A Guide to Cooking the Perfect Turkey to Impress your Guests

Christmas dinner is undeniably one of the most anticipated meals of the year.  Families across the country will gather to enjoy pigs-in-blankets, crispy roasted potatoes and endless brussel sprouts all accompanied by the traditional festive table centrepiece – the Christmas turkey.

If you’re hosting a Christmas dinner this year, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions on how to cook your turkey to impress your guests. Read on to discover how to serve up a mouth-watering main course they’ll be talking about well into the New Year.

What size bird do I need?

Get your guest list in order, as once you know how many people you are catering for, you can select a turkey of an appropriate size to make sure there’s enough meat to go around.  As a guide, we suggest allowing for 500g (1lb) of meat per person. This is based on the uncooked weight of the turkey and includes bones and giblets. Therefore, if you want the bird to feed ten people, you’ll need a turkey weighing in at 5kg (10lb).  If your family are super-hungry, or you want some leftovers for a Boxing Day sandwich, increase the weight to 750g (1lb 10oz) per guest.

If you’ve decided to cook a turkey crown instead of a whole bird, you should reduce the figures by 100g (3.5oz) per person as there will be no bones adding to the weight.

Alternatively, have a look at this easy to use turkey weight calculator to help you decide what size bird to buy.

Fresh or frozen?

The choice of a fresh or frozen bird usually boils down to a few key decisions. The first, and arguably most important, is taste. If you opt for a fresh turkey, then the flavour is usually more ‘gamey’ than that of a frozen bird. Most cookery experts agree that fresh turkeys hold moisture better than frozen ones, making them more tender.

A frozen turkey offers a more convenient option and can be purchased well in advance from the supermarket. The turkey should be gradually defrosted in the fridge, with every 5lb of bird having a full day to defrost.  We don’t advise defrosting a turkey in a microwave – even if you could get a sizable turkey to fit through the microwave door there is a danger it would not defrost evenly – and you don’t want your Christmas dinner being memorable for all the wrong reasons.

Fresh turkeys should be bought up to two days before it’s to be served and kept in a refrigerator until it’s time to cook.  For the best results, order your fresh turkey in advance and collect it from the farm or butchers on Christmas Eve.

Should I baste or brine my turkey?

Turkey can be quite a dry meat, so to help avoid this scenario we recommend that you baste your turkey during the cooking period.  Basting simply means spooning the juices from the roasting tin back over the bird so that absorbs the moisture. Alternatively, lay rashers of streaky bacon over the breast of the turkey as this will release fat as it cooks.  Try one of our favourite basting recipes to  add flavour and moisture to your Christmas meal.

Brining the meat is an alternative and increasingly popular way to keep the bird moist and also achieve a lovely, crisp skin. The turkey should be immersed in a salt-water solution or dry-brined in salt. The salt will break down the proteins within the meat, helping to keep it tender and juicy.

Should the worst happen, and your turkey dries out, all is not lost. Simply carve and serve with lashings of this luscious red wine gravy and your guests will be very happy.

How long will my turkey take to cook?

The British Poultry Council has a handy cooking calculator on its website. However, the general rule of thumb is to cook at 190°C (180°C for a fan oven) or 375°F or at gas mark 5 for twenty minutes per kilogram plus an additional ninety minutes.

The easiest way to check if your turkey is cooked to the correct temperature is to invest in a meat thermometer. The bird will be ready when thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 165°F.

We suggest covering the turkey in a loose ‘tent’ of tin foil before cooking. Forty minutes before the cooking time is up, remove the foil and let the skin turn golden-brown.  Once the bird has been removed from the oven, cover with foil again and let it rest for at least half an hour before carving to reabsorb the juices.

What can I do with my turkey leftovers?

Long gone are the days when turkey leftovers were only used to make endless boring sandwiches! There are so many other great ways to ensure not a scrap of your turkey goes to waste.

This flavoursome turkey soup is one of our family favourites. The carcass is boiled until the meat falls from the bones and then simmered with potatoes, carrots, celery and onions. It’s perfect when served with a chunk of crusty bread after a wintery walk!

Shredding leftover turkey meat and creating a fiery chilli packed with kidney beans, onions, garlic, tomatoes and chilli makes a simple yet tasty meal to rustle up in between Christmas and New Year. The dark meat is especially tasty in this spicy dish!

You could even go ‘Tex-Mex’ with a delicious creamy, cheesy turkey enchilada.  Pack turkey, mashed sweet potatoes and cream cheese into a soft tortilla, sprinkle with cheese and bake until it’s bubbling hot.

How long do turkey leftovers keep?

Your cooked turkey is safe to keep in the refrigerator for up to three or four days. If you are heating up the meat, make sure it’s piping hot before serving – and only reheat once.  Cooked turkey leftovers can also be safely frozen for up to three months but will need to be fully defrosted before consuming.

So, there you have it, a cheat sheet to ensure your turkey will be perfectly cooked, served and ‘gobbled up’ by your guests this Christmas.