Frequently asked questions
Cooking Turkey » FAQs
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Can I cook my turkey on Christmas Eve and reheat it the next day? It would save a lot of hassle!
The short answer is no! The only safe way to reheat turkey is to slice the cooked, chilled meat and reheat. The best way to do this is to lay the slices in an oven proof dish, cover with gravy, cover the whole dish with a lid or foil and place in a hot oven. Make sure the turkey is piping hot before serving. Alternatively, reheat in a microwave, using manufacturer’s instructions.
How do I cook a whole turkey?
As a guide, if the bird is under 4kg allow 20 minutes per kg + 70 minutes. If the bird is over 4kg allow 20 minutes per kg + 90 minutes.
Weigh the turkey after stuffing to calculate cooking time and remember oven temperatures vary. Fan assisted ovens cook at a higher temperature - consult the manufacturers handbook. Cook in a conventional oven at 190°C (Fan 180°C) / 375°F / Gas Mark 5. Cover loosely with foil and remove foil for last 40 minutes for browning.
Ensure your oven is up to temperature. Remember - on Christmas Day power may be reduced slightly due to the surge on the grid. This and regular opening and closing of the oven door (to test the bird etc) will also reduce the heat.
Allow the turkey to stand, covered loosely with foil, for at least 15-20 minutes before carving
How can I be sure that I am buying the best quality turkey available?
Remember to choose products labelled with the British Turkey Quality mark - turkey meat reared on British farms backed with the best assurance of quality.
Do I need to be careful about stuffing?
If you are using stuffing, only stuff the neck cavity of the turkey - never the body cavity. The body cavity can have sliced onion or lemon or orange and fresh herbs placed inside it to infuse the meat with additional flavours. You can prepare the stuffing beforehand - either a few weeks before and freeze, then allow to thaw completely before using, or simply make the breadcrumbs and freeze those. Or prepare the day beforehand, allow to cool then store covered in the fridge before using. Turkey should be stuffed prior to cooking only.
How many people will my turkey feed?
Size of bird Portions 2kg (4lb 7oz) 4-5 people 2.5kg (5lb 8oz) 5-6 people 3kg (6lb 10oz) 6-7 people 3.5kg (7lb 11oz) 7-8 people 4kg (8lb 13oz) 8-9 people 4.5kg (9lb 15oz) 9-10 people 5kg (11lb 0oz) 10-11 people 5.5kg (12lb 2oz) 11-12 people 6kg (13lb 4oz) 12-13 people 6.5kg (14lb 5oz) 14-15 people 7kg (15lb 7oz) 15-16 people 7.5kg (16lb 9oz) 16-17 people
When should I start defrosting?
The turkey should be thawed either in a fridge or a cool room. We do not advise thawing in cold water.
Thawing in a fridge (4ºC) - allow 8 to 12 hours per kg.
Thawing in a cool room (10-15ºC) - allow 3 to 4 hours per kg.
Thawing at room temperature (20ºC) – allow 2 hours per kg.
After thawing remove all the packaging, take out giblets and store separately. Store lightly covered on a deep plate or dish (to prevent any of the juices dripping onto other foods in the fridge) towards the base of the fridge. (Ensure the fridge is at a temperature of no more than 4ºC).
Once thawed and in the fridge, the turkey will keep for 2 days. (Cooked turkey should be kept in the fridge no longer than 4 days. If freezing cooked turkey, remove from the carcass first and freeze separately. The meat will remain moist and succulent if frozen either in stock or gravy.)
How do I cook turkey in a microwave?
We would not recommend this for whole birds. Portions without bones could be cooked if very careful. For 4 turkey steaks each about 150g/5oz in weight - cook on a high for 6-9 minutes and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Do not cook the turkey drumsticks in the microwave. Boneless turkey breast can be cooked as follows - place turkey breast in microwaveable container, cover and cook on medium (50%) power for 12-15 minutes per 450g/1lb. After cooking remove, cover and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes or until the turkey registers 78ºC/170ºF on a meat thermometer.
Can I defrost my turkey in a microwave?
This is not to be recommended for large whole birds. (Up to 2.25kg / 5lb in weight)
We would not recommend defrosting a turkey over 2.25kg. Any smaller birds defrost on MW/Low - 30% for 5-9 minutes per 450g/lb.
- Remove and discard as soon as possible all packaging including trays when defrosting in a microwave. This is to prevent the meat starting to cook from the heat of the packaging.
- For larger portions including drumsticks, place on a rack during defrosting. This will help to prevent the inside of the meat beginning to cook.
- Separate or break up into portions etc as soon as possible during defrosting, if not defrosting will take longer.
- Arrange so that the thickest parts are towards the edge of the dish. Halfway through re-arrange so that the icier ones are towards the edge of the dish. Break apart partially frozen pieces after half of defrosting time. Allow 6-7 minutes per 450g/1lb.
- If, at any time, the meat looks as though it's starting to cook, cover with the smooth side (un-shiny) side of tin foil.
The turkey will feel cold and there will be a few ice crystals. Do not defrost for longer than this otherwise the turkey will loose its flavour and moistness. At the end of the defrosting time, if still partially frozen, allow to defrost naturally. Allow to stand for 5 minutes then rinse lightly under cold running water and pat dry with absorbent kitchen paper.
What if I can't fit the bird in my oven?
Either cut in half and cook in 2 batches or take off the drumsticks and cook those separately.
How do I cook my turkey in an AGA?
Roast from Room Temperature
It is vital the bird is not roasted straight from the refrigerator. Roasting times allow for cooking a bird from room temperature, i.e. one that has been taken out of the refrigerator and left in a cool room for several hours before cooking.
Aga turkey Roasting Times
In the interests of food safety it is important that the internal temperature of raw poultry should rise from room temperature to 60°C within 4 hours at the start of cooking. With the slow method this is particularly important, which is why we recommend an initial period in the Hot Roasting Oven. All cooking times are approximate.
Whole Turkey and Turkey Crown
Fast method (2,3 and 4 oven Aga cookers)
Rub liberally with butter. Place in the Aga roasting tin, on a grill rack if liked. Hang from the lowest set of runners in the Roasting Oven for one hour until nicely browned, then tent loosely with foil.
The TOTAL fast method roasting times are:
8-12 lbs / 3.6-5.4Kg - 1¾- 2 hours
12-16 lbs / 5.4-7.25Kg - 2- 2½ hours
16-20 lbs / 7.25-9.0Kg - 2½ -3 hours
20-24 lbs / 9-10.8Kg - 3-3½ hours
24–28 lbs / 10.8–12.6Kg - 3½ - 4 hours
Medium Method (3 and 4 oven Aga cookers only)
Rub liberally with butter. Place in the Aga roasting tin, on a grill rack if liked. Hang from the lowest set of runners in the Roasting Oven for up to one hour until nicely browned, then tent loosely with foil. After the first hour in the Roasting Oven, transfer the turkey to the Baking Oven to finish cooking, for the following
8-12 lbs / 3.6-5.4Kg - 1½ - 2½ hours
12-16 lbs / 5.4-7.25Kg - 2½ - 3½ hours
16-20 lbs / 7.25-9.0Kg - 3½ - 4½ hours
20-24 lbs / 9-10.8Kg - 4½ - 5½ hours
24–28 lbs / 10.8–12.6Kg - 5½ - 6½ hours
Slow Method (2, 3 and 4 oven Aga cookers)
Rub liberally with butter. Place in the Aga roasting tin without a grill rack. Roast on the floor of the Roasting Oven for up to one hour and as soon as it starts to brown, tent loosely with foil. After the first hour in the Roasting Oven, transfer the turkey to the Simmering Oven to finish cooking, for the following
8-12 lbs / 3.6-5.4Kg - 3-5 hours
12-16 lbs / 5.4-7.25Kg - 5 – 7½ hours
16-20 lbs / 7.25-9.0Kg - 7½ - 10 hours
20-24 lbs / 9-10.8Kg - 10 – 12½ hours
24–28 lbs / 10.8–12.6Kg - 12½ - 15 hours
‘Extracted from A Guide to Christmas Cooking by Richard Maggs, The Aga Cookery Doctor’
How do I make sure the meat is moist?
Most importantly - do not overcook. When roasting your turkey, try putting it upside down on its breast so the juices from the back and legs run down to the breast keeping it moist. Cooking the turkey uncovered and upside down will reduce the cooking time - check 30-40 minutes before end of cooking time.
What is the difference in birds I can buy?
A week or so before Christmas fresh birds are available in supermarkets and butchers. If you are buying from a butcher it's a good idea to order in advance.
Fresh or standard fresh - The turkeys are chilled quickly with blasts of cold air to stay fresh.
Ready basted - Vegetable oil, butter or stock is added to the turkey to keep the meat moist. They are available from butchers and most supermarkets.
Free range - This term may only been used where the birds have had, during at least half their lifetime, continuous daytime access to open air runs.
You can buy frozen turkey well before Christmas if you like to plan in advance. Make sure you allow enough time for the bird to defrost before cooking it.
Standard frozen - These are prepared in the same way as fresh turkeys, and then quickly frozen in the bag by immersion in salt water at a temperature of -20°C.
Ready basted - These are prepared in the same way as fresh ready basted turkeys. They are usually frozen in water.
Free-range - These turkeys are usually frozen quickly without water.
Standard brine frozen - These turkeys are chilled in water spin chillers, and then quickly frozen by immersion in salt water at a temperature of -20(C or below.
Air frozen - Prepared in exactly the same way as fresh turkey then quickly frozen without water.
What is the taste difference between birds I can buy?
There are a variety of turkeys available particularly in the Christmas season - both fresh and frozen including organic, standard frozen, stuffed. You can also buy some birds that are ready basted with various flavours such as herbs and garlic butter. Many taste tests have shown its almost impossible to distinguish different products - all cooked correctly taste delicious, but whatever you do, don't overcook!
I would like a gamier taste - can you recommend a variety of turkey?
Try traditional Farm Fresh or Bronze/Black turkey, which have a slightly denser texture in the fibres of meat.
How should I store and reheat leftover cooked turkey?
It is safe to store cooked, cold turkey in the fridge for up to 4 days. First allow the cooked turkey to cool covered in foil. Then remove the remaining meat from the carcass and place in a sealed plastic container in the fridge for up to 4 days. It is important to wash your hands before removing the meat from the carcass and to also ensure your storage container has been washed and dried well before use.
The meat can then be used in a number of dishes from sandwiches and salads to curries and pies. When reheating the turkey meat within hot recipe dishes, always ensure the meat is piping hot throughout.
If reheating the turkey meat on its own, the only safe way to do this is to lay the slices of cooked cold turkey in an oven proof dish and cover with gravy. Then cover the whole dish with a lid or foil and place in a hot oven, making sure the turkey is piping hot before serving. Alternatively, reheat in a microwave, using manufacturer's instructions.
Please note, cooked turkey should only be reheated once.
How do I ensure my turkey is cooked correctly?
To ensure your turkey is completely cooked, insert a clean skewer into the thickest part of the thigh. Leave for at least 1 minute, if the juices run clear the turkey is cooked, if they run pinkish, return to the oven and cook for a little longer. Allow to rest (which makes the meat easier to carve), lightly covered with foil in a warm place for at least 20-30 minutes before carving and serving. Alternatively, test with a temperature probe, which must be 72 degrees C or above in the thickest part of the breast.
Can I cook overnight?
No, never - Harmful bacteria that may be left present would not be destroyed during cooking. The bacteria is killed at a high temperature which means that the internal temperature of the turkey needs to reach 76ºC and be maintained for at least 15 minutes. This is achieved by cooking at 190°C (Fan 180°C) / 375°F / Gas Mark 5 for 20 minutes per kg + 90 minutes (or 20 minutes + 70 minutes if the bird is under 4kg). We would never recommend slow cooking overnight even if you have done it before.
Should I cover with foil?
This is entirely a personal choice. We recommend cooking the bird breast side down, uncovered for the best result. If using foil, cover loosely and remove foil for the last 30-40 minutes of cooking time, to allow the bird to brown.
How do I know if the meat has gone off?
If the turkey has gone off it will have a very gamey or acrid, ammonia smell. The flesh could also have a greenish tinge and feel quite slimy. If in any doubt - don't risk it - bin it. The flesh should be in good colour and look moist in appearance with no dry flaky patches (this often indicates freezer burn). It will have a slight gamey smell but not overpowering.
Does cheap turkey mean bad quality?
No absolutely not. The comparatively low price of frozen birds does not in any way reflect on the quality - prices are set by retailer. If you remember to choose products labelled with the British Turkey Quality Mark you will be assured turkey meat reared on British farms backed with the best assurance of quality.
Why are turkey eggs not available in the shops?
Turkey eggs are not available on a commercial scale simply because there is very little demand. They are also expensive to mass-produce. Turkey hens lay an average of 4.5 eggs per week over 24 weeks. Although the runny yolk is not ideal for frying, turkey eggs are delicious scrambled and particularly lend themselves to baking for an extra fluffy texture! Many farms sell eggs at the farm gate to local shoppers.
Where do turkeys originate from?
Turkeys are believed to have first been brought to Britain in 1526 by Yorkshireman William Strickland - he acquired six birds from American Indian Traders on his travels and sold them for a tuppence each in Bristol.
How healthy is turkey meat?
Do you have any information about the minerals and vitamins in turkey meat?
An average portion of turkey meat (100g/3.5oz) provides 21.9g of protein, approximately half a woman's daily requirement and almost half a man's
It contains all the essential amino acids in proportions closely matched to our bodies needs. This means that nearly all the protein in turkey can be used for tissue manufacture and repair
Turkey (particularly the dark meat) is a good source of zinc - needed for a healthy immune system and for healing cuts and grazes
Zinc also makes many enzymes in our bodies involved in fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism
An average portion provides one fifth (20%) of a man's and woman's daily requirement
It also contains phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and in the dark meat, significant amounts of iron
Turkey contains B Vitamins, especially niacin which is involved in the conversion of carbohydrates into energy, nerve function and digestion
An average portion of turkey supplies almost half (47%) of a man's and more than half (62%) of a woman's daily needs
It is also rich in vitamin B12, needed for red cell manufacture, preventing anaemia and cell development
An average portion supplies a man's and woman's daily needs in full
Turkey contains the hormone "tryptophan" which is a precursor to sleep. This is why the Christmas turkey dinner tends to send people to sleep.
I have some leftover turkey and don't want to waste it - do you have any recipe suggestions?
I still like to truss my turkey. Do you have any guidelines on how I would go about it?
It is easy to carve the bird and neater slices are achieved if the wishbone is removed prior to trussing.
Turn the bird breast side up and pull back the neck flap until the wishbone can be located with the fingers. Using a small sharp knife, cut through the flesh under the contour of the bone on both sides just deep enough to free it. Then ease out, cutting it free at the tips.
With a trussing needle and fine twine close the body cavity if liked by stitching to and fro through both edges of the cavity. Leave a 10cm/4in length of twine. If preferred this step can be omitted.
Place the bird on its breast. Secure the neck flap and wings using a long length of twine about 60cm/2 feet. Fold the wing tips under the breast, (so the bird would appear to sit on the wings) and fold the neck flap on to the back. (Do this after stuffing - remember it is not advised to stuff the body cavity only the neck cavity - the body cavity can have fresh herbs and a lemon or onion inserted for flavour if liked). Pass the needle and twine through one wing, the shoulder and the neck flap and out through the other wing. Leave the needle threaded.
Turn the bird, breast side uppermost. Continue passing the twine through the upper part of one drumstick and the body and out through the other drumstick.
Remove the needle from the twine and, turning the bird on its side, tie the loose ends of string from leg and wing on top. Pull the string tight and tie a secure knot close to the wing and cut excess string.
Thread the needle with a further piece of twine, again 60cm/2 feet long. Turn the bird, breast side down and insert the needle through the wing near the middle joint, push it through the body near the thigh, and out the other side at the same point. Leave a length of twine.
Turn the bird breast side up. Thread the string through the lower part of one drumstick through the body and out through the opposite drumstick. Remove needle.
Turn the bird on its side with the two string ends nearest to you, pull them tight, tie a knot at the wing and cut off excess twine.
I've never cooked Christmas dinner before. Do you have any advice?
To ensure a hassle free Christmas day, follow these simple guidelines. Plan ahead and you'll be able to enjoy the big day with family and friends, without spending too long in the kitchen.
2-6 Weeks Before Christmas
If using a fresh turkey, order from your butcher at least four to six weeks before Christmas to ensure you get the weight you require. If ordering a large turkey (over 20lbs) check dimensions of your oven beforehand.
Decide on menus for the Christmas holiday (see recipe pages)
Make shopping lists for fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy goods, check oils, herbs and spices for the chosen recipes.
If using a frozen turkey, check out the prices and if space allows, buy and store in freezer.
1 Week Before Christmas
Check thawing time of frozen turkey and make note of which day to begin thawing.
Decide which stuffing to make (see recipe pages) and buy ingredients.
4 Days Before Christmas
Buy potatoes and other root vegetables.
Store in a cool place.
If frozen turkey is over 8.1kg (18lbs) start thawing now.
2-3 Days Before Christmas
Collect your fresh turkey and store covered in fridge. Store giblets separately.
Finish shopping for ingredients to last throughout the Christmas holiday.
If using a small frozen turkey, buy, if not already bought and start to thaw two days beforehand. Once thawed, store in fridge. Do not stuff turkey until just before cooking.
When the turkey is thawed (no ice crystals remain in the cavity), remove from its bag and reserve giblets.
Prepare ready for stuffing. Calculate cooking time. Cover loosely and leave in the fridge overnight at a temperature of no more than 4°C.
Make stock from turkey giblets, store covered in fridge.
09.00: Preheat oven for turkey (190°C (Fan 180°C) / 375°F / Gas Mark 5). Place stuffing in neck cavity. Never stuff body cavity with pre - prepared stuffing. The body cavity may be stuffed with fresh herbs, a piece of fresh fruit or vegetable only, if desired.
09.30: Place turkey in oven, allowing 20 minutes per kg + 90 minutes (or if the bird is under 4kg calculate 20 minutes per kg + 70 minutes).
10.00: Prepare vegetables (if not prepared the night before). Cover loosely.
12.45: Place bacon round turkey and cook and keep warm (optional). Turn back foil on turkey and baste. Make gravy and keep warm.
13.00: Take out turkey and leave covered to rest. Turn oven up to crisp potatoes. Cook vegetables, drain and keep warm. Warm serving plate.
14.00: Place turkey and vegetables on serving platters, garnish and serve with sauces.
I would like my Christmas to be a bit different this year. Do you know any old traditions?
Wassailing the apple tree is one of the oldest traditions at Christmas time and is still carried out in Hertfordshire and parts of the West Country.
The word wassail is from the Anglo Saxon word "wes hal" meaning "good health" or "be whole".
The tradition generally takes place on the 12th night or sometimes on the 17th January, known as old twelfth night.
Farmers and their families feast on hot cakes and cider then go into the orchard where a cider soaked cake is laid in the fork of a tree and more cider is splashed on it.
A wassail bowl, often as big as a cauldron is filled with the mixture of cider, brandy, ale, spice and drunk hot. The menfolk then fire their guns into the trees and bang on pots and pans while the women and children bow their heads and sing a wassail song. This is to ward off bad spirits from the orchard and encourage the good spirits to provide a lush crop for the following year.
The "Mari Lwyd"
Another form of wassailing was the South Wales custom of the Mari Lwyd.
It consisted of a horses skull covered with a white sheet and decorated with colourful ribbons, which was carried by a man concealed under the sheet who could operate the jaw and make it snap.
It was taken from door to door around the village with the party, normally dressed up as sergeant, Merryman, Punch and Judy, leading the Mari to the door of the house and engaging in poetic contest, often singing as many as fifteen versus before they were allowed to enter the home.
The Mari would then chase the girls of the house, snapping at them with its jaws and the party enjoyed the food and drink offered.
Are there any regional culinary traditions I could try to give a twist to my Christmas dinner?
Leek and onion sauce to accompany the turkey. Leeks, onion, cloves, breadcrumbs, milk, nutmeg and bay leaves blended to create a thick and creamy alternative to ordinary bread sauce.
Rich tatties and neeps - a traditional dish made with mashed potatoes, Swede, carrots, onion and butter, garnished with chives and black pepper.
Turkey with whiskey glaze - whiskey and honey together with a splash of orange will give an impressive and great tasting twist to the traditional bird.
Red cabbage with apple - combining English Bramley apples, red cabbage, cinnamon and brown sugar with a splash of Port or Madeira
How do I carve my turkey?
Top London restaurant Simpson’s-in-the-Strand carves five huge turkeys a day throughout December. Master Cook Paul Muddiman can carve a 25lb turkey in just five minutes! Here he takes you step by step through how he does it. It may take you a little longer, but the results should be perfect.
With a sharp knife, cut the skin between leg and breast
Bend leg outwards and cut straight through the joint, removing the whole leg. Repeat on the other side. If the turkey is properly cooked, the legs will fall away easily. Do the same with each wing, leaving the breast meat intact.
With the legs removed, slice horizontally at the base of the breast until your knife reaches the carcass. Do this on both sides. Then, slice downwards in neat, even slices.
Slice the dark meat off the legs (hold the drumstick with a piece of kitchen paper if this makes it easier). Arrange round the edge of the serving platter. Pile the slices of white meat in the centre and carry into the dining room.
Simpson's-in-the-Strand, 100 Strand, London WC2R OEU
Tel: 020 7836 911