Tech Tips

Avoid Trapped Turkey Syndrome and Cook Your Bird to Perfection

Ah, Thanksgiving. A time for gratitude, family, friends, food, and football. And more food. There’s a lot of pressure on the Thanksgiving meal, in fact—and it’s not a great day for a kitchen disaster. If you think about it, a lot of things can go wrong when you’re cooking a big meal, with foods you don’t make the rest of the year. Keep reading for our hints on a failure-free Thanksgiving.


For years, the folks at Butterball have helped prevent turkey disasters with their Butterball hotline. Today, you can download the free Butterball Cookbook Plus app to your iPhone  or Android. The app features nutritional information, how-to videos, conversion and substitution charts, plus Butterball’s handy cooking calculator to plan perfect portions and cook times for your turkey. Tell yourself it’s what Grandma would have done, were apps a thing in her day.

Defrosting Your Turkey

The refrigerator is the recommended/easiest method for thawing your turkey, so let’s review: Keeping the turkey in its wrapper, place it breast side up in a tray to prevent turkey sweat from sluicing onto your refrigerator shelves. You’ll have to allow about 24 hours for each four to five pounds of frozen meat. Hence, a 10-pound turkey will be in the fridge for two whole days at least. Plan ahead! Twenty-five pound turkeys may take an entire week to thaw.

If you find yourself running out of time, don’t panic! You still have some options:

  • Defrost your turkey in cold water. Compared to refrigerator thawing, this is more work. First, place your turkey in a leak-proof package or plastic bag. Next, submerge it in cold tap water, changing the water every 30 minutes to ensure that it stays cold. (Never try to take a shortcut by using warm or hot water, by the way, as this can multiply the bacteria on the outer layer of skin.) Via this method, you’ll want to give about 30 minutes of cold water defrosting for each pound. As you can probably guess, this means you’ll need half about half a day to thaw a 20-pound turkey.
  • For an even quicker turkey thaw, the microwave is an option. However, this only works if you’ve got either a really small turkey or a really big microwave. You’ll want to check your owner’s manual to find out the required minutes per pound, and what setting is best. You’ll also want to put the bird in the oven the moment it’s fully defrosted. This is the least preferable method, because it’s easy for some of the turkey to start cooking while the interior is still hard as a rock.

But should you find yourself without enough time for even a micro-thaw, you can always try…

Cooking a Frozen Turkey

Let’s say you’ve only got a day or so before Thanksgiving, and your turkey is hard as a rock. Don’t panic! You can still cook a frozen turkey, but it’s a bit more labor-intensive and the results can be a wee bit dicey. First, check your timetable for oven-roasting your entire turkey if it was fully thawed. The rule of thumb here is to cook your bird for that amount of time, plus 50 percent more. For example, while a thawed 12- to 14-pound turkey should be cooked for three to four hours, a frozen turkey of the same weight should be cooked for four and a half to five hours. Remember, this equation is only approximate, so results may vary.

Of course, no matter how you cook your turkey, you’ll want to invest in a working meat thermometer, to ensure that all the parts of your bird are at least 165 degrees. Toward the end of your cook time, check the turkey to see if it’s reached 165 degrees in its innermost places.

One last thing

Whatever you do, don’t try goosing the cooking process by cranking up your oven’s temperature to 500 degrees or above, as this can result in what is known as “Trapped Turkey Syndrome.”

A holiday crisis encountered by well-meaning cooks looking for a crispier skin, Trapped Turkey Syndrome occurs when the oven’s high temperature causes the oven to automatically lock up and go into self-cleaning mode. Some well-intentioned cooks might lock the oven door, thinking it will improve cooking or prevent heat loss, and that can also trip the self-cleaning mode. You’re probably only susceptible if you have an older oven (older than 10-15 years or so—plenty of these models still out there!).

Even if this happens to you, there’s no need to panic. First, turn off the oven and allow it to cool down completely.

If your oven will not turn off immediately, you can override the settings by holding down the Stop or Off buttons for 10-30 seconds until the door unlocks and frees your Thanksgiving dinner.

If that doesn’t work, you could manually cut the power to the oven by switching the circuit breaker. This will probably shut down the power to your other kitchen appliances, but desperate times call for desperate measures. You should be able to get things restarted and cooking again in just a few moments, at the proper temperatures.

Here’s to a disaster-free holiday!