Still frozen: We hope you mean partially frozen. If you mean fully frozen, you should reschedule Thanksgiving for next Thursday. Just so you know, you should allow your turkey to thaw in the refrigerator (thawing at room temperature poses the danger of poisoning your guests with salmonella) and plan for 1 day for every 5 pounds. A quicker way to thaw a fully or partially frozen bird would be to place your still-wrapped turkey into a sink (or tub, depending on size) of cold water. Do not use warm water. Change the water every 30 minutes. It will take about 30 minutes per pound to thaw a turkey from a frozen-solid state, and less time, of course, if it is partially frozen.
Giblets still inside turkey: If you forgot to remove the giblet packet before putting the turkey in the oven, it’s okay. Take it out now. It hasn’t done damage to your turkey’s edibility.
Won’t fit in oven: Your eyes were bigger than your oven? You’ll just have to cut up your turkey. Separate the turkey into breast and leg pieces and then roast. Or you can butterfly the bird by cutting out the backbone and opening up the body so that it’s all on one plane. A disassembled bird will cook faster than a whole bird, though, so you’ll probably need to adjust your schedule.
Oven isn’t working: You’ll have to cook it on top of the stove. Cut it into pieces, brown in oil in a Dutch oven, then add broth, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, cover, and simmer until the pieces are fork tender. Deep-frying, of course, is an option as well, but make sure you’re not overly stressed by your lack of an oven before playing with large amounts of hot oil.
If your stove isn’t working either, you may have to take the turkey outside and grill it. Some people do this with a whole turkey (in a roasting pan). Others cut it into pieces first.
Browning too fast: Cover the turkey loosely with foil. You may want to uncover it for the last 30 minutes or so to crisp up the skin.
Not browning enough: Of course you want your turkey to look Norman Rockwell perfect. Raising the temperature will help, but you don’t want to dry out the bird. You can baste the turkey with a mix of butter and honey or molasses, which will accelerate browning. Or, if you want to avoid sweetness, use teriyaki or soy sauce with your butter. Alternatively, sprinkle the bird with paprika while it’s cooking.
Done too soon: If you miscalculated the time it would take to cook, you want to keep the turkey warm without continuing to cook it. Remove the turkey from the oven, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil, and then wrap in a large towel. Place it somewhere warm or insulated (an empty cooler would be perfect if you have one large enough). It’ll keep warm for up to an hour. Now get the rest of your dinner ready!
Not done on time: First, serve your guests more cheese and crackers. Then decide if you want to turn up the oven or cut the bird into smaller pieces that will cook more quickly.
If you increase the oven temperature, you can go as high as 450°F, but cover the turkey with aluminum foil first. You don’t want to cook at this high heat for too long, or you’ll end up with a dry or burned bird. No more than 2 minutes per pound of turkey weight. Remove the foil near the end to crisp up the skin.
Another option is to cut your turkey in half or separate it into breast and leg pieces and lay the pieces flat. It will now cook much faster. Keep in mind that the breast usually cooks faster than the legs. If it’s done, and if the dark-meat fans don’t protest, you can serve the breast while the legs and thighs continue to cook.
Looks less than perfect: Carve the turkey in the kitchen and present a glorious platter of meat. If you want to present the whole turkey, though, and yours is not picture-perfect, your best bet is to divert the eye. Put it on your prettiest platter. And accessorize! We recommend dolling it up with fruits like pomegranates, oranges, or grapes. Or dress it up with vegetables, either ones you plan to serve as side dishes or decorative leafy greens (just make sure you use greens that are hardy enough to stand up to the heat of the bird, like kale; don’t use iceberg lettuce or baby arugula!). If you have fresh herbs, sprigs of them tucked here and there look gourmet.
Dry: To help prevent dryness, make sure you let your turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven. This will give the juices time to settle and redistribute, so they don’t run out as you carve.
If it’s dry after resting and carving, you do have other options.
Even if your turkey breast is dry, chances are the dark meat is fine, as it takes much longer to dry out. Slice the breast and put it in a baking pan. Bring some broth to a boil and cover the meat with it. Cover the pan with foil and put in a 300°F oven for about 10 minutes. Although the meat will be more moist now while it is warm, it will dry as it cools, so you’ll want to serve it immediately. With lots of gravy.
For an easier fix (perhaps for a less dry turkey), you can put some warm broth in a spray bottle and spray the pieces as you carve. (In this case, it’s better if you carve in the kitchen; you don’t want to have to explain to guests what you’re doing.)
Next Thanksgiving, keep in mind that some people flip their turkeys upside down for half of the roasting time because they think that this keeps the breast moister.
Raw: So you completely forgot to put the turkey in the oven? The fastest way to cook it now is to cut it into pieces, brown them on the stove top in a bit of oil until the skin is crisp, and then bake them in a 350°F oven until done (in about 1 hour or so, fingers crossed).
Reprinted with permission from How to Repair Food by Tanya Zeryck, John Bear, and Marina Bear, copyright © 1998, 2010. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.