Turkey Cooking Guide
Here's everything you need to know about preparing and roasting a turkey, how to carve it and a fail-safe time plan for the hosts preparing and serving a wonderful festive meal
Preparing the turkey
Prep in advance
Take your turkey out of the fridge about 30 minutes before preparing, to bring it up to room temperature. Before cooking, remove the wishbone to make carving easier later.
Use up the giblets
Every Waitrose whole turkey comes with giblets. Remove these before cooking but don’t throw away – they make fantastic turkey stock to make your own gravy.
Stuffing the turkey
If stuffing, with traditional sausage meat or similar, carefully fill the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin. Use a couple of cocktail sticks to secure any loose skin when finished. Remember to weigh the bird after it’s been stuffed for accurate cooking times.
You can also stuff the turkey cavity with flavour – bay leaves, herbs, citrus fruit, and onion. As the bird roasts, these will soften and release lots of steam to keep the bird moist.
How to joint
If oven space is tight, or your recipe calls for you to joint the turkey, follow our step-by-step guide.
1. Sit the turkey breast-side up on a board and cut through the skin between the thigh and body. Pull back the leg and use a bit of force to pop open the leg joint. Cut between the joint and remove the leg. Repeat on the other side.
2. Turn the turkey over so it sits breast-side down and locate the wing joint at the front of the breast. Pull back the wing to pop open the joint, then cut between the body and wing to remove it. Repeat for the other wing.
3. Trim off the excess skin and fat from the end of the crown, along the base of the breast bone. You should now have 2 legs and a trimmed crown (on the bone), plus wings and giblets for stock.
4. Closely run your knife along the breast bone to separate the breast meat from the carcass, then repeat, making small strokes with the knife to release the breast. This will give you 2 breasts in addition to the rest of the cuts.
Get ahead with your accompaniments
You can also make time by making some in advance and freeze until you need them. Take a look at our easy-to-prepare recipes for Christmas stuffing, sauces and sides.
Cooking the turkey
1. Covering the bird
Place the turkey in a roasting tin. For crispy, golden skin, brush all over with melted butter. Cover with a large sheet of foil and secure around the rim of the tin to trap in the steam and keep the bird moist. It's now ready for the oven.
2. Setting the temperature
It's best to follow the turkey’s cooking instructions, but as a general rule, cook in a 180°C (160°C fan, gas mark 4) preheated oven for 35 minutes per kg (including stuffing).
About 15 minutes before the end of its cooking time, remove the foil to help the skin crisp.
3. Test if it's cooked
To test if a turkey is cooked, insert a small skewer into the thickest part of the thigh and see if the juices run clear. If there’s any pinkness, return to the oven and check every 15 minutes. Or if using a meat thermometer; the temperature needs to read 70°C when inserted into the thickest part of the meat.
4. Allow time to rest
This is very important to allow the meat to relax, stay tender and retain its juices. Cover with buttered aluminium foil and a tea towel, leave to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes up to the advised 1.5 hours. Don’t worry about the turkey going cold as it will stay warm enough when covered, and will still eat perfectly when served with piping hot gravy.
Carving the turkey
Once the bird is well rested, follow our simple carving guide to get the most out of your Christmas turkey. You'll need a sharp, long-bladed carving knife for the best results.
Christmas Lunch Time plan
Are you in charge of cooking the turkey this year? Follow our simple guide with step-by-step instructions for getting your feast on the table in time for lunch. These timings are based on a 4kg whole turkey to serve 6-8 people at approximately 2pm
Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C fan, gas mark 4).
Take the turkey out of the fridge and add your stuffing if using.
Weigh turkey to calculate your exact cooking time.
Cover the turkey loosely with foil, and put in the oven, breast-side down.
Remove the foil from the turkey and turn the bird over to brown the skin.
Baste with the juices, put back in oven.
Check if turkey is cooked, then remove turkey from the oven and transfer to a large board or plate, cover tightly with foil and tea towels to keep warm.
Increase oven temperature to 200°C (180°C fan, gas mark 6).
Preheat fat for potatoes in oven. Parboil potatoes.
Toss potatoes in the hot fat and put in oven on the top shelf.
Make gravy, if not already done.
Put carrots and parsnips in the oven to roast.
Serve starter, if having.
Put pigs in blankets and stuffing in the oven.
Reheat ready-made red cabbage.
Cook Brussels sprouts.
Reheat gravy, adding the turkey juices from the tin.
Heat up bread sauce.
Transfer sides and sauces to serving dishes.
Take turkey and all the trimmings to the table and enjoy your fabulous feast.
Image illustration credit: Enya Todd IllustrationX Waitrose Weekend