Ultimate Christmas turkey guide

How do you brine a turkey? How long should you cook a turkey in the oven for?

We’ve got the answers to all of your turkey dilemmas this Christmas – whether it’s boning the bird or how best to stuff it, we’ll show you how.

Ultimate Christmas turkey guide

What size turkey do I need?

  • Allow 500g of meat on the bone for each person, this will give you enough for a meal with some left over.
  • 6-8 people: 4kg turkey
  • 10 people: 5kg turkey
  • 12 people: 6kg turkey
  • Make sure you have the right size roasting tray for your bird and that it will fit in your oven.

How long does it take to defrost a frozen turkey?

  • At a cool room temperature (no more than 17.5°C), it will take about 2 hours for every 450g.
  • Visit the British turkey website and click on the cooking link to find its Defrosting Calculator, which will do the maths for you.

How do I calculate the cooking time of a turkey? 

  • You can visit the British turkey website and click on the cooking link to reveal the Roasting Calculator. Key in the weight of your bird (after stuffing it), and it will give you an approximate cooking time – it’s just a guide because all ovens vary so keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t overcook.
  • Or follow this: Small birds and crown roasts 4kg or less: 20 minutes per kilo, plus 70 minutes or for birds over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus 90 minutes.

What’s the best way to stuff a turkey?

  • Don’t stuff the main body cavity of the turkey as this makes it harder for the heat to reach the very centre of the bird. This could result either in the turkey being slightly undercooked in the centre, or in the rest of the meat being overcooked as you try to cook the bird through. It’s better to stuff only the neck cavity.
  • Make sure the stuffing is completely cold before you use it. Also check that the main body cavity doesn’t contain the bag of giblets.
  • Put a whole orange or lemon, a halved onion and some herbs (bay and thyme or rosemary) into the main body cavity to add flavour.

Should I truss (tie up) the turkey before cooking?

  • Trussing gives the bird a neat, compact shape prior to cooking, and stops it collapsing. It forces the legs close up against the body of the bird, which helps prevent them drying out.
  • Sit the bird on a board with its neck cavity and wings facing you. Take a long piece of string – about an arm’s length – and slide it under the turkey to lie between the wings and the legs, so you have an equal amount of string on each side.
  • Run both ends along the gap between the legs and the body and under the end of each drumstick. Now bring the ends of the string to the outside of the bird and over the top of the drumstick ends, and tie them together as closely as you can.
  • Pass each end of string under the parson’s nose, in opposite directions, and tie together once more over the top of the parson’s nose.

What if my turkey’s too big for the oven?

  • Cut off the legs, spread with butter, season, place them in the bottom of the roasting tin and roast for 30 minutes. Then remove the tin, put the buttered and seasoned ‘crown’ on top of the legs and continue to roast as before.

How to brine a turkey

  • Brining a turkey should be done at least 24 hours before the turkey is due to be cooked.
  • For a 5kg free-range turkey, you’ll need a large clean plastic container filled with 8 litres of water.
  • To create your brine, add 200g of table salt, some black peppercorns, a cinnamon stick, a nob of thinly sliced fresh ginger, 250g of light Muscovado sugar, one whole orange (halved and squeezed) and 8 tablespoons of maple syrup.
  • Stir the mixture until all the salt has dissolved.
  • Carefully lower your turkey into the brining solution.
  • It should be fully submerged, so do add more water if you have to.
  • Cover the container with foil or a lid and leave overnight in a cool place.
  • Lift the turkey from the brine and dry with a paper towel an hour or two before it’s due to go in the oven.

Six steps to cooking the perfect turkey 

  • Bring the bird up to room temperature.
  • Smear softened butter  under the turkey skin and over the legs. Season well.
  • Weigh the turkey, after it has been stuffed, and calculate the cooking time.
  • Put the turkey on a rack set inside a roasting tin.
  • Cover the turkey and tin loosely with foil, sealing it well under the rim of the tin.
  • Roast at 190°C/fan170°C/gas 5 for the calculated cooking time, removing the foil 30 minutes before the end so that the skin can brown.

How can I check if my turkey is cooked right through?

  • Pierce the thickest part of the leg with a fine skewer. If the meat juices run clear, it means the turkey is cooked. If there are any traces of pink in the juices, return the bird to the oven for a further 15 minutes, then retest in the same way.

How can I guarantee a moist, juicy turkey?

  • Once the turkey is cooked, remove from the oven and lift onto a carving board. Cover it tightly with foil and leave it to rest for 30 minutes. This will allow the meat fibres to relax so that the juices, which will have risen to the surface of the meat while it was in the hot oven, are able to soak back down into the meat, making it moist and juicy. It also gives you time to turn up the oven temperature to crisp up the parsnips and roast potatoes.

How do I bone out turkey legs?

  • Pull the legs away from the body and cut along the natural line between the thigh and body to remove the leg joints in one piece. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Use a sharp knife to cut along the thigh and drumstick to expose the bone. Slide the knife underneath the bone and cut to remove the entire bone. Cut away any sinew. Repeat with the other leg.

Six steps to cooking a boned and rolled turkey 

  • Bring the joint up to room temperature.
  • Weigh the joint and calculate the cooking time, allowing 15 minutes per 450g, plus a further 20-30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C/fan200°C/gas 7. Put the turkey joint, skin-side up, into a roasting tin and pour around 450ml water or a mixture of white wine and chicken stock.
  • Spread softened butter over the skin and season well.
  • Cover the joint and tin completely with foil, sealing it well under the rim of the tin, then roast for 20 minutes – this gets the heat right into the centre of the joint.
  • Lower the temperature to 200°C/fan180°C/gas 6 and cook for the remainder of the calculated cooking time, uncovering the joint for the last 20 minutes to brown the skin.

How can I make carving the turkey easier?

  • One thing that will make it a bit easier is removing the wishbone, which is at the neck cavity end of the bird, before stuffing and cooking.
  • Turn the bird breast side up, with the neck cavity facing you.
  • Pull back the flap of skin until you can locate the wishbone with your fingers.
  • Using a small, sharp knife, cut through the flesh around the wishbone just deep enough to free it.
  • Then ease it out, cutting it free at the top and bottom.

What’s the best way to carve the turkey? 

  • Hold the bird in place on a board or platter with a carving fork. Cut between the leg and breast on each side, bending the leg outwards, then cutting through the joint to free it.
  • Cut each leg in half through the joint, then slice the meat away from the drumstick and thigh bones.
  • Starting at the neck end (where the stuffing is), carve the breast meat away, slightly on an angle, into neat slices.

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