Can You Smoke a Frozen Turkey?

can you smoke a frozen turkey

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The holidays can be a stressful time for many people. You can make it even more stressful by forgetting to defrost your frozen turkey! Is it safe to smoke a frozen turkey? The answer is no, and here’s why.

Is it safe to smoke a frozen turkey?

Unfortunately, the only safe way to cook a frozen turkey is in the oven. You can try smoking a frozen turkey, but you will risk the possibility of food poisoning.

This is because, when smoking a turkey, as with grilling or deep-frying, you can’t guarantee that the whole bird is being cooked in a consistent manner, which makes it an unsafe way to cook a frozen turkey.

Why is it unsafe to smoke a frozen turkey?

Since it can take up to an hour for the inside of a turkey to come up to the safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F, you can’t rely on just checking if the skin is brown.

Without being able to consistently bring the inside of the turkey up to the safe minimum internal temperature, you run the risk of leaving large parts of the meat in the “Danger Zone“.

In culinary terms, the Danger Zone refers to the temperature range between 40°F to 140°F.

During this time, bacteria can quickly double in number and contaminate your food with harmful toxins that can cause vomiting or even death when consumed by humans.

The primary dangers of uncooked meat are a number of different bacteria that can cause food poisoning, these bacteria include salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter to name a few.

temperature danger zone infographics

The USDA recommends that all poultry products should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F before being eaten or removed from a heat source specifically because it kills these bacteria.

There are no quick ways to defrost a turkey

You might be thinking, it’s ok, surely there’s a way to speed defrost my turkey before I smoke it.

Unfortunately not.

Defrosting a full turkey takes around 24 hours in the refrigerator.

packaged frozen turkey inside a refrigerator
Unfortunately, there is no fast way to safely defrost a frozen turkey

To make matters worse, you can’t throw a frozen turkey into hot water to defrost it quickly either. This can increase the bacterial mass of the meat by up to 20-times because it leaves large sections of the meat in the danger zone as sections towards the center continue to defrost.

A microwave isn’t the answer either.

It can take up to four hours for a frozen turkey to fully defrost in the microwave, and, because of the way that a microwave heats food, it doesn’t defrost the meat consistently. So, we’re back to the same danger zone issues.

And don’t think about using hot water or anything like that either – it can lead to a cooked outside and an undercooked middle, which can cause bacteria to flourish, and the actual washing of the turkey can spread that bacteria to your sink and work surfaces, increasing the chances of cross-contamination.

Wrapping it all up

In short, if you want to smoke a turkey, you’re going to need to have it fully defrosted beforehand. Your best option is to order your turkey in advance and give yourself plenty of time to defrost is safely.

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