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How To Cook The Perfect Christmas Turkey or Thanksgiving Turkey

Updated on March 12, 2013
The perfect roast turkey
The perfect roast turkey

How to Cook the Perfect Turkey

A delicious Turkey is a key part of any Thanksgiving or Christmas celebration. Unfortunately many a Christmas or Thanksgiving has been ruined by a dry and tasteless Turkey.

This year i experimented while cooking a huge turkey for some friends and stumbled on what I think to be as close to a perfect turkey as you could possible get. I thought I’d share this approach with you guys and see what you think. So follow this recipe to ensure your cook a perfect turkey that is juicy and succulent for Christmas or Thanksgiving day.

The Basics of Cooking a Perfect Turkey

The first and most important thing is the quality of the turkey itself. A huge turkey can be expensive, but it is really worth investing in a good bird. A frozen supermarket turkey could still be good, but you can really taste the difference with a farm reared or organic turkey, so buy the best you can afford and you won’t regret it.

Many people are put off turkey because they are used to battery farmed, quick frozen turkeys that have had no exercise. But quality turkey that has been treated well for its life will have a much better flavour. A good turkey will have been hung ‘long legged’, which means it is hung with its guts in for a week, ask a butcher and he will know what you are talking about.

Preparing your Turkey

If you have frozen your turkey, always ensure it is fully defrosted before starting the cooking process. The best way to do this is to remove the packaging, loosely cover with aluminum foil and place it in the bottom area of the fridge overnight, if your fridge is big enough of course, if not cover with foil and a towel and leave on the side overnight.

In the morning remove the giblets (you can use these to make gravy), check the turkey is defrosted, this does mean sticking your hand in and pat inside and out with kitchen paper. To really enhance the flavor of the turkeyI like to stick a couple of smallish peeled onions, 4-5 cloves of unpeeled garlic, a lemon cut in half and some sage, rosemary and thyme inside the bird. This might feel like a tight fit, but just ram it all in, the more the merrier!

Enhance the Flavour of your Turkey

The real key to this recipe is to keep the turkey moist throughout the cooking process while developing a great flavor. Finely chop some rosemary and thyme and mix it with plenty of butter. Pull the Turkeys skin back and using your fingers smear the butter under the skin, making sure that all of the breast meat is covered and be careful not to break the skin.

Then take 2-3 rashers of streaky bacon or pancetta for each breast and push these under the skin with the butter. The extra fat from the butter and bacon or pancetta will really add to the flavor and help keep your turkey moist. You are essentially continually basting the bird for the whole cooking time.

Cooking your Turkey

Now for actually cooking your turkey. Make sure your oven is preheated to 180C/gas mark 4. Cooking time should be about 20 minutes per 500g/1lb 2oz, remember it will a bit more as you’ve stuffed it so add on another 5 minutes or so.

If your turkey is tied up with string, cut the string and loosen the bird up, this will help the turkey cook. Now place your turkey in a large roasting tin, rub it with olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. Roughly chop some leeks, carrots, celery and onion and scatter around the turkey. This will really help give your gravy a great flavor later.

So next, just cover the turkey with foil and place in your preheated oven and cook for the calculated time specified above. For the last 45 minutes of cooking remove the foil which will give the bird a lovely golden brown color.

When cooked pierce the meat with a skewer to check that it is properly cooked, if the juices are clear you are good to go, if there is any pinkness or color, give it another 10 minutes and try again. Never undercook your turkey!

Preparing the Gravy...

To make the gravy remove the chunky vegetables from the roasting tin and pour away the fat ensuring you the keep the delicious juices in the pan. Add 2 tablespoons of corn flour and about a 1.1 liters or 2 pints of water, preferably water from the potatoes or vegetables. If it’s too thick add a bit more water and add more flour to thicken if required. Put this back on to the hob on a high heat and keep stirring until it boils.

Now carve your juicy turkey and dig in with the gravy and any other potatoes and veg you’ve put together.


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    • dommcg profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      Thanks Rain Defence, your idea of adding garlic to the turkey is a good one. I find garlic can really enhance the flavour of poultry, but you might have to be careful as it is not to everyones tastes. Yorkshire pudding and Turkey are an interesting combination and one i haven't tried before, i'll sure to check out your recipe.

    • Rain Defence profile image

      Rain Defence 

      6 years ago from UK

      I bet the turkeys of the world are all feeling a bit nervous this time of year! I am not the biggest fan of turkey, but butter and bacon improves every meal and even make turkey taste great. My tip is to stab some little holes in the breast of the turkey and push some little pieces of garlic in there. It flavours the meat beautifully.

      I bet this hub will help out a lot of people who want to cook the perfect turkey this christmas, moist tasty meat is what it's all about. In fact all you need is this hub and my yorkshire pudding hub and you're halfway to a delicious christmas dinner!

      Now all we need is a hub about how to cook sprouts...

    • dommcg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Excellent information, although you seem to have forgotten about the effect of drinking half a bottle of port, that really makes me drop off....

    • Rain Defence profile image

      Rain Defence 

      7 years ago from UK

      I actually found out an interesting fact about turkey the other day. Well I thought it was mildly interesting anyway. Turkey contains higher levels of tryptophan than most other meats, which makes you fall asleep. The fact that you usually eat it til you can't move also helps and the combination of the two things together sort of explains why you tend to fall asleep after christmas dinner.

    • dommcg profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Yes the butter and bacon really helps it keep moist, the bacon also really enhances the flavour of the meat. It doesn't taste of bacon, but just adds an extra depth to the flavour. Thanks for the comments.

    • plussize-lingerie profile image

      David Taylor 

      7 years ago from UK

      We just had a turkey yesterday as we had to have Christmas dinner early in order to fit in with one side of the family (we're doing it all over again next week). We cooked the turkey as Delia says, but without the butter as that seemed a bit much. It cooked way to quickly, and ended up a bit dry, so next time round we'll try this I think.

      I suspect the butter and bacon are essential to keep the turkey moist.

    • itsmonkeyboy profile image


      7 years ago from London, UK

      Sounds fantastic. I'm cooking Xmas dinner this year and my partner seems a little nervous about that situation, but I'm quite looking forward to it! I think I know most things you've written but it's handy to have it all in one article, I'm going to bookmark this hub so I can refer back to it, thank you for sharing this.


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