How to Cook a Christmas Turkey

Published

Preparing a Christmas turkey for loved ones can be a daunting affair. What if it doesn't defrost in time, and everyone's stuck eating pot noodles?

Our turkey tips will guide you through the process of producing an enviably succulent turkey.
 

Defrosting your turkey

Frozen turkeys must be completely defrosted before you can start cooking. 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 check if your turkey is defrosted, make sure there aren't any ice crystals in the cavity, or try testing the thicker parts of the turkey with a fork to see if the meat feels frozen.

Work out defrosting time in advance, so you know how much time to allow - it can take at least a couple of days for a large turkey to thaw.

Defrosting times

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. Remember to check that it's fully thawed before cooking.

How to defrost a turkey

  1. Take the turkey out of its packaging, put it on a large dish and cover. The dish will hold the liquid released as the turkey thaws.
    • To speed up thawing, remove the giblets and neck as soon as possible.
  2. 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.
    • 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Food safety 

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:

Cooking your turkey

Plan your cooking time in advance, so that you get the bird in the oven early enough to cook it thoroughly. A large turkey can take several hours to cook properly.

Cooking times

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):

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 that your bird is cooked

Our cooking times are estimates - always check that the bird is properly cooked before serving. Eating undercooked turkey or poultry may cause food poisoning.

  1. The meat should be steaming hot all the way through.
  2. Cut into the thickest part of the meat - it should not be pink.
  3. Pierce the turkey or press the thigh - any juices that run out should be clear.

Leftovers

Preserve your precious proof of success for safe consumption another day by following this advice: