We’ve gathered together all the essential information to give you the ultimate Christmas turkey guide. Find out which turkey to buy for your family, how to cook it and how to avoid the dreaded dry meat.
A lovely big roast turkey is the traditional centrepiece to most Christmas dinners – so there’s a lot of pressure to get it just right. Once a year we embark on the cooking of the turkey.
Our handy Christmas turkey cooking guide tells you exactly how to calculate what turkey size you need to feed your family and how long to cook it for depending on its weight. Here is everything that you need to know about what sized bird to choose, how long it will need to cook for, even how to carve it.
When and where to buy a turkey
We usually order our Christmas turkey a few weeks in advance and collect it on Christmas Eve. You can order a turkey from the supermarket or from a butcher and we find this most convenient. They will offer delivery or a collection.
You will need to make space in your fridge to house the turkey, so opt for delivery a day or two before you plan on cooking it. Alternatively, you can buy a fresh or frozen turkey from the supermarket. At this time of year, there is always a huge spread to choose from. Frozen are ofter more economical is you are looking for the cheapest Christmas turkey.
There are also lots of options that come with stuffing and bacon and all sorts. Always buy the best quality meat that you can afford. For the ultimate turkey, Kelly Bronze are superior, they are extra fatty so more succulent than others. It’s rumoured this is the turkey that the Queen eats at Christmas.
Size-wise select a bird large enough to feed the guests, with a little leftover for turkey sarnies. But small enough to fit in your over. Trust us, you don’t want to be trying to butcher a turkey on Christmas morning when you realise it’s too big!
When you get your turkey home or defrost it make sure to remove the giblets if it comes with them. Before cooking wash out the cavity of the bird.
What size turkey do you need?
For an extra small gathering, you could opt for an extra small turkey or even turkey crown. If you are wondering what size turkey to buy for larger parties here is a guide of what weight turkey you will need:
- Turkey to feed 4-6 people – 3kg
- Turkey to feed 8-10 people – 4kg
- Turkey to feed 10-12 people – 5kg
- Turkey to feed 12-14 people – 6kg
- Turkey for 16-18 people – 8kg
The sizes of turkeys are categorised differently in different supermarkets. At Tesco an extra-large whole turkey weighs between 7.0-8.8kg, large range from 5.3-6.9kg, Medium is 3.9 – 5.2kg and small accounts for turkeys weighing less than 3.8kg. This year Tesco is also be selling a mini turkey suitable for 2-3 guests weighing 1-1.4kg.
How do you calculate the cooking time for a turkey?
To calculate the cooking time of a whole turkey you will first need to establish the weight of your bird. This is usually printed on the packaging or receipt. Turkeys are often too heavy and ungainly to weigh on kitchen scales.
In an oven preheated to 180C/Gas 4 a turkey will require an approximate cooking time of 20 mins per kg plus an extra 70 mins. So a 5kg turkey will need to cook for about 2 hrs 50 mins. We would then rest the meat uncovered for 30 mins before carving. The resting will make the meat more tender and succulent.
As turkeys are often large they take a while to cook. Therefore is you are planning on serving a turkey for lunch on Christmas day you will most likely need to get a large turkey in the oven at around 10:30. Although the idea of getting up early to put the turkey in the oven is outdated and will leave you with a sad dry bird.
However first thing on Christmas morning, before you even contemplate glancing at your Christmas stocking, dash down to the fridge and take the turkey out. As it is important that it is at room temperature when it goes into the oven so that the meat cooks evenly. If it’s a large bird leave it at room temperature for 1 hr prior to cooking.
Assuming that you would like to serve the turkey at 2 pm here are our suggested cooking times. (As the size of the bird increases the cooking time per kg decreases, so these timing should be used as a guide.) And we would always recommend that you test the internal temperature of the thickest part of the turkey with a probe thermometer. The turkey is ready to come out of the over when the internal temperature reaches 60C. As it rests the residual heat will continue cooking the meat and temperature will rise.
Don’t worry if it’s ready prematurely as a turkey can rest for up to 1 hr.
What time to put the turkey in the oven on Christmas Day
How long to cook a mini 1kg whole turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 12:30pm
- Cook at 180C/Gas 4 for 1 hr, plus resting
How long to cook a small 2kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 11:40am
- Cook at 180C/Gas 4 for 1hr 50 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a small 3kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 11:20am
- Cook at 180C/Gas 4 for: 2 hrs 10 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a medium 4kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 11:00am
- Cook at 180C/Gas 4 for: 2hrs 30 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a medium 5kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 10:40am
- Cook at 180C/Gas 4 for: 2 hrs 50 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a large 6kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 10:30am
- Cook at 180C/Gas 4 for: 3 hrs, plus resting
How long to cook an extra large 7kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 10:10am
- Cook at 180C/Gas 4 for: 3 hrs 20 mins, plus resting
This is the calculation that we use to calculate the cooking time of a whole turkey: weight of the whole turkey in kg x 20 + 70 = cooking time in minutes
It’s important to cook a turkey for the correct time, too little and the meat will be undercooked and inedible but too long the meat will dry out. For special occasions, we trust Nigella. She advises cooking the turkey upside down for all but the last 30 mins of the cooking time. In her book ‘Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friend’ she explains “The only fat deposits in a turkey are in the back and this allows them to percolate through the breast meat as it cooks; this makes for the tenderest possible, succulent meat.” For a more detailed explanation on turkey cooking, times and method for a perfectly cooked moist turkey consult our informative guide on how to cook a turkey.
If using a frozen turkey it’s imperative that you defrost it fully before cooking it or the inside will take longer to cook and the outside will dry out.
For the safest method follow a recipe, we adore Gordon Ramsay’s roast turkey with lemon parsley and garlic.
Before cooking your turkey make sure:
- The turkey is at room temperature
- You have removed the giblets and washed out the cavity
- The oven is pre-heated
How long should you rest a whole turkey for?
In our calculated times above we have accounted for resting the meat for 30 mins. We would suggest that you rest the turkey after cooking and before carving. It is essential as it allows the internal temperature of the meat to keep climbing and cooking. It will also relax the meat meaning that it will be extra tender and succulent.
Chef Gordon Ramsay divulges his number one trick to cooking a great turkey. He rests the turkey for a couple of hours or even more before carving it. Gordon explains resting is essential “As it [the turkey meat] relaxes, the juices are re-absorbed, making the meat succulent, tender and easier to carve. It may seem like a long time, but the texture will be improved the longer you leave the turkey to rest.”. If you’re dubious of this method because you are concerned the meat will be cold Gordon has a nifty trick for that too. He suggests using “piping hot gravy to restore the heat”. So if you’re following Gordon’s advice you may want to get your bird in the oven a couple of hours earlier!
What’s the easiest way to carve a turkey?
Carving the turkey shouldn’t be daunting. We have created a handy guide including a video explaining how to carve a turkey.
Essentially it’s the same as other poultry, but on a larger scale. Make sure you have a sharp knife and a large board with a reservoir to collect the juice. For the theatre, we love to carve the Christmas turkey at the table, but if you find that daunting cut it in the kitchen and present the meat on a serving platter.
Start by cutting off the large drumsticks, and then remove the wings. Cut off the dark meat following the direction of the bone. You can remove the breasts and slice them, but we find it looks more elegant to cut thin slices while these are on the carcass. Carve the white breast meat in downward slices.
Once you have served the meat don’t forget to rescue the stuffing from the cavity and divvy this out too.
How to give your turkey a tasty twist
The turkey is the centrepiece of the Christmas dinner, so make it extra special. For a quick fix, a bacon lattice turkey is rather splendid and thankfully is much easier to achieve than it looks! You can experiment with flavour combernations and even how you dress the bird on the platter.
Check out these seven other inventive ways to give your turkey a tasty twist and make it taste and look outstanding.
What to do with leftover turkey
After lunch, allow the turkey to cool then remove the remainder of the breasts from the carcass. Wrap in foil and refrigerate. The jus or gravy can be stored for a few days in the fridge and reheated. The carcass can be used to make a broth and used in soup. We pop ours with the giblets in a pressure cooker with water to make a stock.
The Christmas leftovers are actually our favourite part of the festive season. We’re major advocates of using the leftover turkey in a delicious sarnie. Loaded with cranberry sauce and pickles. But there are lots of other inventive and substation options to use up the leftover turkey.
Food Writer Keiron George is a fan of the humble turkey pie. He says “Boxing day in our house is pot pie day, because it’s when we cook all the leftovers into a glorious pie and serve it with a bubble and squeak using yesterday’s vegetables. ”
Food writer and blogger Rosie Bensberg admits to a less conventional use of the leftovers. She explains “after a big blow out on Christmas Day a light revitalising turkey pho soup is the best way to use the leftover turkey.”
Not a fan of turkey? There are other options available for Christmas. Traditionally in the UK goose was the chosen bird at Christmas and is still a popular option. The great thing about roasting a big goose at Christmas is it gives you enough goose fat for an entire years worth of roasted potatoes!
For smaller gatherings a joint of beef is also lovely, we are rather partial to a beef wellington. Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington would be a handsome centrepiece.
If you don’t eat meat there are also many delicious vegetarian and vegan options for Chrismas dinner.
The classic, of course, is the nut roast.
We also adore this Gluten-free veggie Wellington recipe, which is packed with cheese and tasty vegetables.
And for an alternative vegan Christmas option, this chestnut bourguignon pie is popular.