Each year, thousands of Americans attempt to cook their first Thanksgiving turkey. Many of these same people learn the hard way that it takes a heck of a lot more work to thaw out a frozen turkey than just letting it sit out on the counter for a few hours.
If don't thaw your Thanksgiving turkey properly, harmful bacteria could begin to grow on the bird, which could make you and your dinner guests sick if they eat it. That's because bacteria starts to grow rapidly when temperatures hit what's considered the danger zone, between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 60 degrees Celsius) [source: USDA]. If you simply thaw your turkey on the kitchen counter, the outside of the bird can hit that danger zone pretty quickly, while the inside remains frozen solid. Instead, the optimal temperature to defrost it is just below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). There are a couple of different ways to thaw a turkey, but if you don't have time (or you managed to forget) to thaw yours properly, don't despair.
You can still roast a frozen turkey — though never grill, fry or smoke one that's not completely defrosted. You'll have to cook it longer — about four to four-and-a-half hours at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (162 degrees Celsius) for a 12 to 14 pound (5 to 6 kilogram) turkey, or until it reaches the recommended internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius). One bonus to roasting a frozen turkey is you can make a killer gravy because the longer cooking times means you'll get more drippings for a savory, rich gravy [source: Christensen].
That said, defrosting your Thanksgiving bird ahead of time is the best route to take. We'll give you a crash course on the two best ways to thaw your turkey next.