Turkey Cooking Guide

Looking for advice on cooking a turkey? The following guide will help you prepare the perfect roast for your family and friends to enjoy – without food poisoning ruining festivities.

Defrosting your turkey

If your turkey is frozen, make sure it's properly defrosted before you cook it. If it's still partially frozen, recommended cooking times won't be long enough to cook it thoroughly. This means bacteria that cause food poisoning could survive the cooking process. So, before you start cooking, make sure there aren't any ice crystals in the cavity. You could also test the thicker parts of the turkey with a fork, to tell whether the meat feels frozen.

It's very important to work out defrosting times 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 (see the estimated times below or use our handy guide.

When you start defrosting, take the turkey out of its packaging. Put it on a large dish and cover. The large dish is to hold the liquid that comes out as the turkey thaws. To speed up thawing, remove the giblets and the neck as soon as possible.

Put the dish in a cool, clean place (ideally the fridge) where the turkey won't touch other foods. If it isn't possible to defrost your turkey in the fridge, you could use a cool room, or a garage. Preferably the room should not be more than room temperature (20°C) for food safety reasons.

To work out the defrosting time for your turkey, check the packaging. If there aren't any defrosting instructions, use the following times to work out roughly how long it will take to thaw your turkey – but remember to check that it's fully thawed before cooking.

  • In a fridge at 4ºC (39ºF), allow about 10 to 12 hours per kg, but remember 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 two hours per kg.

Pour away the liquid that comes out of the defrosting turkey regularly, to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. But be careful not to splash the liquid onto worktops, dishes, cloths or other food. And remember to wash your hands thoroughly after handling raw turkey, giblets or any other raw meat.

When your turkey is fully defrosted, put it in the fridge or cover it and put somewhere cool, until you are ready to cook it.

To help stop bugs spreading you should remember to store raw poultry at the bottom of the fridge so it can't drip onto other foods.

This advice applies to poultry such as turkey, chicken, duck and goose, and game such as partridge and pheasant.

Preparing your turkey

It's very important to keep raw poultry away from food that is ready to eat. This is because if raw poultry, or other raw meat, touches (or drips onto) these foods, bacteria will spread.

Remember, bacteria can also spread from raw meat and poultry to worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils. So, to keep your Christmas food safe, make sure you follow these rules:

  • Never wash your turkey (or other poultry) – this is because bacteria can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Proper cooking will kill any bacteria anyway.
  • Always clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they have touched raw poultry.
  • Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry and ready-to-eat food without washing it thoroughly in warm soapy water.(Ideally, use a separate chopping board just for raw meat and poultry).
  • Always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly, especially after touching raw poultry.

Cooking your turkey thoroughly

It's very important to plan your cooking time in advance, to make sure you get the bird in the oven early enough to cook it thoroughly. A large turkey can take several hours to cook properly.

How to long cook

These cooking times are based on an unstuffed bird. It's better to cook your stuffing in a separate roasting tin, rather than inside the bird, so it will cook more easily and cooking guidelines will be more accurate. (If you cook your bird with the stuffing inside, you will need to allow extra time for the amount of stuffing and allow for the fact that it cooks more slowly.)

Remember that some ovens, such as fan-assisted ovens, might cook the bird more quickly – check the manufacturer's handbook for your oven if you can. Always check that the meat is cooked thoroughly before serving.

As a general guide, in a oven preheated to 180° (350°F, Gas Mark 4):

  • For a turkey under 4.5kg, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes
    • To calculate the cooking time of a turkey under 4.5kg multiply the weight in kgs by 45 and add 20 – this will give you the number of minutes.
  • For a turkey weighing between 4.5kg and 6.5kg, allow 40 minutes per kg
    • To calculate the cooking time of a turkey between 4.5kg and 6.5kg multiply the weight in kgs by 40 – this will give you the number of minutes.
  • For a turkey over 6.5kg, allow 35 minutes per kg
    • To calculate the cooking time of a turkey over 6.5 kg multiply the weight in kgs by 35 – this will give you the number of minutes.

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.

Cooking times for other birds

Other birds, such as goose and duck, need different cooking times and temperatures. The oven should always be hotter for duck and goose to melt the fat under the skin.

  • Goose should be cooked in a preheated oven at 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7 for 35 minutes per kg.
    • Tip: Pierce the skin before cooking to help drain the fat and pour away any excess fat halfway through cooking.
  • Duck should be cooked in a preheated oven for 45 minutes per kg at 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.
    • Tip: Pierce the skin before cooking and drain off the excess fat halfway through cooking.
  • Chicken should be cooked in a preheated oven at 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 for 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes.
    • Tip: Cover your chicken with foil during cooking and uncover for the last 30 minutes to brown the skin. To stop the meat drying out, baste it every 30 minutes during cooking.

How to check your bird is cooked

These cooking guidelines are only estimates. Always check that the bird is properly cooked before serving, because eating undercooked turkey (or other poultry) could cause food poisoning.

  • Meat should be steaming hot all the way through.
  • When you cut into the thickest part of the meat, none of the meat should be pink.
  • Juices run out clear when you pierce the turkey, or when you press the thigh.
  • If you're using a temperature probe or food thermometer, check the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) reaches at least 75°C.

Leftovers

It's very important to keep cooked meat and poultry in the fridge. If they are left out at room temperature, food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply. So, after you have carved your turkey (or other bird), cool any leftovers as quickly as possible (within one to two hours), cover them and put them in the fridge.

When you're serving cold turkey, try to take out only as much as you're going to use and leave the rest in the fridge. Don't leave a plate of turkey or cold meats out all day, on a buffet for example. Put it back in the fridge as soon as you can, ideally within an hour.

If you're reheating leftover turkey, or other food, make sure it's steaming hot all the way through before you eat it. And don't reheat more than once. Ideally, try to use leftovers within 48 hours.

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