Preparing and Cooking Your Turkey
Yes, it’s that time of year again when everyone either wants to cook turkey for the first time or
can’t quite remember how long to cook one for!
So to make it easier, here is a preparation and cooking guide which
If you are the kind of
person who likes to forward plan, order your fresh turkey early, or, alternatively, buy your frozen oven-ready turkey
well before Christmas, before the prices go up and the more popular sizes sell
Your turkey will be fine in the freezer for up to 6 months.
What size bird to buy?
that is the question!
Don’t go mad and bring home a huge turkey that stands no chance whatsoever of fitting
into that oven!
It will simply take hours and hours to cook.
People usually buy the most impressive size, forgetting that they will get fed up with
the sight of turkey within a couple of days.
a 6.3 kg, 14 lb turkey, should feed a family of 6 to 8, with plenty to spare for those Boxing day salads and
A rough guide to the Cooking time will be given on the packaging, plus an idea of the average number of
people it should serve.
Don’t despair though, if you are only cooking for yourself or for a small family, there are plenty of
stuffed boneless turkey joints available from all the major supermarkets, get
what you need early though as I have noticed that these tend to disappear from
the supermarket shelves from the beginning of December onwards, to make room
for the larger turkeys, chickens and joints of meat.
If your turkey is frozen, allow plenty of time for it to defrost.
A large bird could take more than 2 days to thaw out naturally,
as it should be kept in a cool garage, porch, or outhouse throughout this
process and not in a warm kitchen!
Keep the turkey covered, and stand it on a
deep tray or platter to catch the water which will collect, you will get quite
a lot, so you will have to tip this away every so often.
Take care though, as this will contain
juices from the bird as well so watch your clothing.
Remember to collect your fresh turkey on Christmas Eve.
Keep it, covered, in a cold garage, porch, or outhouse until you are
ready to prepare it for the oven.
Late on Christmas Eve, bring your fresh turkey or (frozen Once it has completely defrosted), into the
kitchen, throw away any juice from the tray that its been standing on.
Put the bird onto several layers of clean kitchen paper or newspaper on your
Uncover it and examine it
carefully. You are feeling for places where it could be secured or tied up with elastic, to hold the legs close in
to the body, or string at the narrow neck end.
The lower body of the turkey will probably be stitched together with
Remove all this with sharp kitchen scissors.
Put your hand inside the rear of the bird and
take out the plastic bag containing the giblets.
Oven-ready varieties may not contain these.
You can either throw them in the kitchen bin
now if you are not going to make your gravy with them or, put them into a clean plastic bag then refrigerate on a separate shelf, away from
Now, rinse the turkey well under the kitchen tap in cold, running water to remove any little particles
which might still be left inside the neck and body cavity.
If you’ve already made the stuffing for your turkey, pack the inside of the bird’s neck and body cavity with it, either now, or
first thing on Christmas morning.
Folding the skin flaps over at the neck and
rear, holding them in place with a small
I would advise that you make your stuffing and cook it in a greased, ovenproof dish or tin and serve it separately.
Wrap your prepared turkey in Clingfilm, then put it into a large, freezer bag, to refrigerate on a separate shelf, away from cooked
food, or take it back out to its former, cold storage place again, until tomorrow.
Don’t forget to buy a roll of wide, extra strong baking foil to cook the turkey in, many of the
cheaper foils simply just won’t be strong enough to support its weight, even
though the box says Turkey Foil on it, pay a little extra just to be sure of
the quality, it will save you having the screaming ab-dabs when you’re trying
to wrap it around the turkey, with less
chance of accidents when you are lifting the tin from oven to worktop.
The Baking Tin
The size of your baking tin is important
too, it needs to be several inches larger all round than your bird and the deepest
and sturdiest you can find, preferably with flanges or handles at both ends, it
will make lifting the heavy turkey into and out of the oven much easier and make
basting (that’s spooning the juices in the tin over the top of the bird while
its cooking), much safer.
Preparing your Turkey for the Oven
First thing on Christmas morning, bring the turkey out of the fridge or in from the cold
garage or outhouse, and leave it, still wrapped on your kitchen worktop to get
to a cool kitchen temperature, I say this as cooking times are estimated on the
bird being at room temperature.
Place your large roasting tin on the work surface, now line the inside of it with strong, wide, turkey
foil or baking foil, one piece going lengthways and the other widthways, allow
plenty extra on each piece as you are going to wrap it up over the top of the
Unwrap your bird, clean and prepare it, as
given above, and if you haven’t already done so, fill the neck and body
cavities with the stuffing mixture of your choice, either sage and onion or
thyme and parsley, using home made or ready mixed from a packet, pushing it up
between the skin and flesh of the neck,
folding the loose flaps of skin flat against the back, to hold the
stuffing inside, then hold it in place with a small skewer.
Don’t pack too much stuffing inside the
breast of the bird as it will expand during cooking and it could burst out.
If you are not stuffing the turkey, but still want a little extra
flavour, peel a small onion and put that, whole, inside the body of the bird instead, or don’t forget to put your
ready prepared stuffing into a greased ovenproof dish or tin, ready to pop in
to the oven, below the bird, next to the roast potatoes and sausage and bacon
rolls, about 45 minutes before the turkey is ready.
Next, lift the turkey into the tin and lay it on its back.
Coat the outside of the breast and top surface of the bird with a little softened butter or
margarine, sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and lay a few strips of either streaky or
back bacon over the breast, overlapping
the slices slightly.
Now, lift the foil at the front and back of the tin, bringing both pieces up to make a fold at the centre
top of the turkey, then do the same with the foil at both ends to make a neat
Don’t press the foil
down too firmly as the steam will need to circulate round the bird and escape
Turkey Cooking Times
Remember to pre-heat your oven for 15 to 20
minutes before putting the bird in, just below the centre, to make sure that
there’s enough height for the bird, in its
tin, to slide in.
Please remember that all cooking times are
only approximate as oven temperatures vary.
It is usual to estimate, according to the weight of the bird, twenty
minutes per lb (450 g) with another twenty minutes extra added on to the end
of that total cooking time.
All approximations are based on the turkey and stuffing being at kitchen
temperature and not as taken straight from the fridge. If in any doubt, always cook it for another
half an hour to 45 minutes before carefully unwrapping the foil to crisp up the
skin on the breast.
The average temperature for cooking a turkey is
- Gas mark 4
- 350 F
- 180 C
- 160 Fan
About an hour before you estimate that the turkey will be ready, remember to put your foil covered tin
of seasoned, oil coated, roast potatoes in the oven below the turkey.
When the turkey has only got about 45 minutes left to cook, Carefully lift the tin out of the oven
on to a clear space on your worktop. Turn
up the heat to
- Gas Mark 7
- 425 F
- 220 C
- 180 Fan
Fold back the foil, carefully remove the bacon rashers, leaving them on a plate to
crisp up later.
Now, take a large spoon or ladle and carefully scoop up some of the juice in the tin and gently
pour it over the top of the bird.
Put the turkey back in the oven and repeat this process, several times throughout this last 45 minutes to (baste it), adding moisture and flavour to the meat.
When you think it’s cooked, insert a fine skewer into the flesh and ask
someone who can see to make sure that the juice coming out is clear and golden,
but not pink.
A good tip if you can’t see is to press the top surface of a fleshy area and, if it gives and dents in, the meat has cooked
on the top surface.
Pull a leg and see if it feels as though it’s beginning to come away from where it joins the
If you are in any doubt at all,
please cook it for another half hour and then check again.
After the turkey has finished cooking it will need to rest, out of the oven, for 45 minutes to an hour so that the juices
and flavour are evenly distributed around the bird, making it easier to carve
with less chance of it drying out too quickly.
Those boxing day buffet salads and sandwiches will be extra
moist and tasty too!
You might need help removing the turkey from the tin, two large fish slices or spatulas slid
underneath from either side will help to lift it.
There will be a lot of gravy in the tin that you need to be
careful of and tipping the bird will remove any that’s still inside.
You may like to use some of this to either make, or add to your gravy.
Carefully transfer the bird on to a large
serving dish to rest, it will hold its temperature
well as long as it is not left in a draught.
Use these 45 minutes, take the
foil off the tin of roast potatoes, add the bacon to them that you took off the
turkey breast, put them back in the oven
to crisp up, now cook the stuffing and sausage and bacon rolls.
Carving The Turkey
When you are ready to carve the turkey, you may like to ask for some help, It won’t be an easy task, it’ll
save time and ensure that you don’t serve anything inedible.
Plus the fact that it’s traditional to give
a guest the honour of carving the bird.
If turkey simply isn’t your thing, or you’re only cooking for two, buy either a small chicken, joint of
meat or even a boneless, stuffed chicken,
or piece of boneless, stuffed pork.
Please see, “Sue’s 21st Century Sunday Lunch” for more details.
Whatever you decide to cook, relax and enjoy your Christmas with family and friends by doing as much
of the preparation beforehand as you can, this will make for more of a holiday
for you too!