Our Christmas turkey cooking guide tells you everything you need to know about how long to cook a turkey per kg, how long to rest it – and even how to carve your turkey this Christmas.
Of course, one of the biggest challenges with how to cook a turkey is to keep it moist – no one wants to end up with a dry old bird come serving time. Chef Michaela Hanna recommends rubbing butter under the skin of the turkey on Christmas Eve, saving you a job on the big day when everything is frantic in the kitchen. "Stuffing herb butter under the skin of the turkey is one way to help with basting the turkey and keeping it moist," she suggests. It's also important that your turkey isn't too cold when you put it in the oven. "My first job of the day on Christmas morning is to take the turkey out of the fridge. Two hours at room temperature before you start cooking is ideal," says Michaela.
For more top tips on cooking one of the best turkeys for Christmas this year, our handy cooking guide below has you covered. From how to calculate what turkey size you need to feed your family to how long to cook it for depending on its weight. Here is everything that you need to know...
How long does it take to cook a turkey per kg?
A turkey will require an approximate cooking time of 20 mins per kg plus an extra 70 mins, in an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas 4.
However, there are many cooking times and methods. "I like to cook the bird for 30 minutes at 210°C fan with 300ml water in the oven tray. After that time, throw some roughly chopped onion, carrot, celery, and a halved bulb of garlic into the tray turn the heat down to 160°C fan, and cook for 35 minutes per kilo – this works for me, but all ovens vary, so check that the juices between the thigh and breast run clear," advises Michaela Hanna.
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, as 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. You would then need to rest the meat uncovered for 30 mins before carving to make the meat more tender and succulent.
Turkeys take a while to cook, so if you're planning on serving a large turkey for lunch on Christmas Day you will most likely need to get it in the oven at around 10:30. So, first thing on Christmas morning - before you even contemplate glancing at your Christmas stocking - dash down to the fridge and take the turkey out. It's important that the turkey 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, we've listed our suggested cooking times below - as the size of the bird increases the cooking time per kg decreases, so this timing should be used as a guide.
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 oven when the internal temperature reaches 60C. As it rests the residual heat will continue cooking the meat and the temperature will rise.
Don’t worry if it’s ready prematurely, a turkey can rest for up to 1 hour.
What size turkey do you need?
It depends on how many people you are serving, and other factors, such as whether you want it all eaten on the day, or relish the thought of leftovers.
A turkey sandwich with leftover stuffing and cranberry sauce (and maybe a dollop of mayo, or even mango chutney – trust us, it's a winner) on Boxing Day can be almost as enjoyable as the turkey eaten during the big meal. It can also be great for cold cuts on a buffet, and a turkey curry or a stir fry during the inbetween days is most welcome too. However, if your gathering is small and you don't want leftovers, there's always the option of a turkey crown, particularly if you favour breast meat.
Here's our guide to turkey sizes, depending on the amount of guests:
- 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
What time do you cook the turkey on Christmas Day?
It depends on the size of the turkey. The calculation we use to work out the cooking time of a whole turkey is the weight of the whole turkey in kg x 20 + 70 = cooking time in minutes
Test the internal temperature of the thickest part of the turkey with a probe thermometer – the turkey is ready to come out of the oven when the internal temperature reaches 60°C.
In terms of what time Christmas dinner should be served, if you would like to serve the turkey at 2 pm, these are our suggested cooking times, but these can vary depending on your oven:
How long to cook a 2kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 11:40am
- Cook at 180°C/Gas 4 for 1hr 50 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a 3kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 11:20am
- Cook at 180°C/Gas 4 for: 2 hrs 10 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a 4kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 11:00am
- Cook at 180°C/Gas 4 for: 2hrs 30 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a 5kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 10:40am
- Cook at 180°C/Gas 4 for: 2 hrs 50 mins, plus resting
How long to cook a 6kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 10:30am
- Cook at 180°C/Gas 4 for: 3 hrs, plus resting
How long to cook a 7kg turkey for:
- Put in the oven at: 10:10am
- Cook at 180°C/Gas 4 for: 3 hrs 20 mins, plus resting
Christmas turkey FAQs
Can you cook turkey the night before Christmas?
You can – if you store it correctly afterward and reheat it properly on Christmas Day.
Cover and chill the turkey for two hours after cooking. To reheat, carve the turkey breast meat into thin slices and carve the leg meat off the bone. Lay in a roasting tin, pour over around 5mm of stock, and dot butter over the meat before covering with foil and roasting until the turkey is up to at least 75°C on a cooking thermometer. Leave to rest for a few minutes in the juices, then serve.
When should you buy your Christmas turkey?
It's a good idea to order your turkey a few weeks in advance and collect it on Christmas Eve. You can order a turkey from the supermarket or from a butcher for delivery or collection.
A survey by Which? found that butchers and farm shops were the best choices of where to buy your turkey for taste and quality.
Frozen turkeys from the supermarket are often more economical if you are looking for the cheapest Christmas turkey. Make sure you buy these several days in advance – it takes around 10-12 hours per kilo to defrost a turkey, so a large bird can take up to three days.
There are also lots of options that come ready-prepped with stuffing bacon and other accompaniments.
At the other end of the scale, Kelly Bronze turkeys are said to be one of the best breeds – they are extra fatty and more succulent than others – apparently, it was the late Queen's bird of choice. Reared slowly, they have a gamier taste than white turkeys.
Ensure you have enough space in the fridge to keep it cool until morning.
How long should you rest a whole turkey for?
You need to rest the turkey for a minimum of 30 mins. This 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.
"I’ll rest it for half the time it cooked for. I know that seems like a lot, and the fear is that it will be cold, but it won’t," says Michaela Hanna. "Proper resting ensures the meat won’t be dry. The amount of water in the protein helps keep the protein’s temperature, and warm food has more flavour than piping hot or cold. But if temperature is important to you, make sure the gravy is hot and that will add heat to the food."
What’s the easiest way to carve a turkey?
Follow this video explaining how to carve a turkey. Essentially, it’s the same as a chicken, 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 can I add more flavour to my turkey?
A classic bacon lattice turkey is rather splendid and much easier to achieve than it looks! You can experiment with flavour combinations and even how you dress the bird on the platter.
- Phil Vickery's saffron turkey
- Tandoori roast turkey
- Hairy Bikers' Christmas turkey with two stuffings
- Roast turkey with chestnut, sage, and apple stuffing
- John Torode's roast turkey with caramelised onions
- Cider-roasted turkey with apple and sage stuffing
What can you 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 gravy can also be stored for a few days in the fridge and reheated. The carcass can be used to make a broth or stock and used in soup. We pop ours with the giblets in a pressure cooker with water to make a stock.
The classic leftover turkey sandwich is a Boxing Day classic, but there are lots of other inventive uses.
Food Writer Keiron George is a fan of a 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 has a less conventional use of the leftovers. “After a big blowout on Christmas Day, a light revitalising turkey pho soup is the best way to use the leftover turkey," she says.
Check out more of our turkey recipes:
- Thai turkey hot and sour soup
- Smoky turkey and pepper fajitas
- Turkey, orange, and leek stir-fry
- Turkey lasagne
- Boxing Day turkey salad
- Turkey cottage pie with carrot and potato topping
- Turkey risotto
- Phil Vickery's turkey basil and corn burgers
What is a good alternative to turkey?
Until Victorian times, a roast goose was the chosen bird at Christmas and has had a resurgence in recent years – and the great thing about roasting a goose is it gives you enough goose fat for an entire year's worth of roasted potatoes,
For smaller gatherings, Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington is a handsome centerpiece.
Here are a few more meat-free ideas:
- Spinach, feta and filo pie recipe
- Gluten-free veggie Wellington
- Mushroom pie with chestnuts and greens
- Tomato tarte tatin
Now that you've got the centerpiece for your Christmas dinner under control, get to work on the trimmings. Follow our perfect crispy roast potatoes recipe, make the best sage and onion stuffing, and don't forget the all-important pigs in blankets. And here is some inspiration for buffet food ideas for any other festive hosting.
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Rose Fooks is Deputy Food Editor at Future Publishing, creating recipes, reviewing products and writing food features for a range of lifestyle and home titles including GoodTo and Woman&Home. Before joining the team, Rose obtained a Diplome de Patisserie and Culinary Management at London’s Le Cordon Bleu. Going on to work in professional kitchens at The Delaunay and Zedel.
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