Cooking the Christmas Turkey to perfection – a simple guide

Christmas is almost upon us again which no doubt means last minute shopping for presents (especially by the men), outdoing the neighbours decorations, and of course – cooking the Christmas turkey.

OK; so you’ve courted the bird of choice for a few days, weighed up the options and made your purchase.  Undoubtedly the whopping great thing is taking up most of your freezer space and you’re wondering how you can fit it all in the oven and get it ready in time.

Fear not, for we’ve prepared a simple guide to getting the Christmas turkey just the way you want it. All you need to do is follow the tables below; but please read the instructions thoroughly to make sure your preparations are all correct.

First things first, one of the biggest problems you face if the bird isn’t cooked thoroughly is the risk of food poisoning. Poultry is synonymous with salmonella, a very unpleasant pathogen that lives in the animal’s stomach but can transfer to the muscles.

Symptoms of Salmonella include a fever, stomach pains, Diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.  It can also induce a loss of appetite and last for two or three days.

We certainly don’t want that so it’s essential that the turkey is FULLY THAWED before you begin cooking it. Our tables below tells you how long to thaw the bird for (by weight), and the recommended cooking times per pound (lb).

Thawing can be done by leaving the turkey in the fridge or to speed things up a little run it under a cold tap (although the latter option can cause the bird to lose some of its flavour). Never thaw a turkey in a microwave oven.

The following is a correct guide for thaw time per pound:

Weight Thaw time
8 to 12lbs 2 – 3 days
13 to 16lbs 3 – 4 days
17 to 20lbs 4 – 5 days
21-24lbs 5 – 6 days

Once the turkey is fully thawed it’s ready for preparation. Make sure the bird is room temperature before it goes in the oven (you may have to leave it out of the fridge the day before you cook it). Before you get involved with seasoning, preheat the oven to 475 degrees – this is very important.

Now, you may need to remove the innards yourself, so don a rubber glove and get digging.  Once done with that ordeal, carefully peel the skin back from the breast, making sure not to remove it completely, then smear the meat with butter. You can also add some finely chopped garlic to the butter for an even tastier turkey experience.

Carefully replace the skin and sprinkle some finely chopped herbs such as Rosemary or Thyme, sprinkle some salt and pepper on the skin, before finally placing an onion inside the ribcage (this really makes for great tasting gravy when using the stock).

Place the bird on its roasting dish, don’t add any water and make sure the turkey spends the full 20 minutes at 475 degrees before dropping the temperature down to 250 degrees, at which it will cook for the designated time until ready.

The table below shows the cooking times per pound (lbs), but is only to be used for a completely thawed turkey.

Weight (lbs) Time @ 475 Time @ 250 Rest time Total
10 20 mins 3h 20m 20 mins 4h
11 20 mins 3h 40m 20 mins 4h 20m
12 20 mins 4 h 20 mins 4h 40m
13 20 mins 4h 20m 20 mins 5h
14 20 mins 4h 40m 20 mins 5h 20m
15 20 mins 5h 20 mins 5h 40m
16 20 mins 5h 20m 20 mins 6h
17 20 mins 5h 40m 20 mins 6h 20m
18 20 mins 6h 20 mins 6h 40m
19 20 mins 6h 20m 20 mins 7h
20 20 mins 6h 40m 20 mins 7h 20m

Before finishing make sure you check the internal meat temperature with a thermometer.  It should read between 175 and 180 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer just ‘stab’ the breast right through and press the hole, if the meat juices are clear and colourless it is cooked. If that isn’t the case put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.

Your turkey should be juicy and tender, coming off the bone easily, while the skin should be a crispy, healthy, golden brown.

Once cooking is done let it stand for 20 minutes before carving.

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Thaw the turkey fully (check the 1st table for the time needed)
  • Preheat the oven to 475 degrees
  • Season the turkey
  • Place it in the oven for 20 minutes at 475 degrees
  • Leave it to cook for the required length of time at 250 degrees, as specified in the 2nd table
  • Check the internal temperature of the turkey is between 175 and 185 degrees
  • Leave it to stand for 20 minutes before carving

Let us know if this guide was helpful by leaving a comment.

Read more about food poisoning so you’re better equipped to avoid it.


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