat for sandwiches or to serve at the table, buy your bird, plus a turkey breast that you can cook, and just lightly heat in the oven after your remove the bird.

For ease turkeys can now be purchased pre brined, a process that makes turkey moist and tender. The salt and sugars soak into the turkey and break down the tough muscle and lock in moisture.

If you want to brine your own turkey a simple method is use 1 cup salt, 1 cup sugar and 2 gallons of water (make sure the sugar and salt dissolve). Then add aromatics like pierced oranges, chunks of apples, sage, thyme, parsley, garlic, etc to the brine mixture.

There are brine recipes on line or you can purchase a commercial, pre-mixed brine.

After brining for about a day, we roast the bird for 30 minutes at 500°F and then bake it at 350°F until it’s reached 160°F internally. Figure 20 minutes per pound.  Cooking time can be sped up by placing the bird on a rack so air circulates and allowing the bird to reach room temperature before putting it into the over.  However, do not let it sit out longer than sixty minutes due to bacteria concerns.

An apple and half an onion (sliced), a cinnamon stick and some sage leaves for flavor. During the high-heat phase, the breast is protected with a foil sheet. The turkey legs are pulled inward towards the body and tied or one leg is tucked into the loose skin of the other leg.

Some people find brined turkey’s take longer than other birds, but technically the extra liquid soaked into the meat should make it cook faster.

You need to have a container that you can completely submerge the bird under the brining water. I find a clean ice cooler does the trick and they often have a locking lid.  You start the brine the day before; if the turkey is underwater it will stay fresh. You can keep it underwater by making a saddle bag by half – filling two empty bread bags with ice, tying them together and placing them over the bird to weight it down.

If it is warm out, or you are storing the cooler inside the house, add some additional ice to the cooler to keep it at a lower temperature,.

If you are in the arctic blast zones, place the cooler on the back porch or balcony but make sure it is locked or has a heavy brick on top of it to keep neighborhood critters out.

Frozen turkeys need 48 hours for a 14-18 pound turkey to thaw. Once the turkey is thawed place it in a sink and remove it from the plastic packaging remove the neck, heart, kidneys, rinsing well and immediately refrigerate if you plan to use to make soup or stuffing with.  Otherwise safely discard.

Rinse the turkey out and place it in a baking dish or purchase disposable turkey roasting pans. Remember, that turkey with juices will be heavy and hot, so place the pan on a sturdy cooking sheet for ease of removing from the oven.

Stuff your bird with carrots, onions, celery, sage, thyme, garlic and citrus, either a lemon or an orange. Make sure you poke a few holes in the orange to releases its juices into the cavity of the bird.

Massage the bird with softened butter, salt and pepper. You can also place some sprigs of herbs like rosemary under the skin for a unique presentation. Cook the bird accordingly. If not using a self basting bag, have a basting liquid of turkey stock, seasoned to your taste on hand to baste. Many cooks find that a foil tent helps the bird to cook more evenly

To keep legs and wings from cooking to quickly, wrap thin areas in foil.  45 minutes before the bird should be done, unwrap the foil, remove the tent and baste the bird with melted butter and herbs to turn the skin the crisp, rich brown.

Many cooks swear by roasting the turkey in a bag. Reynolds makes a great one, plastic, disposable and easy to use. It can be found at most grocery stores in the cooking tools section. Watch the bird.  If it is not turning brown in the bag, 30 minutes or so before it should be done, you may want to slice the top of the bag to get some of that hot, dry air that will turn the skin brown and crisp on your bird.

Turkey-Gravy-250A 16 to 18 pound turkey, which serves about 16 people should cook between three and a half to four hours on 350 degrees. You want the interior of the turkey to reach the safe temperature of 180 degrees. Buy a plastic turkey thermometer to insert into the breast of the turkey to ensure you have cooked the bird thoroughly before serving.

Remember food safety.  Make your stuffing on the side and take one task off your to do list with Pacific Foods Organic Turkey Gravy which you can use as packaged or “make it your own” adding herbs, or citrus like lemon, to make a unique lemon turkey gravy that is tart and delicious, and helps to cut all the fat inherent in turkey made with plenty of rich, creamy butter.

Remember to keep your surfaces clean when you are dealing with raw poultry. A dirty surface can leach into other foods and cause food borne illnesses. Keep Clorox wipes on hand! Lastly, think ahead and plan for leftovers.

Buy extra containers to store leftovers in and to send guests home with goodies.

Listen to Chef Mary on PAIRED Live every Monday Evening at 6:30PM EST here on (click image below to launch radio player).

This Monday, November 17, Chef Mary’s guest is Whole Foods Turkey experts to talk to you about preparing fresh, organic turkey. Wine Expert Duane Pemberton will be there to guide you through choosing wines that will be pair with your meal.

Listeners can call in to ask questions, or use the Scribble Live Chat window below to share your tips, or ask questions of our hosts or guest.


Mary Moran

Upon graduating from the California School of Culinary Arts in 2002, Chef Mary Payne Moran began her professional career shelling crabs at the world-renowned restaurant, Michael's in Santa Monica. Simultaneously, she launched her own company, Hail Mary’s, founded upon the belief that good food nurtures the soul, and began catering weddings, parties and large corporate events. In the fall of 2008, Mary began teaching her culinary skills to others. Currently she can be found at Hollywood School House teaching her after school cooking class, and teaching her popular "Vegetables or Not Here I Come" assembly. Most recently, Mary has launched another division in her company as well as a chef she is now also a Certified Nutritionist for high profile clients. She helps her clients discover their healthy way of eating. Mary has recently been published in the Los Angeles Magazine, & The New Jersey Star Ledger. Daily she addresses cooking aficionados through her blog - Cooking with Chef Mary as well as her how-to webisodes on You Tube.