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How To Thaw and Roast A Turkey in 90 Minutes

How long does it typically take to thaw and roast a turkey?  

If you read what the turkey wrapper says You might figure 4-6 hours to quick-thaw it and then another 3-4 hours to roast it? Don't let that stop you.  So, that is 7-10 hours!  That is entire day. Ouch!  If you want to serve dinner at 2 PM, you'll need to start at like 4 AM.  I can't start cooking at 4 AM, that is the exact time that I like to stop drinking and go to be.  I decided that I can do better than that.  

How quickly could I do it?  I've roasted a bunch of turkeys in my day (maybe 20?) so I have experience, however, I've always taken a ton of time to do so.  What if I could speed up the process?  What if you could take a turkey from the freezer to the dinner table in 2 hours?  That seems extreme, but extreme is what I do.  I made 2 hours my goal.  After all, it takes 2 hours to bake a stouffer's lasagna.
turkey roasting experiment

The Experiments:
I'm not rich, so I couldn't just start roasting a ton of turkeys, also that would make a huge mess and get me in trouble with my wife.  I'm also a little bit smart, so I did some mental wrangling and figured there would be two challenges.  The largest one would be thawing the turkey, the other would be roasting it quickly without burning the outside.  

Let's cover the thawing first because I think it will be the hardest to tackle.  What is the best way to thaw something big and frozen?  Traditional turkey thawing is done in either the fridge (for 2-3 days) or a sink full of water (4-6 hours).  Thousands of people every year also try to stick a frozen turkey into the oven (I hear this results in an exceedingly long cooking time and a terrible turkey).  What other options are there?  

I decided to test three different methods: 
  1. Method 1:  Super hot oven.
  2. Method 2:  Drill a bunch of stainless steel screws into the bird to enhance heat transfer.
  3. Method 3:  Put the bird in boiling water.  
To test these methods I made three big blocks of ice, each contained 2 cups of water.  Unlike a turkey, you can't drill a block of ice or else it will break, so I just froze a wire wisk into one of the blocks.  I then tried the to thaw each one using the above methods.  I put blocks one and two into the oven at 550 degrees and then placed the third block into a pot on the stove along with 2 more cups of hot tap water and turned the burner on high.    The results were clear.  

  1. Method 1:  23 minutes:  A 16 ounce block of ice in a non-preheated 550 degree oven took 23 minutes to thaw.
  2. Method 2:  22 minutes:  A 16 ounce block of ice that had a number of metal wires running out of it took 22 minutes to thaw.
  3. Method 3:  7 minutes 45 seconds:  A 16 block of ice in 16 ounces of hot water place on a stove burner melted in 7 and three quarter minutes.  
Clearly, If I wanted to thaw the bird quickly, I would need to boil it!  
Before you think this is crazy, remember that people par-boil foods all of the time.  Barbecue hacks have been doing it for years.  I know that the foodies out there will argue that parboiled ribs don't taste as good as barbecued ribs, but I have a creative solution for you.  

Since about 2004 I have been brining my Thanksgiving turkey.  Brining is when you soak meat in a salt and sugar solution.  Pastrami and corned beef are brined meats.  I learned to brine a turkey from Alton Brown on FoodTV and it makes your turkey moist and delicious by adding flavor to what otherwise can be a fairly bland meat.  

I would boil the bird in a brine solution!  It would speed the thawing process without completely killing the flavor.  It was time to roast some birds.  

Boiling a turkey in a brine solution

12-13 Pound Turkeys Seemed Right  
There are smaller birds available, but I didn't want to cheat.  I wanted to make a real turkey, but I couldn't go with an 18 pounder and do so quickly.  I decided that I would pick birds in the 12-13 pound range.  These are advertised to feed 6-8 people.  I bought regular old turkeys, not fresh ones (those aren't frozen), not pre-prepared ones (they don't have neck or gizzards inside, a plus, but they cost more).  I just bought regular-old turkeys.  They were on sale too!  

Within three days I roasted three turkeys.  I won't bore you with all of the details, but after finding success, this is what I did. 

Express Turkey Roasting 

How To Thaw and Roast A Turkey As Quickly As Possible - Extreme Turkey Cooking

You'll need:
A big pot.  Big enough to fit the turkey inside it.  
A roasting pan.
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup brown sugar (you make me feel so good!)
A 12-13 pound frozen turkey
A turkey baster  (you cannot substitute a rectal syringe for this)
A badass attitude.

First, take your badass attitude and provide it with a deep breath.  You are about to do something that people say is impossible.  Are you read for that?  Are you serious about this?  There are a lot of people on this green earth and no one else cooks a turkey like this.  Have you got what it takes?  

Let's start, here goes:
  1. Bird out of the freezer.  Undo the wrapper.  Forget about getting the neck and gizzards out of the bird now.  They are frozen in there and THERE ISN'T MUCH TIME.  
  2. Pot into the sink.  Bird into the pot, legs facing up.  Submerge the bird in hot water.  
  3. Pot onto the stove.  Highest heat setting.  Add the salt and brown sugar.  You should be 5 minutes into this process.  
  4. Preheat the oven to 550 degress.  What's that?  You think 550 is too hot?  What are you some type of weather man or something?  If 550 was too hot, the dudes who made ovens wouldn't let you put it that high.  So quit your yapping and suck it up.  I said 550 degrees.  Open a window and get a towel handy, the smoke alarm might not be so quiet today.  
  5. Your turkey probably has its legs bound together.  Cut the thing that is doing this.  If you bought a cheap turkey it is flimsy plastic, you can use a knife.  If you bought a fancy turkey you may be faced with a wire device.  Use pliers.  Don't worry if it is frozen in there, it will come out eventually.  
  6. Every couple of minutes take your turkey baster and squirt some of the hottest water into the inside of the turkey.  Get the hot water deep into there.  Your main mission it to thaw the inside of that bird.  
  7. You should also be working on trying to get the legs of the turkey to spread a little bit.  Spreading the legs will help thaw the thighs.  After about 15 minutes in the brine, the legs of my turkey freed up.  I then started squirting the inner thighs of the turkey with the hottest water as well.  
  8. After minute 20 or so, it is time get everything out of the turkey's body cavity.  There may be a neck in there, there may be gizzards in a bag, there may be both.  Use the tongs and get them out, they are hurting your ability to thaw the inside of your bird.  
  9. After 30 minutes of boiling (35 minutes into this process), drain the turkey into the sink.  Now, you need to remove anything from the neck hole.  If the gizzards weren't in the body cavity, they are stuffed up in there under that disgusting flap of skin.  Yank them out.  
  10. Put the turkey in the roasting pan and then put it in the oven.  You should be 36 minutes into this process.  
  11. Roast the turkey for 54 more minutes.  You don't need to watch it or anything.  Go make some stove top stuffing and heat a jar of gravy.  
  12. Pull out the turkey.  It's done.  You just thawed and roasted a turkey in 90 freaking minutes.  
Express Roasted Turkey
Don't be surprised if this turkey actually tastes really good.  One enemy of good turkey is dryness and our combination of fast cooking and the brining solution results in a fairly tasty bird.  Also, hen turkeys (12 pounders are usually females) taste better than the bigger Tom turkeys.  

Enjoy your meal and visit ExtremeHolidayIdeas.com again for more holiday silliness and projects.  

Express Turkey Roasting FAQ:
  • Why didn't you fry the turkey?  Well, first the goal was to see how fast I could roast a turkey.  Also, I don't own a turkey fryer.  I think it is fairly dangerous to put a frozen turkey into one of those things.  Finally, I wanted to give advice that anyone could use.  
  • Can you do it any faster?  I think so, I think that if you drive a large number of stainless steel screws into the breast and thighs of the bird you could probably shave 5 minutes off of the time.  You could also probably boil the bird for 40 minutes and roast it for 30, but I think that flavor might suffer.  Butterflying the turkey and then lying it flat would also speed the process, but it won't look much like a turkey when it is done.  I preferred to stick with a classic looking roasted turkey.
  • Is this dangerous?  No more so than cooking a turkey, I guess.  
  • Are there any problems with the turkey?  The skin is a little bit darker than you might like, but it still tastes pretty good.  Also, the legs are too spread to look like a traditional bird, you can fix this by tying them back after the turkey is done cooking though.  
  • Why did you do this?  This is sort of a job for me.  I am an author and my next book will be about Extreme Holiday Ideas.  Look for it during the 2010 holiday season.  My other books are about Pumpkin Carving and Halloween (Extreme Pumpkins, Extreme Pumpkins II, and Extreme Halloween).  
Cooking with power tools
Thanks to Ryobi, my power tool sponsor and PriveCo Inc. the company that I own.  PriveCo supplies all of the crap that I use to create this website.