How to Cook Christmas Turkey

Citrus rosemary roasted turkey HERO

Turkey is often the centrepiece of your Christmas meal, so it's worth getting it right. Follow our expert tips for a perfectly cooked and delicious bird.

1. Remove your turkey from the fridge a few hours before cooking, allowing it to come up to room temperature. This will ensure even cooking and stop it from drying out once it goes in the oven. 

2. Remove the giblets (reserving to make stock, if you like), then rinse and wipe the cavity clean. It’s best not to wash the whole turkey as this can spread bacteria. 

3. Butter is a great way to keep the meat juicy. Use a spoon or your hands to gently loosen the turkey skin away from the flesh, starting at the cavity end, being careful not to tear it. Push softened butter between the flesh and skin, then rub more butter all over the outside of the bird, coating the skin and legs. For a crispy bacon topping, lay strips of bacon in a lattice over the breast before cooking. 

4. It’s advisable not to fill the main body cavity with stuffing as this prevents heat from reaching the centre of the bird effectively, and can result in undercooked turkey. Instead use the neck; open the neck cavity and push the mixture in. Festive flavours such as chestnuts, dried apricots or raisins, and sage all go well with sausagemeat stuffing.   

5. Try putting a few halves of citrus fruit, such as orange, lemon or clementines, inside the main cavity (make sure there’s still room for air to circulate), or add some herbs and an onion. The contents will steam and flavour the meat as it cooks. 

6. ‘Trussing’ a turkey is when you tie the legs close together at the ends of the drumsticks. It can help prevent the meat drying out and it also helps create a neat shape. 

7. To calculate an accurate cooking time, weigh the stuffing separately and add the amount to the turkey weight, or weigh the bird once it has been stuffed. You can weigh a big turkey on the bathroom scales.

8. Another good trick for really juicy turkey is to pour stock into the roasting tin, then sit the bird above this on a roasting rack. This steams the meat, making it more succulent, with better juices for the gravy. It’s also good to cover the bird with foil to stop it from drying out during roasting; just remove it for the last 30 minutes to allow the skin to colour and crisp up. Basting also keeps the meat really tender – spoon over the juices from the bottom of the pan every 30 minutes or so. 

9. It’s important to allow the bird to rest for a minimum of 20 minutes after cooking to let the meat fibres relax and all the lovely juices soak back into the flesh. Cover loosely with a double layer of foil and tea towels to keep the heat in.  

10. To check if your turkey is cooked use a meat thermometer, or the skewer technique: pierce the thickest part of  the thigh with a metal skewer. If the juices released run clear without any trace of pink or red in them, it’s cooked.

...And a few bonus tips if you're freezing your turkey:

If you're planning to cook a frozen turkey on Christmas Day, make sure you factor in enough time for it to fully thaw, before stuffing and roasting; a medium-sized turkey will take at least 21 hours to defrost so don't get caught out. The thawing times given below are for a turkey being thawed in the fridge.

Make sure the bird is fully defrosted and brought back up to room temperature before it goes in the oven. To calculate the right cooking time, don't forget to add the stuffing weight to the overall weight.

A 3.5kg (8lb) turkey will take approximately 16 hours to thaw and 2 hours 45 minutes to cook (gas mark 5/190°C/fan 170°C), and will serve 4-6 people.

A 5kg (11lb) turkey will take approximately 21 hours to thaw and 3 hours 15 minutes to cook, and will serve 6-10 people.

A 6.4kg (14lb) turkey will take approximately 28 hours to thaw and 4 hours to cook, and will serve 10-15 people.

A 9kg (20lb) turkey will take approximately 28 hours to thaw and 4 hours 40 minutes to cook, and will serve 15+ people.

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