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Cooking turkey FAQ

Siski Green / 09 December 2014

With 76% of families buying a turkey for Christmas day, it’s important to know all you can about cooking it well.

Your guide to cooking a christmas turkey

What size turkey should I buy?

That all depends on how many people you plan to feed. Estimate about 500g per person if you’re cooking a whole turkey, but if you're only cooking breast reduce that by around 100g per person, as obviously there are no bones to take into account.

When should I start defrosting the turkey?

Assuming you buy your turkey frozen as most people do, you’ll need to plan days ahead to make sure it’s properly defrosted. The ideal place to defrost is in the fridge where you need to allow around 10 hours per kg (5 hours per pound). At cool room temperature (17C or lower), you can allow for 3 or 4 hours per kg. That means a 10kg (22lb) turkey can take nearly a week to thaw.

Can’t I defrost the turkey in the microwave?

If your turkey fits in your microwave you can use it to defrost but be aware that the flavour and texture might be altered.

Most turkey producers don’t recommend using a microwave as it’s all too easy for one part of the bird to be defrosted while another part is not, potentially leading to problems.

It’s also absolutely essential that the turkey is put in the oven immediately afterwards as harmful bacteria may have multiplied in the warmth of the microwave.

My turkey smells funny. Is it okay to eat?

Touch it, if it feels slimy too, throw it out as it’s not good to eat and may make you sick. When turkey goes off it has quite a strong odour and may also have a slight greenish shiny tinge. If you’re in any doubt, it’s always safest to throw it out.

How can I make my turkey meat less dry?

The only way to eat dried-out turkey meat is with lots of gravy, so avoid that scenario by cooking the bird breast down until the last hour or so so it absorbs the juices and cover with foil until you’re read to brown it, so that moisture is kept inside.

Finally, let the turkey stand for at least 20 minutes before serving, covered with foil. This gives the meat a chance to relax and reabsorb some juices.

How hot does the turkey meat need to be?

To kill off harmful bacteria the meat needs to reach 76C and remain at that temperature for at least 15 minutes. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer.

You can also check if a turkey is cooked by inserting a skewer into the thickest part of the bird, the thigh. If the juices run clear, it’s cooked. If they are even slightly pink, you need to cook it for longer.

Be aware, too, that you should avoid putting stuffing into the cavity of the bird as this adds to the cooking time you need.

How long do I need to cook the turkey?

The Quality British Turkey organisation recommends cooking at 190°C (fan at 180°C) / 375°F / Gas Mark 5 for 20 minutes per kg plus 90 minutes.

How can I eat leftover turkey?

Remove any meat from the bones and reheat in the microwave, oven or frying pan. As with reheating any meat, the important thing here is to ensure it’s heated through and evenly.

In a microwave, it’s important to move the meat around halfway through cooking as there is often a ‘hot spot’ in the centre while the edges get cooked less thoroughly.

In the oven, make sure you add some moisture in the form of gravy, wine or similar, cover with foil and cook in an oven set on moderate/high until the meat is piping hot.

How long can I keep the leftover turkey in the fridge?

Leftovers should still be edible for four days after cooking but rather than trying to eat everything in those four days and getting tired of turkey sandwiches, soup and what not, freeze some of the meat so you can use it later.

I bought a frozen turkey but my Christmas plans have changed. How long will it keep for?

A year is the upper limit recommended for frozen turkey, so as long as your freezer is reliable, you should be okay.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.