July 17, 2024

Alternate Turkey Preparation Methods From the USDA

The USDA is offering tips on alternate turkey preparation methods for the Thanksgiving holiday. If you choose to prepare turkey other than roasting it in the oven, read carefully to avoid food poisoning or injuries. Whatever method you use, make sure that the turkey reaches 165°F, a temperature that must be read with a reliable and accurate thermometer.

Alternate Turkey Preparation Methods From the USDA

First, do not cook the turkey in brown paper bags from the grocery store. That product can emit toxic fumes and may cause a fire. The ink, glue and recycled materials in brown paper bags are especially toxic.

Electric Roaster Oven

If you choose to use an electric roaster oven, the cooking times and temperatures should be the same as in a conventional oven. But always read the user manual for the manufacturer’s instructions. The oven should be set at a minimum temperature of 325°F. You can use a cooking bag as long as it doesn’t touch the sides, bottom, or lid of this appliance.

Charcoal or Gas Grill

If you  want to use a charcoal or gas grill, it must be covered. Do not stuff the turkey if you are using a charcoal grill because the temperature is too low for safety, and smoked stuffing has a bad flavor. Do not stuff a turkey cooked on a gas grill either for food safety. They turkey will take 15 to 18 minutes per pound to cook.

For a gas grill, for one large burner, put a pan of water under the grate for indirect heat, and put the turkey in a roasting pan. If the gas grill has two or three burners, place the turkey away from the flame by turning off one of the burners.

For a charcoal grill, make sure that the charcoal has a white powdery ash before you start cooking. Put a drip pan with water in the coals, and put the turkey, breast side up, on the grill rack. Replenish with 15 briquettes every hour so the temp inside the grill is maintained at 225 to 300°F. Do not use softwood pine, fir, cedar, or spruce because that wood will produce black pitch.


To use the alternate turkey preparation method of smoking the turkey, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Do not stuff the turkey because it will not reach 165°F. The smoker must reach and maintain a temperature of 225 to 300°F. Put an appliance thermometer on the smoker rack before starting the heat source.

Place the smoker in an area sheltered from winds so the cooking temperature is maintained. Add charcoal every one to two hours to main the temperature, and replenish liquid as necessary. Heat and liquid are critical to maintaining the hot smoke that cooks the turkey. The turkey will take 20 to 30 minutes per pound to cook.

Deep Fat Frying

This method can be risky, since you are working with such a large amount of oil. Never deep fry a turkey indoors. And make sure the fryer is away from flammable materials such as overhanging trees. The turkey must not be stuffed.

Use a cooking vessel large enough to completely submerge the turkey in oil without spilling. The oil should cover the turkey by one to two inches. Do a preliminary test using water.

The oil should be heated to 350°F. Slowly lower the turkey into their. Never leave the fryer unattended. The turkey should cook for 3 to 5 minutes per pound.

Remove the turkey from the oil and drain the oil from the cavity, then check the internal temperature. It should read 165°F. If the turkey isn’t done, immediately and carefully return it to the oil.

When it does register 165°F, let the turkey rest on paper towels for 20 minutes before carving. Let the oil cool before you pour it into containers for storage in the fridge. You can reuse the oil if it is strained, covered, and used within 30 days.

Cook Turkey From Frozen

This is an approved cooking method. This method will take longer than roasting a fresh bird. Add about 50% additional cooking time. You can remove the giblet package from inside the turkey after about 3-1/2 hours using tongs, but if they are paper wrapped, they can cook completely inside the bird.

If the giblets were packed in a plastic bag, and the bag is melted, do not use the giblets or the turkey because the bag may have released toxins into the food. If the plastic bag looks the same, the giblets and turkey are safe to eat.

Do not cook a frozen turkey in an oven cooking bag or in the microwave oven. The cooking bag will hold hot juices and you can get scalded when you remove the giblet bag. And the microwave can cook unevenly, so the frozen turkey may not be at a safe temperature throughout.


You can cook a turkey in the microwave oven, either a whole turkey or parts. Cook parts in a dish with a lid. Follow the owner’s manual recommendations.  Do not stuff a turkey you plan to cook in the microwave.

A 12 to 14 pound turkey is the largest most microwave ovens can accommodate. Allow three inches oven clearance on top and two to there inches of space around the turkey. Cook the turkey for 9 to 10 minutes per pound on 50% power. Rotate the bird to ensure even cooking. You can use an oven cooking bag for a thawed turkey for more even cooking because it holds in the heat.

Pressure Cooker

To use the alternate turkey preparation method of a pressure cooker, cook a turkey only in parts. The turkey will cook in a third or less time than in an oven. Follow the  manufacturer’s instructions to cook the bird.

The pressure must be kept constant for the entire cooking time. Do not remove the lid until the pressure lowers and the pot cools. Remember that cooking times will vary by altitude.

Slow Cooker

You can cook a cut up turkey in a slow cooker. Always thaw the turkey parts before using this appliance. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on how much liquid to add and the cooking time.

You should start by cooking on high for an hour or more. The appliance temperature should be between 170 and 200°F. Do not remove the cover during cooking or the temperature will plummet and it can take 25 minutes to regain the lost temp.

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