When I think of Christmas, I can’t help but picture everyone gathered around a festively decorated table, serving plates piled high with all the traditional trimmings, roasted vegetables, pigs in blankets, crisp golden potatoes cooked in duck fat and at the head of it all, a gigantic turkey ready to be carved.
I’m definitely the chef of our home. I love cooking and experimenting with flavour, and I consider myself above average in the kitchen. But I always feel a pile of extra pressure when it’s my turn to make Christmas Dinner, and that if I get it wrong, I’ll be ruining Christmas for my entire family.
Everyone I know remembers that year.
The year dinner was so late the kids had been in bed for a few hours. Or the time the Turkey was so dry and overcooked, it would’ve been easier to eat dry crackers.
Jamie Oliver may be good at throwing generous splashes of olive oil over everything on the table, and perhaps you find Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen expletives highly entertaining. But when it comes to Christmas dinner this is no time to mess around. You don’t want to be the one creating memories for all the wrong reasons.
So, to help make sure you nail it this year, I put together BoroughBox.com’s Complete Christmas Turkey Guide.
Follow this, and you’ll be the star of the show. A genuine Christmas culinary genius.
First, I’ll cover all the essential elements and then bring it all together to cook the perfect turkey.
Let’s get started.
Size Matters – How Much Turkey Will You Need?
Before I go through the amount of turkey you need for the number of people you’re feeding, there’s one little thing which can catch out the best of cooks.
You need to make sure your oven is big enough for the turkey. And this is followed closely by having a roasting tin big enough to hold it, and the juices too.
With that out of the way, the size of Turkey you need is about 1 – 1.5 pounds per person. Or, roughly 1kg for every two people.
Turkey Size Guide:
- 3kg feeds a family of four
- 5kg feeds 8-10
- 6kg feeds 10-12
- 7kg feeds 12-14
- 8kg feeds 14-16
- 9kg feeds 16-18
- 10kg feeds 18-20
If you’re a fan of white meat and want to feed more people for less size and weight (think fitting into your oven), you can buy a Turkey Crown, which is a Turkey with the legs trimmed.
Turkey Crown Size Guide:
- 3kg feeds 8-11
- 4kg feeds 12-15
- 5kg feeds 15+
#1 Secret: Buy the best quality fresh turkey you can afford. Take a look at the free-range Norfolk Bronze Turkeys and Turkey Crowns, from Morton’s Traditional Taste farm. These are fresh Turkeys, and so you won’t need to defrost them, and they’ll be delivered straight to your door on 22nd December, in an insulated box. They will have bags more flavour than a frozen turkey.
Turkey Defrosting Times
If you do choose to buy a frozen turkey, then pay attention to the defrosting times below. Defrosting your turkey in the fridge is by far the preferred option, and it takes quite some time. About 24 hours for every 2kg (4-5 pounds).
Refrigerated Defrosting Times
- 3-4kg 1½ – 2 days
- 5-6kg 2-3 days
- 7-8kg 4-5 days
- 9-10kg 5-6 days
There are significant benefits to thawing your turkey in the fridge.
Firstly, you can leave it in its original packaging, breast side up. Just place it on a tray to catch any thawing liquids. Secondly, you don’t need to cook the turkey straightaway. It can stay in the fridge for a couple more days. So, this means you can defrost your turkey in time for Christmas Eve, and have the peace of mind knowing you’re all set for the big day. Lastly, if for some reason your plans do go awry, you can re-freeze your turkey within 48 hours of fridge defrosting.
Cold Water Defrosting Times
If you ‘forgot’ to start your fridge defrosting in time, don’t panic. You can do your defrosting in cold water. For this, you need to put your turkey into a leak-proof plastic bag, and then submerge the bag in cold tap water. Don’t use hot water. You need around an hour and a quarter per kilogram. And you should change the cold water every half hour.
- 5-6kg 6-8 hours
- 7-8kg 8-10 hours
- 9-10kg 10-12 hours
You MUST cook your turkey as soon as you defrost it if you use the cold water defrosting method. You CANNOT refreeze it after defrosting, although you can cook it and then freeze it if you want to.
How NOT To Defrost Your Turkey
You shouldn’t defrost your turkey by leaving it on the kitchen counter at room temperature, or by using hot water. The reason is the outer meat will be at a temperature ideal for breeding bacteria for far too long.
Roast your turkey in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees using the following times as a guideline. You should use a meat thermometer, and your turkey is cooked when the meat is at a temperature of 74°C (165°F).
If you buy a good quality turkey, you can use a lower temperature of 65°C. Measure the temperature at the thickest parts of the thigh and breast. Juices should run clear when the meat is pierced.
- 3-4kg – 1½ to 2 hours
- 4-5kg – 2¼ to 2½ hours
- 5-6kg – 2½ to 3 hours
- 6-7kg – 3 hours to 3½ hours
- 7-8kg – 3½ to 4 hours
- 8-9kg – 4 to 4¼ hours
- 9-10kg – 4¼ to 4½ hours
Cooking The Perfect Turkey
If you can, buy the best quality turkey that you can. It really does make that much of a difference.
What’s the best quality? It all starts with the breed and then comes down to environment and care.
On our site, you’ll find Norfolk Bronze turkeys sold by Morton’s Traditional Taste. These birds are slow to mature and full of flavour. Free range means these birds are free to scratch and peck in the great outdoors. The young turkeys are often found in the trees – they’re woodland birds after all, and this environment keeps them happy and healthy.
All of Morton’s Traditional Taste Birds are dry plucked and game hung in cold stores. You’ll receive yours by courier on the 22nd December, presented in an insulated carry home box with giblets, cooking instructions and a sprig of herbs.
If you’re buying elsewhere, look for a fresh turkey with a dry appearance and not one with a wet sheen. They will taste better because they will have been dry plucked and hung. A good turkey will have blemishes, or imperfections because of an active life and this means it will be full of flavour.
If you do have to buy frozen, look for the best quality you can buy and use the fridge defrosting method.
Take your turkey out of the fridge a good half hour before you want to cook it and turn the oven on at the same time, so it preheats for at least 30 minutes.
There’s no need to wash your turkey. There are two primary methods to keep your turkey moist and stop the meat (especially the breast) drying out during cooking. You can create a stuffing which sits between the skin and the breast meat and cover the thighs with bacon or pancetta. Otherwise use bacon and pancetta on the breast too. You also want to coat your turkey in ‘fat’ and season it. Traditionally the entire turkey would be covered in butter and then seasoned with salt and pepper, but nowadays some people use olive oil. Especially Jamie 🙂
Follow your recipe for internal stuffing, or stuff your bird with an orange. Check the cavity doesn’t have the giblets still inside – if they’re present remove them.
Cover your turkey loosely in foil and roast it for the recommended time. About 45 minutes before the end of the cooking time, remove the foil so the skin can become crisp and golden.
Once your turkey has finished cooking you must rest it.
About an hour for smaller birds and up to 2 hours for large ones.
Rest it by placing it on a board and covering it loosely with foil. You then have plenty of time to roast your potatoes, cook your vegetables and make your gravy.
I can highly recommend this Giblet Gravy recipe: http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-a-proper-chicken-giblet-recipes-from-the-kitchn-73202. It tastes fantastic with a dollop of fresh cream added.
To take the taste of your vegetables to the next level, take a look at this post on using smoked seasonings.
- Not defrosting the turkey properly in the refrigerator.
- Failing to keep the turkey moist.
- Under/Overcooking the turkey – use a meat thermometer. The better the quality of turkey the lower the temperature you need to achieve. As a guide, use 65°C for the top of the range turkeys, like Morton’s Traditional Taste, else aim for 74°C.
- Not resting the meat long enough, which will help fix both under and overcooking.