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Cook the Christmas Turkey

Updated on October 15, 2014
Roast turkey
Roast turkey | Source

Cook the Turkey With Confidence

Roast turkey is the favourite main course in Britain for dinner on Christmas Day and it's popular in the USA for Thanksgiving.

If this is the first time you've cooked the Christmas turkey, it can be intimidating, especially if you have family or friends coming for dinner.

It isn't difficult, though, if you follow a few simple guidelines. It really isn't difficult to roast the turkey and have it ready on time.

Very Important

A small frozen turkey can take 2 days to thaw out while a large one can take 3 or 4 days so start thawing it earlier rather than later and leave it in the refrigerator if it defrosts before Christmas Day.

Fresh Turkeys for Sale


Fresh or Frozen Turkey? Maybe You Decide On Price

Your first decision is what type of turkey will you choose?

The choice is between fresh and frozen turkeys. You can also choose an organically reared turkey, these are usually fresh but tend to be the most expensive while frozen turkeys tend to the least expensive.

If you choose a frozen turkey, it is extremely important that it is defrosted all the way through otherwise your Christmas could be spoiled by food poisoning. Put it in the refrigerator in its wrappings to defrost slowly.

Prepare Your Turkey for Roasting

Be happy you have only one turkey to cook. This man has 175 for Thanksgiving Day aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy
Be happy you have only one turkey to cook. This man has 175 for Thanksgiving Day aboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy | Source

Preparing Your Turkey for Cooking

Before putting the turkey in the oven, wash it, inside and out then pat the outside dry. Check that all of the giblets have been removed from the carcass.

Check that there is no plastic bag of giblets left inside either the main body cavity or the flap of skin at the neck end as cooking the giblets in the plastic bag is not recommended by any of the cookbooks!

Nowadays the advice is not to put stuffing in the body cavity because it could stop the turkey cooking all the way through and lead to food poisoning. The advice is stuff the neck end only. You can cook more stuffing in a separate dish.

In fact, many people do still put stuffing in the main body cavity, as shown in the video below, but it does need to be done with care, if you must do it. Don't cram stuffing in, keep it loose so hot air can circulate. You must make certain that the turkey is cooked all the way through before serving it. The best way to do this is with a meat thermometer.

It's usual to loosen the skin at the neck end by sliding your hand gently between the skin and the flesh. By doing this, you can then put more stuffing in there than you would without doing this.

The wings should be tied under the body and the legs tied together. You can spread butter or other oils or fat over the body too. Alternatively, many people put strips of fatty bacon on the body.

How to Stuff Your Turkey

Talk Turkey to Me

Talk Turkey to Me: A Good Time in the Kitchen Talking Turkey and All the Trimmings
Talk Turkey to Me: A Good Time in the Kitchen Talking Turkey and All the Trimmings

This book not only tells you how to cook the turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas but also how to make all the other dishes to make the occasion perfect.


How to Cook the Turkey

Many UK cookbooks give two methods of cooking a turkey; fast and slow.

Fast Method
Wrap the bird in foil before putting it in the roasting tin. Put in a preheated oven, 230 deg C (450 deg F), open the foil about 30 minutes before it finishes cooking so it can brown. For cooking times, see below.

Slow Method
Don't wrap the turkey in foil otherwise it steams rather than roasts. The oven should be preheated to 170 deg C (325 deg F). Baste it regularly. See cooking times below.

My Method
I use a mixture of the two and have done for many years.

I preheat the oven to 220 deg C (425 deg F), I place the turkey on foil, ready to wrap it, but first I smear butter over it quite thickly. Then I wrap it loosely in foil.

I put it in the preheated oven and let it cook for about an hour, then I turn down the heat to 170 deg C (325 deg F) and cook a 10 to 12lb turkey for about another 3 hours but I keep an eye on it and open the foil and check it's not cooking too slowly or too fast. I close the foil and adjust the temperature of the oven if necessary.

Cooking Times for Roasting a Turkey

Slow Cooking Time
Quick Cooking Time
6 - 8lbs (2.7 - 3.6kg)
3hrs to 3hrs 30 mins
2hrs 15mins to 2hrs 30mins
8 - 10lbs (3.6 - 4.5kg)
3hrs 30mins to 3hrs 45mins
2hrs 30mins to 2hrs 45mins
0 - 12lbs (4.5 - 5.4kg)
3hrs 45mins to 4hrs
2hrs 45mins
12 - 14lbs (5.4 - 6.3kg)
4hrs to 4hrs 15mins
14 - 16lbs (2.7 - 3.6kg)
4hrs 15mins to 4hrs 30mins
3hrs to 3hrs 15mins
16 - 18lbs (7.3 - 8.2kg)
4hrs 30mins to 4hrs 45mins
3hrs 15mins to 3hrs 30mins
20 - 22lbs (9 - 10kg)
4hrs 45mins to 5hrs
3hrs 30mins to 3hrs 45mins
Turkey just out of the oven - is it cooked yet?
Turkey just out of the oven - is it cooked yet? | Source

Is the Turkey Cooked Yet?

Open the Foil to Check
I'll take it out of the oven after about 2 hours 30 minutes and open the foil to see how it's doing. If it still has quite a way to go before it's cooked, I close the foil and put it back. If it's very close to being cooked, I tear the foil off so that the bird can brown. At this stage I also turn up the heat to around 200 deg C (400 deg F).

If it wasn't ready for browning, I'll look at it again after 30 to 45 minutes and then remove enough foil to allow it to brown. Baste it frequently while it is browning.

Test If It's Cooked
Test to see if it is cooked by inserting a thin bladed knife or skewer - the juices should be clear of any trace of blood. Usually the last part to cook is the thickest part of the leg pressed against the body of the turkey.

If it is taking much longer to cook than you expected and you have hordes of hungry people expecting dinner shortly, you can cut off the legs - insert the point of a sharp, strong knife into the joint closest to the body after you've cut through the flesh, and twist the knife and the leg should come off fairly easily. Then put the legs back in the roasting tin but with the fleshy side outwards, in effect the legs are back to front, that way the thick part is exposed to more heat and will cook more quickly (this is a tip given to me by my father who was a chef).

With this method it is not as easy to calculate the cooking times but they are about the same as for the slow method. The advantage is that the higher temperature at the start seem to seal in the juices and the turkey is never dry.

Whichever method you use, the turkey should be ready about 30 minutes before you need to carve it. Just leave it somewhere reasonably warm - the kitchen on Christmas Day is an ideal place as it is usually like a furnace in most homes.

How to Carve the Turkey

When Do You Eat Turkey?

When do you eat turkey, Christmas or other special occasion?

See results

© 2014 Carol Fisher

Have You Had a Problem Cooking a Turkey?

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    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      @ Stazja,

      You are always welcome. I meant every word.

      I was taught early in life to not waste 2 things:

      Time and Compliments. I appreciate so much what you wrote.

      Your Friend for Life,


    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      4 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      @kenneth avery Thank you so much for your lovely comments. You've made my day.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Yumm! Great read. Just in time for the holidays. I will tell you the truth. I really love this hub. And here are the reasons why:

      1. This is an excellent piece of writing. Amazing work.

      2, I loved the way you worded this hub.

      3. Graphics, superb.

      4. This hub was helpful, informative and very interesting.

      5. Voted Up and all of the choices.

      6. I loved your topic.

      You are certainly a gifted writer. Please keep up the fine work.


      Kenneth Avery, Hamilton, Alabama

      Merry Christmas!

    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      4 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      @Paul Ward We have turkey at Christmas because it's my partner's favourite. I don't eat much meat so I don't mind having a small amount of turkey instead of a small amount of other meat.

      Pork or beef both sound like good choices. My favourite parts of Christmas dinner are the stuffing and gravy and I could have those with pork or beef.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      4 years ago from Liverpool, England

      I've never cooked a turkey - we tend to have a piece of pork and a piece of beef on Christmas Day - but this looks like a very useful guide.


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