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Turkey Tips


How many times have you been served (or served) turkey which is bland and dry? Worse still,  how many times have you had to wait because the bird wasn't quite cooked in time?  We tell you how to buy, prepare and cook the perfect, succulent, flavoursome turkey on Christmas day PLUS some wonderful recipes for using up the leftovers....if you have any!



Jump to:   What size turkeyPreparation | CookingServingAccompanimentsStoring Cooked TurkeyUsing up Leftovers


Before you buy your turkey

Check your oven is large enough if you intend cooking a big bird, and buy a special turkey roasting pan.  If worse comes to the worse and you find yourself with a bird which just won't fit in the oven, try removing the legs which can be cooked separately. If that's still no good, separate the crown (i.e. the whole breast section) from the back of the bird, but remember, it will take less cooking time.


Remember - turkeys are heavy so take care when lifting in and out of the oven so make sure you get yourself some really good heavy duty oven gloves.


How big a turkey do you need?

You should allow 350g/12oz per person (with bone) but bear in mind that's just for one meal. Below are some example bird sizes, but we've allowed extra so you have some left to either eat cold or for use in other recipes:- 

Serves 4   

2.7kg/ 6 lb

Serves 6   

4.5kg/ 10 lb

Serves 8   

5.4kg/ 12 lb

Serves 10 

6.8kg/ 15 lb

Serves 12 

8.1kg/ 18 lb

Serves 14 

9.4kg/ 21 lb

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If you have bought a frozen bird do make sure it is well defrosted first. Check by putting your hand inside the body cavity to see if there are any ice crystals left. Smaller turkeys (up to 7 kg) take about 24 hours to defrost in a cool place (around 18 °C), larger birds up to 48 hours.


Don’t stuff the body cavity. Instead lift the neck flap and press your stuffing up against the wishbone. Any remaining stuffing can be placed in a well greased shallow baking tin, covered with foil and cooked separately.


For extra flavour place half an onion and/or half an orange in the body cavity (both with the skins still in tact) and pour some medium/sweet sherry over the bird before placing in the oven. The resulting juices are a good addition to the gravy.


For a tasty and attractive finish, sprinkle the turkey with ground paprika and crushed thyme before cooking and don't forget to season all over the bird with salt and pepper.


Before placing in the oven, smear the breasts with plenty of softened butter and protect with foil. Better still, cover the breasts and legs with LOTS of streaky bacon secured with wooden toothpicks then cover loosely with foil until the last 30-45 minutes of the cooking time.

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Allow 20-25 minutes per lb (50-55 minutes per kg) plus and extra 20 minutes at 180C, 350F, Gas Mark 4 and remember to include the stuffing weight when calculating the timing.  Some say to start it off breast side down which is actually a good idea however, if you are going to use this method, don't smear the breasts with butter at the start as it will just melt and run into the roasting tin. Use the streaky bacon method instead but still cover loosely with foil.

Approximate cooking times (make adjustments to suit your own oven in particular for fan assisted ovens):-


2.7kg/ 6 lb

2 hours 30 minutes

4.5kg/ 10 lb

4 hours

5.4kg/ 12 lb

5 Hours

6.8kg/ 15 lb

6 hours 15 minutes

8.1kg/ 18 lb

7 hours 30 minutes

9.4kg/ 21 lb

8 hours 40 minutes


Half way through the cooking time, turn the bird onto its back, baste well with the cooking juices, then re-cover loosely with foil before returning it to the oven. If you feel so inclined, you can baste the bird every 1-2 hours however if you use the foil method, basting 2-3 times during cooking is sufficient.


About 45 minutes before the end of the cooking time, remove the foil (and bacon if you prefer), baste with the cooking juices and continue to roast. This will allow plenty of time for the bird to brown.


Check the meat is cooked by parting the skin between the leg and breast. If it is still a little pink then allow an extra 20 minutes on top of your calculated time. When pierced with a skewer at the thickest part of the thigh the juices should run clear not pink.

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Transfer the bird to a large serving platter, making sure you drain any juices which will have collected inside the cavity.  You can add these juices to the gravy for extra flavour.


Leave the cooked turkey to stand in a warm place for about 20 minutes before carving.  This may seem a long time but trust us - just cover it loosely with a foil ‘tent’ to retain its heat. You'll be surprised how hot it will remain and this resting time makes carving a doddle.

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Unless you are fortunate enough to have a very large or double oven it's likely that you'll have to do some juggling in order for accompaniments like roast potatoes, roast parsnips and bacon rolls to be browned and crisp without overcooking.


The 20 minutes whilst you are resting the bird as above is the prime opportunity for you to brown and crisp up all your accompaniments however, this relatively short time means you'll have to steam or boil potatoes and parsnips until almost cooked.


15 minutes before you are ready to take the bird out of the oven to rest, turn the temperature up to very high - at least 220C, 425F, Gas Mark 7. This will ensure that whatever you put into the oven at this point will brown and crisp in the 20 minutes you have spare. Keep a watchful eye and reduce the oven temperature or even turn it off if items are browning too quickly.


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Storing Cooked Turkey

It is important to refrigerate leftover turkey as soon as possible. Make sure it is completely cold before wrapping securely in aluminium foil. As the carcass is large, it's a good idea to remove the meat from the bones before refrigerating.  Serve cold within 2/3 days.

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When reheating cooked turkey in made up dishes such as pilafs, savoury pancakes or in a sauce or curry, make sure it is piping hot all the way through.  Here are some usual and unusual recipes using leftover turkey.


Turkey Soup      HT  SP  140mins

Turkey & Spinach Bake HT MC British 40mins

Turkey, Almond and Cheese Bake    HT  MC   British  45mins

Turkey and Stuffing Bake    HT  MC  50mins

Turkey Cacciatora    HT  MC   Italian  50mins

Turkey and Ham Crumble    HT  MC  55mins

Leftover Turkey Pancakes    HT  MC  60mins

Leftovers Turkey Pie HT MC British 65mins

Cranberry, Almond Turkey Flan    HT  MC  British  75mins

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