Whether you're a first-time host or an experienced cook, we all need a little Christmas Turkey Help occasionally. From defrosting to stuffing, read on for our top turkey tips.
Help! My turkey...
Fill a large bucket or the kitchen sink with COLD water, and place the turkey in there. Replace the water every 30 minutes. It will take about an hour per kg to defrost.
...is too big for the oven
Remove the legs and wings, and cook them separately to the crown. Prepare them both the same, and weigh them to calculate the correct cooking times. It won't look quite the same on the table, but it will be fully cooked!
Depending on how undercooked it is, you have a few options:
- If the breast is cooked but the legs aren't, remove the legs and wings and put them back in the oven to finish cooking, and just serve the white breast meat.
- If the whole turkey isn't cooked, remove the legs and wings and put them back in the oven separately to the breast meat to finish cooking. Check after 20 minutes (or more/less depending on how undercooked it is), and serve just the breast meat as that will be cooked soonest.
- Increase the oven temperature by 10°C, 50°F, one Gas Mark, and check it every 30 minutes. Ensure the turkey is well-sealed in foil, as the higher temperature will dry it out.
- Increase the oven temperature to 220°C, 450°F, Gas Mark 8, and check it every 30 minutes. Ensure the turkey is well-sealed in foil, as the higher temperature will dry it out.
Pour your guests another drink, and tell them dinner wil be ready... when it's ready!
...cooked too fast
Check that it's cooked all the way through, and doesn't just have a nice browned crispy skin (if it does, cover it with foil and continue cooking). If it's fully cooked, cover the turkey loosely with foil and set aside somewhere warm. It will retain the heat for over an hour.
What size turkey should I buy?
What's the difference between a turkey and a turkey crown?
A crown is a turkey with the legs and wings removed, so all you have is the white breast meat on the bone. They're popular with smaller families who don't want too many leftovers. Cook a crown exactly the same way as a whole turkey.
How do I defrost a turkey?
Take the turkey out of its packaging and place on a large tray or dish, so there's somewhere to hold the liquid as it defrosts. Remove any giblets inside the turkey, and cover it.
Place the dish in a cool room (out of reach of children or pets) or in the fridge (at the very bottom so it can't drip onto other foods). Regularly pour away the liquid, being careful not to splash it anywhere. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat.
Does brining really make a difference?
It does make the meat more moist, but that moistness is water rather than turkey juice, so it doesn't really make it more flavoursome. It's also quite difficult to find a big enough container and the space to store it somewhere cool for 2 days in the run-up to Christmas.
A better and simpler idea is dry-brining - simply cover the turkey with fine sea salt (a quarter teaspoon per kg weight of turkey) and keep it cool at least overnight, then pat it dry and leave uncovered for at least 12 hours before preparing for cooking.
Is it dangerous to stuff a turkey?
You shouldn't put stuffing inside the turkey if it or the stuffing are not fully defrosted, because the heat will not penetrate them quickly enough. If both are at room temperature, it is absolutely fine.
How to roast a turkey
- Before Christmas Day, check you have the right size roasting tray for both the turkey and for your oven. Buy a new one if you need to.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan, 350°F, Gas Mark 4.
- Take the turkey out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature.
- Make sure you remove the giblets, if there are any.
- Note the weight of your turkey.
- Stuff the turkey if you wish, or place fragrant items like sprigs of herbs, slices of lemon or half an onion inside it to infuse the meat with extra flavour.
- Rub it all over with a generous amount of butter, and season it with salt and pepper.
- Lay rashers of streaky bacon over the breast, overlapping slightly so it's fully covered (remember that bacon shrinks when cooked).
- Place it on a rack in a roasting tray, and cover with foil so there's space above the bird for air to circulate, but the foil is well sealed around the edges of the tray.
- Put it in the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes less than the required cooking time for the weight of your turkey:
- Every 30-60 minutes, baste the turkey with the juices from the bottom of the roasting tray.
- When the timer goes off, take the foil off to allow the skin to brown and crisp up. Keep the foil for later and re-set the timer for 30 minutes. Do not baste during this time.
- When the timer goes off, take the turkey out of the oven and transfer it to a serving plate or board. Wrap it loosely in the foil it cooked in, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour.
How do I tell if my turkey is cooked properly?
Use a temperature probe or meat thermometer
to test the thickest part of the turkey (between the breast and the thigh) - it should reach at least 70°C (160°C) for 2 minutes. Or pierce that area with a skewer and press it - the juices that run out should be clear. The meat should be steaming hot all the way through.
Can you reheat cooked turkey?
Yes, but not as a whole roast bird. You should slice the meat, cover it in gravy, and microwave it until piping hot. Only reheat as much as you need - don't reheat meat more than once. Leftovers should be cooled as quickly as possible, stored in the fridge, and ideally used up within 48 hours.