How to Cook | A Whole Turkey

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When you cook a turkey, it will always be dry in parts and juicy in others, so don’t get hung up on it – a turkey with a dry breast is down to a flaw in poultry engineering, not a failure of cooking. You would have to spatchcock the turkey, that is to flatten it out, or roast it in pieces to make sure it cooks evenly and part of the magic of Christmas is bringing the whole burnished bird to the table. + VIDEO: Watch Jamie Oliver show how to carve a turkey on his Food Tube channel.

Our guide to cooking a turkey

THE ROASTING TIN: You’ll need a heavy large roasting tin that fits your turkey comfortably: make sure that the tin also fits into your oven with room to grip the handles to pull it out and push it back in.

SCALES: Buy or borrow a weighing scales that can weigh the turkey if you don’t already have one – most domestic scales go up to 2kg and that’s too low for a turkey. A scales for weighing humans will work but you need to weigh the turkey in a plastic bag for reasons of hygiene.  If you are stuffing the bird, weigh the ‘stuffed’ bird and calculate the final timings based on that weight.

OVEN TEMPERATURE: The oven temperature should be 180/350F/Gas 4 from the start to the finish of cooking the bird.

PREHEATING THE OVEN: Preheat the oven for at least 30 minutes in advance of cooking.

If the turkey is fresh – eg it has not been defrosted in the previous 24 hours – it will take 13-15 minutes per 454g to cook.

RESTING THE TURKEY: A fresh turkey that has been defrosted from frozen will take 20 minutes per 454g to cook. (If it has been defrosted from the day before, it will be colder when it goes into the oven than a fresh bird.)

The only definitive way to check if the turkey is cooked throughout is to use a meat thermometer. Take the temperature of the turkey in 4 places: press the thermometer probe deep into the breast, the turkey leg, thigh and wings, avoiding the bone. To be absolutely safe, cook the turkey so it registers an internal temperature of 170F (77C) in the breast and 180F (82C) in the thigh. If the  bird is stuffed, you’ll also need to probe the centre of the stuffing and it should read at least 165F (74C).

Let the bird ‘rest’ for 30-45 minutes tented in tin foil before carving it so the juices flow back into the centre of the bird. It will be juicier and easier to carve.

– Push softened butter under the skin of the turkey breast and rub butter and/or olive oil all over the bird.
– There is no need to baste the turkey during cooking – it won’t make much difference to the final succulence of the bird and it’s dangerous to keep pulling a large turkey out from a hot oven with hot fat in the oven dish.
– During cooking, drain off the turkey juices, reserving them to make gravy – this will stop the turkey steaming and the skin will become crisp.

HOW TO STOP THE BREAST OF THE TURKEY FROM DRYING OUT: Place a piece of tin foil over the turkey breast halfway through the cooking time to stop it drying out. Remove the tin foil 20-30 minutes before the end of cooking so the skin can become crispy.

Don’t bother brining the turkey (that’s where you soak the turkey in a large tub of salty water to give you a moister bird). It’s lethal. If you think about it, the advice for chickens is not to wash the chicken because you spread bacteria, then why would you haul a large turkey into a larger container full of salty water, then lift it out (dripping the water on the floor no doubt) and have to do all that forensic cleaning to make sure that you haven’t contaminated your kitchen at Christmas.

Turkey Roasting Chart
Safe meat cooking temperatures


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