Turkey Cooking Guide

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

Download our Christmas food safety checklist

Christmas food planning

Top tips:

  • When shopping, make sure you have enough bags to keep raw and ready-to-eat foods separate.
  • Plan fridge and freezer space for the extra food you will have.
  • Keep foods that need to be chilled in the fridge – you can make room by taking out any non-perishable foods such as fizzy juice, beer and wine.
  • Use cold garages and sheds for non-perishable foods.
  • Using a fridge thermometer, check the fridge temperature is 0-5°C, built in dials on fridges are not always a good indicator of how cold a fridge is.
  • Check food is cooked properly by using a food thermometer in the thickest part so it reaches 75°C or above.
  • When defrosting meat it is safest to do this in the fridge because when food is above 8°C and below 63°C bacteria grow and multiply. Defrosting at room temperature means that the turkey, or other meat, falls into this danger zone, increasing the risk of getting food poisoning.

Defrosting your turkey

If your turkey is frozen, you need to make sure it's properly defrosted before you cook it. If it's still partially frozen when it goes in the oven, recommended cooking times won't be long enough to cook it thoroughly. This means bacteria that cause food poisoning could survive the cooking process. You can cook some turkeys from frozen if the packaging instructions say so.

Before 

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 few days for a large turkey to thaw. Never wash your turkey as this can spread harmful germs around your kitchen sick and surfaces. To work out the defrosting time for your turkey, first 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: 

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

During

Put the covered turkey in a large dish on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it won't touch other foods. This is to hold the liquid that comes out as it thaws. To speed up thawing, remove the giblets and the neck as soon as possible. 

Pour away the liquid that comes out of the defrosting turkey regularly to stop it overflowing and spreading bacteria. Be careful not to splash the liquid onto worktops, dishes, cloths or other food as this may contain harmful germs. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly in warm, soapy water after handling any raw meat.

After 

You can check that yout turkey is fully defrosted by making sure that 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. Always check that it's fully thawed before cooking. 

 

This advice applies to poultry such as turkey, chicken, duck and goose, and game such as partridge and pheasant. Read our information on chilling food for more guidance.

Don't forget

Store covered raw poultry at the bottom of the fridge where it can't drip onto other foods to help stop harmful bugs spreading. 

Preparing your turkey

It's very important to keep raw poultry away from food that is ready to eat. This is because if raw meat touches or drips onto these foods, harmful bacteria could spread and make people ill.

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 harmful bacteria can splash onto worktops, dishes and other foods. Thorough cooking is the only way to destroy any harmful bacteria. 
  • Always clean worktops, chopping boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly after they have touched raw meat or poultry.
  • Never use the same chopping board for raw poultry and ready-to-eat food without washing it thoroughly in hot, soapy water. Ideally, use a separate chopping board for raw meat and poultry.
  • Always wash your hands with warm water and soap, and dry them thoroughly, especially after touching raw poultry.

How long to cook your turkey for

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 your manufacturer's handbook for details about your oven if you can. Always check that the meat is cooked thoroughly before serving and reaches 75°C in the thickest part. 

Remember, if your oven is full or if you are opening and closing the oven door often then you may need extra cooking time.

Guide to cooking an unstuffed turkey in an oven preheated to 180°C (350°F, Gas Mark 4)
Weight (kg) Cooking time (minutes) Cooking time calculation summary for number of minutes to cook for
under 4.5kg 45 per kg plus 20  multiply the weight in kgs by 45 and add 20
between 4.5kg and 6.5kg 40 per kg multiply the weight in kgs by 40
over 6.5kg 35 per kg multiply the weight in kgs by 35

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 be hotter for duck and goose to melt the fat under the skin.

Cooking guide for goose, duck and chicken
Type of bird Temperature of oven Cooking time (minutes) Cooking tips
Goose 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7 35 per kg Pierce the skin before cooking to help drain the fat and pour away any excess fat halfway through cooking.
Duck 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 45 per kg Pierce the skin before cooking and drain off the excess fat halfway through cooking.
Chicken 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4 45 per kg plus 20  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

The cooking guidelines above are only estimates, so you should always check that the bird is properly cooked before serving. Eating undercooked turkey (or other poultry) can cause food poisoning.

  • It is best to use a temperature probe or food thermometer to make sure your bird is cooked. Check the thickest part of the bird (between the breast and the thigh) reaches 75°C or above.
  • 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.

Leftovers

After you have carved your bird, cool any leftovers as quickly as possible (within one to two hours), cover them and put them in the fridge or freezer. You could split the leftovers into smaller portions to help them cool quicker.

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 at room temperature on a buffet, for example, because food poisoning bacteria can grow and multiply. Put it back in the fridge as soon as you can, ideally within an hour.

You can freeze leftover cooked turkey meat and other cooked meats. In this case, you should take out as much as you need and defrost it in the fridge.

If you're reheating leftover turkey, or other food, always make sure it's steaming hot all the way through before you eat it. Don't reheat more than once. Use leftovers within 1-2 days. 

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