How to cook a turkey for Christmas, Easter or Thanksgiving

I have had many people ask how to cook a turkey this festive season, so I decided to add a page to the site covering this subject.

If it is the first time you will be cooking the holiday meal, it can be quite daunting. After all, a large turkey can be expensive and you don't want to spoil the occasion by under-cooking the bird and making everyone ill do you?

What size turkey do you need?

One of the first decisions has to be whether to buy a fresh or frozen turkey. Then you need to know what size to get in order to feed the number of guests you are expecting.

The following chart should give you a guide. You might also like to keep in mind that a 10 pound turkey gives about half of that weight in useable meat. 

Weight of bird

2.75-3.5 kg (6-8 pound)

4.5-5.9 kg (12-20 pound)

6.5-9 kg (14-20 pound)

Number of Servings

6 - 10

12-20

20-30

Thawing a frozen turkey

It is vitally important to thoroughly defrost frozen poultry before cooking it. Ideally, this should be done at (cool) room temperature. Leave the  bird in its packaging while defrosting it, and place in a container to catch the drippings. 

Many people put the turkey in the fridge, and leave it to defrost in there for a longer time, if you do decide to do this ensure that no other food is stored below it, as it could be contaminated with any liquid that drips on to it. 

Frozen birds often include the neck and giblets, which are put into a plastic bag and popped inside the bird's neck cavity. As soon as the bird has defrosted enough, you should remove these and put to one side. They can be used for turkey gravy to serve with the meal.

Removing the giblets whilst thawing reduces the risk of forgetting and putting the bird in the oven with them still inside! Of course, if you are going to stuff the bird, then you would spot the bag and remove it first. Always ensure that you wash your hands after touching raw poultry.

So how long should you leave the turkey to defrost at room temperature?

Weight of bird

2.3 kg (5 pound)

4.5 kg (10 pound)

6.8 kg (15 pound)

9 kg (20 pound)

Thawing time (in hours)

15

18

24

36

Try to plan your timings so that as soon as the bird has defrosted it is cooked, that way it doesn't sit about any longer than necessary.


How to cook a turkey with stuffing

Stuffing can be placed inside the bird (which will increase the cooking time) or cooked in a separate pan.

I normally like to allow around 8 ounces of stuffing for each 5 pound weight of bird. This can be prepared in advance, but if you are going to put it inside the bird, do it just before placing the turkey in the oven. Don't try to force too much stuffing into the cavity. If there is some left over, cook it separately.

I offer a number of stuffing recipes on my gluten free site.

Cooking times for turkey

If you are putting the stuffing inside the bird, weigh it after stuffing and before calculating the cooking time.

If you roast the turkey at 180 degrees C, (350 degrees F) or Gas mark 4, then it will need 20 minutes per 450 grams (1 pound), plus an extra 20 minutes. 

You may want to wrap the bird in cooking foil so that it doesn't brown too quickly before it is cooked through. In this case you will want to add a little extra to the cooking time. 

You could just cover the breast with foil or rashers of streaky bacon to prevent over-browning.

If you have a very large turkey, you might wish to lay it on its side in the roasting pan so that the legs cook through properly, rather than on its back.

Baste an unwrapped turkey regularly during the cooking time, with the juices from the bottom of the pan.

To test whether it is cooked, pierce the bird with a skewer or pointed knife. If the juices run clear then it is cooked.

Now you know how to cook a turkey, you need to carve it and serve to your guests.



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