Tips for cooking that turkey

Most of us buy our Christmas turkey from a supermarket, trussed and accompanied by cooking instructions. But for those of our readers who have obtained a bird elsewhere, and are wondering how to cook this unfamiliar monster, we have some pointers to success.

If you stuff the turkey, do so at the neck end only to ensure rapid heat penetration. Then push the ends of the legs into the body cavity and tie together with string to secure in place.

Weigh the stuffed bird and estimate the cooking time. For birds up to 3.5 kg, allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes. For heavier birds, use the table below.  Add 20 minutes (resting time before carving) to calculate when to start cooking.

Season, and smear with butter or oil.

Put the turkey into a deep roasting tin and cover loosely with foil. Now wash your hands.

Roast in a preheated oven at 190 °C (170 °C for fan ovens) or gas mark 6, basting regularly to keep the bird moist. Remove the foil 45 minutes before the end of the cooking time to allow the breast to brown. Test by pushing a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh – the juices should run clear, not at all pink.

After the turkey is cooked, leave it for 20 minutes in a warm place, covered with foil. This will make the bird easier to carve.

Roasting times

Weight                      No. of servings                   Approximate
including stuffing                                                  cooking time
.                                                                              (foil wrapped)

2 to 3.5 kg                    6 to 12                            1¾  to 3 hours
3.5 to 5 kg                    12 to 18                           3 to 3½ hours
5 to 7 kg                       18 to 24                           3½ to 4 hours
7 to 9 kg                       24 to 30                          4 to 5½ hours

6 thoughts on “Tips for cooking that turkey”

  1. A very straightforward and helpful set of instructions.

    It makes a refreshing change from the instructions we typically see on packaged birds giving cooking times ‘per 450 g’ or sometimes ‘per pound’ even though the weight of the bird is given in kg.

    It may be that the packagers are scared that people will overcook the birds if they misinterpret the instructions as being the same as 45 minutes ‘per pound’. If that is the case then all the more reason for people to get imperial units out of their system and start thinking properly in metric units.


  2. The USDA repeatedly reminds us (nags us??) to only use cooking time tables as a planning aid, and always cook to temperature using a meat thermometer. Of course, they give recommendations in Fahrenheit (165 F) but that is 74-75 degrees C. They recommend checking at least three places, thickest part of thigh, thickest part of breast, and in the stuffing, if stuffed (they recommend cooking stuffing separately).

    This temperature is lower than recommended a few years ago to prevent a dry bird, but it makes accuracy more important.

    (Editor: 165 °F – that can’t be right, surely?)


  3. @Editor:

    I agree it does sound too low. We have a thermometer (that stays in the food during cooking, so you can see the internal food temperature without taking the food out of the oven), that shows 90 C as the temperature for poultry. 75 C is shown as the temperature for ham, veal and well cooked beef.


  4. I too was puzzled by the 165 °F, so I checked the US Department of Agriculture website and found this It does indeed recommend 165 °F as the internal temperature but 325 °F (about 163 °C) as the oven temperature. Presumably there are not millions of Americans with food poisoning, so I suppose it is alright. Personally, I rely on the skewer test: if the juices run clear when you insert it into the thickest part, then it is done.

    BTW, John, I note that your thermometer recommends 90 coulombs, so I hope your turkey didn’t give you an electric shock.


  5. @ Editor

    That is the meat temperature at the time you remove it from the oven, not the oven temperature. Covered and resting, the internal temperature will climb a few degrees before you carve. The key point of their recommendation is use a meat thermometer and cook to meat temperature, DON’T rely on oven temperature and time.

    @John FL
    The older recommendation here (and printed on older meat thermometers) is 185 degrees F or 85 degrees C. That temperature really increases the chances of a dry bird, and they concluded it wasn’t needed.


  6. @Erithacus:

    You are of course right, I was just being a bit lazy (and also on my way out and in a bit too much of a rush to find the symbol in Character Map, knowing of course I could have just C&P’d from the previous post).


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