It is amazing how as a nation we get so worked up over cooking the Christmas turkey. It’s as if we go into collective hysteria for a good part of December each year. I think there are a couple of reasons for this.
One is that most people only cook turkey once a year. I’m not sure why: it’s a great tasting, fairly lean and healthy source of protein, but for some reason, as a nation we seem to ignore this meat all year, in favour of chicken and other meats, only to go turkey mad once a year.
The other reason is often we are cooking for a large gathering, something most people don’t do all that often. The combination of cooking a meat that we hardly ever do crossed with cooking for a large gathering, often including relatives we don’t like or relatives that don’t like us (not in my case I hasten to add!!) or simply wanting to impress means, for many, the thought of cooking turkey is more daunting than it really needs to be!
Here are 20 simple tips to help take the stress out of cooking that Christmas turkey…
1. Don’t cook turkey
OK I realise this is a particulary mad tip for a blog post entitled 20 Simple Tips To Take The Stress Out Of Cooking Your Christmas Turkey! But it is a good point – there is no law that says you have to have turkey on Christmas Day. Turkey is not the easiest meat in the world to cook and it is a meat which many are not that familiar with cooking. Why not take half the stress out of the Christmas lunch cooking proceedings and cook something different, something easier, something you are more familiar with? Beef, pork, lamb or are more familiar to most people and will all make for a brilliant celebratory roast meal. Or why not treat yourself to a really good organic, free fange chicken. Or try roast duck, which is much easier to roast than turkey, still feels celebratory and I think actually tastes even nicer!
2. Try a supermarket ready to roast breast joint
If you really have your heart set on cooking a roast turkey (and let’s face it most of us do), why not cook a ready stuffed, ready to go, turkey breast joint? They are much quicker and more straightforward to cook and many of them can even be cooked from frozen, plus they are much easier to carve.
3. Buy a small one
Do you really need that 7kg turkey? As a rough guide you should allow 500g turkey (on the bone) per person, so a 7kg turkey will feed 14 adults! If you are only cooking for 6 that’s a lot of leftovers. A smaller turkey is much easier to cook and you are more likely to achieve that gorgeous bronzed skin without overcooking the breast meat. Plus a smaller turkey is more likely to fit in your fridge! If you are cooking a crown or a breast you will need even less per person – approximately 325g per person for a crown and 250g per person for a breast joint.
4. Buy a fresh turkey
One of the things that causes the most stress in households at christmas time is defrosting the turkey. How many of us have, at one time or another, either totally forgotten to defrost the turkey or carefully followed the advice on the packet only to discover it didn’t work and the turkey is still frozen solid? Buying a fresh turkey means this won’t be a problem.
5. Take advantage of turkey pre-ordering services
I know why so many people buy frozen turkeys. It’s that fear of turning up at the shops just before Christmas and discovering that there are no turkey’s left (or at least none of the sort you wanted), but there is a better way to get that perfect fresh turkey. Supermarkets and butchers will gladly take your order (and your money) now and guarantee you a turkey just before Christmas. How nice to know the turkey is sorted and you can have a nice fresh one that won’t cause you defrosting angst. You can do this online at Tesco, Waitose, M&S and Sainsburys (and probably lots of other supermarkets) or why not pop round to your local butcher?
6. Buy the best you can afford
Instead of spending your money buying an enormous, cheap turkey, much of which may go to waste, why not spend the same amount of money on a smaller but better quality turkey. If you buy the best free-range or organic turkey you can afford, not only will you will be buying a turkey that is healthier and has lived a better life, but also one which will taste much, much better.
7. Make sure you allow long enough to defrost your turkey
If you do buy a frozen turkey, make sure you allow plenty of time to defrost it. Turkeys take a surprisingly long time to defrost. Even a small turkey (3kg) will take about 48 hours to defrost in the fridge and a large one (7kg) could take up to 90 hours – that’s nearly 4 days!
4. Have a plan
Sit down and write down everything you have to do for your Christmas lunch and how long it will take. Then work backwards and work out when everything needs to go on. Then have a look at your Christmas time plan and work out what might cause a problem. Have you, for example, got your self doing 3 things at once at 11.55. Work out what can be done earlier and in advance so you aren’t trying to do everything all at the same time. Once you have a plan for your Christmas lunch you will find you will feel a lot more relaxed about cooking everything and things should go more smoothly. Or why not check out my ready made Christmas Dinner Time Plan and Shopping List?
9. Have a practice
As much as you can, practice what you are going to do on Christmas day. I always do this every year. We have a pre-Christmas Christmas, where I cook pretty much everything I am going to make on Christmas day and I make notes of how long everything takes to cook. In an ideal world you would roast a turkey the same size as the one you are going to do on Christmas day, so you can be sure of how long it is going to take. If you don’t want to go to the expense of a second turkey, just do the veg and the trimmings and roast a large chicken. For me, having a practice makes me feel a whole lot less stressed about Christmas Day!
10. Make sure you have a sufficiently large roasting tin and plenty of tin foil
So you have bought that 7kg turkey but you discover on Christmas morning that it won’t fit in your roasting tin!!! Avoid this problem by taking a look at the turkeys in the supermarket that are the size you plan to cook and, when no one’s looking, whip out your measuring tape and see if it will fit in your roasting tin. If not pop over to the homeware department and get a bigger one. I really recommend this roasting tin from Tesco. It’s huge! And at only £12, it’s been a great investment already. Plus it is a dream to wash up.
11. Don’t forget to take the giblets out
I’ve done this before! It’s so easy to do. Remember to check if there are any giblets inside the turkey cavity as soon as you get it home if it fresh, or as soon as your frozen turkey is defrosted, if it is frozen. Don’t throw them away, though, as you can turn your giblets into a delicious easy make ahead turkey gravy.
12. Don’t stuff or truss your turkey.
Leaving your bird unstuffed and untrussed (i.e. don’t tie it’s legs together. If they are already tied together just snip off the string.) will mean the turkey cooks faster and more evenly and mean the meat is less likely to dry out.
13. Don’t brine it, shove butter under the skin or any other fancy schmancy techniques
Of course you can. And many of the fancy schmancy techniques will make your turkey taste really nice, but they will also add to the stress. If you are worried about your stress levels, better to buy a quality bird, cook it simply and let the quality and flavour of the bird shine through.
14. Allow it to come up to room temperature before you cook it
This will help the turkey cook faster and much more evenly and mean you are more likely to have moist breast meat and crispy skin. The turkey should come out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to cook it.
15. Don’t keep opening the oven door
Really not a good idea! Every time you open the door, the temperature drops in the oven and the longer the turkey will take to cook, messing up your carefully laid plans. Follow the recipe below and you won’t go far wrong. If you do have to open the door for other things (roast potatoes, roast parsnips etc.) just try to do it quickly and shut the door again straight away. Whatever you do don’t keep getting the turkey out to have a look at it or it will never cook!
16. Make sure you know how to check if a turkey is done
An undercooked turkey can cause food poisoning. To check if your turkey is thoroughly cooked, cut into the thickest part of the turkey (between the breast and the thigh), the meat should be white (not pink) the juices should run clear and the turkey should be piping hot all the way through. If you have a meat thermometer, insert it into the thickest part of the turkey. The internal temperature should be 70C.
17. Allow the turkey to rest
For maximum flavour and juiciness, your turkey should be allowed to rest for about of half an hour when it comes out of the oven, so don’t forget to factor this into your time plans. When your turkey comes out of the oven, transfer it to a clean roasting tray or similar. It doesn’t really matter what it is, so long as it has a lip to stop all those delicious juices dribbling away and it is big enough. I use a pizza tray, which works perfectly. Cover your turkey loosely with foil and it should stay warm for at least 30 minutes. If you want to rest your turkey for even longer, cover it with foil and then again with a couple of teatowels and your turkey should keep warm for an hour, but you may lose some of the skins crispiness.
18. Don’t forget to refrigerate your turkey leftovers
The Food Standards Agency advise that turkey leftovers should be left to cool, covered and placed in the fridge within two hours of coming out of the oven. They also advise that leftovers should be eaten within two days and that if you are reheating your turkey you should do so until the turkey is steaming hot all the way through. If you are wondering what to do with your leftovers, check out my Turkey Leftovers Ideas.
19. Cook my Christmas Turkey Traybake
If cooking a whole turkey seems too much hassle and you’d rather spend your time doing other things on Christmas day, why not make my Easy Peasy Christmas Turkey Traybake instead – all the flavours of Christmas, but ready in less than 1h 30mins and very little washing up!
20. Follow my Easy Peasy Christmas Turkey recipe below
Or, if you want to cook a traditional turkey, below is a very easy peasy, simple turkey cooking strategy for a 3kg turkey. The cooking may be simple but the result is delicious: crisp bronzed skin, moist and succulent meat and enough for 6 people.
Do you agree with my tips? What have I forgotten?
What are your top tips for cooking a turkey?
- 3kg whole fresh turkey
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Remove your turkey from the fridge about an hour before you are going to cook it.
- Preheat your oven to 180C about 15 minutes before you want to start cooking your turkey. It is really important that your oven is at the right temperature before you start.
- Next, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the turkey and sprinkle over 1 teaspoon of salt and about 20 good grindings of black pepper. Rub the oil, salt and pepper all over the bird and place, breast side up in a roasting tray.
- Cover the turkey in foil and roast for 45 minutes. The foil will help keep the breast meat juicy and stop the skin browning too soon and burning before the meat is cooked.
- After 45 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven and remove the foil. Baste the turkey with the juices you find at the bottom of the tin. Put the turkey back in the oven, uncovered this time, for a further 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, turn the oven up to 200C, remove the turkey from the oven and baste with the juices. Return the turkey back to the oven for a further 30 minutes. Cooking the turkey at a higher temperature will help the turkey skin to brown and crisp up. 200C is also the perfect temperature for roast potatoes, meaning you can start them now and they will be ready when the turkey has rested for 30 minutes.
- After 30 minutes (the turkey will have cooked for a total of 2 hours), remove the turkey from the oven and check it is done. Stick a small sharp knife in the fattest part of the turkey (between the breast and the thigh), and the juices should run clear and the meat should be white. If you have a meat thermometer, the internal temperature should be 70C.
- Transfer the turkey to a clean roasting tin (or similar). Allow the turkey to rest for 30 minutes, covered loosely in foil. It will not get cold and the meat will taste much nicer.
- Use the turkey roasting tray to make delicious turkey gravy.