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How to cook a turkey

Most of us overcook turkey because we worry that with such a large bird, we could poison the entire family if it is not cooked through! With this indispensible guide from the Safefood agency, you can have a wonderfully succulent bird and a cooking method that gives you all the comfort you need.


1 Oven-Ready Turkey

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See our Turkey Cooking Chart below.

Buying a bird

1. If you're buying a fresh bird, buy it as close to Christmas as possible, bring it home as quickly as possible and store it in the fridge immediately. If you order your turkey early and pay a deposit, you can be sure that the butcher will save it for you.

2. If youre buying a frozen bird, get it into the freezer without delay, and keep it there until youre ready to defrost it.

1. If you've bought a frozen bird it must be fully defrosted before cooking. Do not cook from frozen.

2. Defrost the bird in the fridge its the safest way to do it. Make sure to put it on the bottom shelf where it is coolest, on a baking dish or large tray, and dont let it drip on to any other foods.

3. Allow at least 24 hours defrosting for every 4-5 lbs (2-2.5 kg) of weight.

4. The bird is fully defrosted and ready when the body is soft, the legs can be moved and there are no ice crystals inside. If you are not going to cook it immediately, keep it in the fridge.

greatfood.ie note: Don't wash your bird! You will spread bacteria all over your kitchen (the heat from roasting will kill any bacteria on the bird in fact, that's the point in cooking it). Wash your hands thoroughly after touching the bird and use kitchen towel, not your teatowel, to wipe your hands when you have cleaned them after touching the bird. (This also applies to any other poultry.)

The safest way to cook stuffing is outside the bird. But if like many people you prefer to cook it inside the bird, heres what to do.

1. Prepare the stuffing just before cooking the bird.

2. Stuff just the neck region, not the cavity.

3. Dont overstuff! Never stuff a bird with more than 10% of its unstuffed weight and weigh it when you have stuffed it to calculate the cooking temperatures. The stuffing swells during cooking.

4.The Safefood agency says that it is not appropriate to cook a stuffed bird in a conventional oven (eg not a fan oven). However, people have been doing it for years so you have to make your own judgement. We give their advice below.

Cooking the bird

Raw meat may contain bacteria such as Salmonella and Campylobacter which can make you and your family very ill indeed. Here's how you will know that it the turkey is cooked through.

1. When the bird is fully cooked there should be no pink meat left and the juices should run clear, not pink.

2. If you have a meat thermometer or a temperature probe, check that the internal temperature reaches at least 75C.

3. Temperature and time settings for cooking are dependent on your oven (see notes and chart below).

4. If you are using a probe to measure the temperature, it's a good idea to clean your temperature probe with an anti-bacterial wipe before you use it, and before you put it back into its tube. Use the wipes you buy in the supermarket that kill 99% of bacteria.

Cooking times
The following are approximate cooking times for turkeys in a conventional electric or gas oven (not a fan oven) at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Size of turkey Unstuffed turkey
8 - 12 lbs/ 3.5 - 5.5 kg 3 hours - 4 hours 20 minutes
12 - 14 lbs/ 5.5 - 6.5 kg
4 hours 20 minutes - 5 hours
14 - 18 lbs / 6.5 - 8 kg
5 hours - 6 hours 20 minutes
18 - 20 lbs/ 8 - 9 kg
6 hours 20 minutes - 7 hours
20 - 24 lbs/ 9 - 11 kg
7 hours - 8 hours 20 minutes

Cooking your turkey with other types of ovens (Source: Safefood agency)

The chart above is for cooking an unstuffed turkey in a conventional electric or gas oven. It is NOT for cooking the turkey in a fan oven. If you are using a fan oven, and using that function, please check the timings at Safefood's website http://www.safefood.eu/christmas/turkey.html where you can use the cooking calculator for fan ovens.

If you do not have a fan-assisted oven Safefood recommends that you do not stuff your turkey. With these other ovens, the safest way to cook your stuffing is on a roasting dish or tray separate from the turkey. Their research showed that stuffed turkeys cook differently in other types of ovens and may not be fully cooked and safe.

As with cooking any poultry, always double-check that the turkey is properly cooked before serving. Your turkey should be piping hot all the way through with no pink meat left and the juices should run clear when the thickest part of the thigh and breast are pierced with a clean fork or skewer.

Information courtesy of www.safefoodonline.com the national food safety agency.

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