How to Cook a Christmas Turkey
Preparing a Christmas turkey for loved ones can be a daunting affair with questions such as “what if it doesn't defrost in time” running through your mind. To help ensure you’re prepared to cook the Christmas turkey this year, below we’ve shared a range of turkey cooking tips.
Defrosting Your Turkey:
Frozen turkeys must be completely defrosted before you can start cooking, as the recommended cooking times won't be long enough to cook a partially-frozen bird, and bacteria that cause food poisoning may survive the cooking process.
To help you defrost your bird, it’s important to work out defrosting times in advance so you know how much time to allow, after all it can take a couple of days for a large turkey to thaw. To check if your turkey is defrosted, make sure there aren't any ice crystals in the cavity and try testing the thicker parts of the turkey with a fork to see if the meat feels frozen.
Check your turkey's packaging for its defrosting time. If there aren't any estimates or instructions, use the following as a rough guide to work out how long it will take – but always remember to check that it's fully thawed before cooking.
- In a fridge at 4ºC (39ºF), allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg. Note that not all fridges will be this temperature.
- In a cool room (below 17.5ºC, 64ºF) allow approximately 3 to 4 hours per kg, longer if the room is particularly cold.
- At room temperature (about 20ºC, 68ºF), allow approximately 2 hours per kg.
How To Defrost a Turkey:
- Take the turkey out of its packaging and put it on a large dish, before covering. The dish will hold the liquid released as the turkey thaws. To help speed up thawing of the turkey, remove the giblets and neck as soon as possible.
- Put the dish in a cool, clean place, ideally the fridge, where the turkey won't touch other foods. Make sure it’s covered and that pets and young children are kept away from it. If it isn't possible to defrost your turkey in the fridge, use a cool room or a garage. You can also defrost at room temperature, but the temperature of the room will affect thawing times.
- If you're defrosting your turkey somewhere cold, such as the garage or garden shed, watch out for sudden extremes in temperature. If it gets very hot or cold, the turkey won't defrost properly.
- Pour away the defrost liquid regularly, to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. Be careful not to splash the liquid onto worktops, dishes, cloths or other food.
- When your turkey is fully defrosted, put it in the fridge until you are ready to cook it. If this isn't possible, make sure you cook it immediately.
Bacteria can spread from any raw meat or poultry to worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils. Keep your Christmas food safe by knowing how to handle turkey safely:
- Wash and dry your hands thoroughly, with warm water and soap, after handling raw turkey, giblets or any other raw meat.
- Keep raw poultry away from food that's ready-to-eat, any contact will spread bacteria.
- Don't wash your turkey. Bacteria can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill any bacteria.
- Always clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they've been in contact with raw poultry.
- Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry and ready-to-eat food without washing it thoroughly in warm soapy water. If possible, use a separate chopping board just for raw meat and poultry.
- Store raw meat away from other foods, at the bottom of the fridge so that it won't drip.
Cooking Your Turkey:
Plan your cooking time in advance, so you can get the bird in the oven early enough to cook it thoroughly. A large turkey can take several hours to cook properly.
Our estimates are based on an unstuffed bird. It's better to cook your stuffing in a separate roasting tin - it will cook more predictably, and cooking time estimates will be more accurate. If you cook your bird with the stuffing inside, allow extra time depending on the amount and type of stuffing.
As a general guide, in an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4):
- For a turkey under 4.5kg, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes
- For a turkey weighing between 4.5kg and 6.5kg, allow 40 minutes per kg
- For a turkey over 6.5kg, allow 35 minutes per kg
Top tip: Cover your turkey with foil during cooking and uncover for the last 30 minutes to brown the skin. To stop the meat drying out, baste it every hour during cooking.
How to Check Your Bird is Cooked:
All cooking times are estimates, always check that the bird is properly cooked before serving. Eating undercooked turkey or poultry may cause food poisoning.
- The meat should be steaming hot all the way through.
- Cut into the thickest part of the meat - it should not be pink.
- Pierce the turkey or press the thigh - any juices that run out should be clear.
Preserve your precious proof of success for safe consumption another day by following this advice:
Cover and refrigerate any leftovers as quickly as possible, it’s recommended to cover them within 1 to 2 hours. If cooked meat is left at room temperature, food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply.
When serving cold turkey, take out only as much as you're going to eat, leaving the rest safely refrigerated. Put any extras back in the fridge within an hour.
Make sure any leftovers you reheat are steaming hot all the way through before you eat them. Don't reheat more than once. Ideally, try to use leftovers within 48 hours.