Many families in the UK will roast a turkey on Christmas day. Preparing a traditional Christmas dinner challenges most people as they are cooking much larger quantities of food than normal. As a result thawing and cooking times are much longer than normally experienced. Failure to thaw or roast properly may lead to food poisoning which is one of the worst things that could happen at Christmas.
Food Poisoning Risk
It is a frightening prospect that 20% of food poisoning cases are poultry related and an estimated 10 million turkeys will be prepared for Christmas in the UK. Although most incidences of food poisoning are not reported, 4 000 Britons reported food poisoning in December 2002. Preparing a traditional Christmas dinner challenges most people as they are cooking much larger quantities of food than normal. As a result thawing and cooking times are much longer than normally experienced. Food poisoning is caused by bacteria and may arise from:
- Inadequately cooked meat due to not thawing the turkey correctly
- Inadequately cooked meat due to not roasting sufficiently
- Cross contamination of bacteria from raw meat
- Failing to chill leftovers that are retained for later use.
Use kg-based Thawing and Roasting Times
The first two problems can be solved by proper calculation of thawing and roasting times. Now that turkeys in the UK are sold in kilograms, the UK Metric Association says it makes sense to give thawing and cooking times in hours and minutes per kilogram respectively. Unfortunately many products and cookery books give guidelines in minutes per lb/450g. Since turkey weights are labelled in kilos, this means that a cook either has to convert with a calculator or re-weigh the turkey in pounds. As turkeys are often too heavy for kitchen scales it is difficult for consumers to reweigh birds unless they use bathroom scales – which is hardly hygienic! Kilogram-based thawing and cooking times are easily worked out from the turkey’s label.
Thawing times depend on the temperature of the place used to thaw the bird. Thawing in a refrigerator (usually around 4 °C) is recommended, however many fridges are already full around Christmas time. Alternatives are to thaw in a cool room or even room temperature.
- For thawing in a fridge at 4 °C, UKMA recommends allowing 12 hours per kilo. Thus to thaw an 8 kg turkey allow 4 days.
- For thawing in a cool room at 15 °C, UKMA recommends 7 hours per kilo; so 56 hours for an 8 kg turkey.
- For thawing at room temperature at 20 °C, UKMA recommends 2 hours per kilo; so 16 hours for an 8 kg bird.
Obviously your fridge or room may have a different temperature to those listed so you may need to allow more or less time than quoted.
Other tips for preparing the turkey:
- Do not wash the turkey – that risks spreading bacteria! – roasting not washing will kill the bacteria.
- Check the inside cavity for ice crystals at the end of thawing. If ice is still there, you need more time for thawing.
- Avoid cross-contamination by keeping the raw turkey separate from other foods and dishes.
- Avoid cross-contamination by carefully washing hands, knives, boards and utensils that have been in contact with the raw bird.
For roasting, UKMA recommends roasting for 40 minutes per kg at 190 °C, Gas 5 – thus an 8 kg bird will take 320 minutes (5 hours 20 minutes). Fractions of kilos are also easy to calculate by allowing 10 minutes for each additional ¼ kg, so an 8.25 kg requires 5 hours 30 minutes. 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. Juices should run clear not pink.
Other useful tips for a perfect roast turkey on Christmas Day:
- Check your oven is large enough if you intend cooking a big bird, and buy a special turkey roasting pan.
- Turkeys are heavy so take care when lifting in and out of the oven.
- Smear the breasts with olive oil or softened butter and protect the breast with butter papers or foil. Or, work your hands between the skin and flesh of the breasts and slide in large wedges of soft Brie.
- For a tasty attractive finish sprinkle the turkey with ground paprika and crushed thyme before cooking.
- For hygiene reasons, don’t stuff the body cavity. Instead lift the neck flap and press your stuffing up against the wishbone.
- Never carve a bird straight from the oven. Allow it to stand for at least 20 minutes. It won’t lose heat if you cover it loosely with a foil “tent”. This also allows you to get your roast potatoes nice and crisp.
- Chill leftover turkey as soon as it is cold and serve within 3 days. If serving hot in a sauce or as a curry, then reheat until piping hot.