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Preparing, stuffing and cooking your turkey

Turkey, like other poultry, can carry food poisoning bacteria.

Proper cooking will kill any bacteria present, but there is a risk of spreading the bacteria when you’re preparing the turkey.

1. Preparing your turkey

  • Handle your turkey as little as possible - Unpack it directly into a roasting tray before placing it straight in the oven.
  • Don't wash the turkey - Most turkeys are oven-ready so they don’t need to be cleaned. Washing your turkey can spread bacteria around your kitchen through drips, drops and splashes.
  • If your turkey is not oven ready - If you really need to clean your turkey we suggest you just wipe it down with a disposable paper towel. Dispose of the paper towel straight away in the bin and put the turkey directly in the oven.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly - Before and after you handle your turkey, wash your hands with warm soapy water and dry with a clean towel.

2. Stuffing made easy

Stuffing is great at Christmas and whether it's breadcrumb, sausage meat or your own favourite recipe, remember to:

  • Prepare the stuffing just before cooking. You can stuff either the neck or the cavity of the turkey.
  • Don’t overstuff your bird - use only 10% of the weight of the bird in stuffing. For instance, a 5kg turkey should have no more than 500g of stuffing.
  • Allow extra cooking time for stuffed birds. Use our turkey cooking time calculator to find out how long.
  • Check that stuffing is piping hot all the way through before serving.

This only applies to birds cooked in electric, fan-assisted ovens. For other oven types, we recommended that you cook your stuffing in a separate oven-proof dish.

3. Cooking your turkey

  • Preheat your oven to 180 degrees
  • While the oven is heating, melt a tablespoon of butter in a pan
  • Place the turkey on the roasting tray
  • Baste the turkey with the melted butter
  • Cover the whole turkey loosely with tin foil and place in the hot oven
  • Baste the turkey every hour with the juices coming out of it
  • About half an hour before the end of the cooking time, remove the foil to allow the turkey skin to brown and become crisp. If the skin is already brown, keep the foil on the turkey to keep it moist

4. How to tell when the turkey is cooked

The best way to check that your turkey is cooked properly is to use a meat thermometer. The turkey is ready when the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 75°C instantly, i.e. as soon as it is inserted. If you have stuffed the cavity of the turkey, then the centre of the stuffing should also read 75°C.

If you don't have a meat thermometer, pierce the thickest part of the breast meat (between the leg and breast) with a clean fork or skewer and check that you can answer 'yes' to these 3 questions:

  • Are the juices running clear?
  • Is there no pink meat?
  • Is the turkey is piping hot all the way through?

If the turkey is stuffed, allow extra cooking time and check that the stuffing itself is piping hot all the way through to the centre.

How to cook a smaller turkey or turkey crown

If you are cooking a small turkey, a boned and rolled turkey, or a turkey crown, the oven should be 180°C / 350ºF / Gas Mark 4 and you should allow 20 min per pound (lb) plus 20 minutes. If your butcher is preparing the joint for you, make sure you find out how much the joint weighs when you are buying it.

Do keep in mind that even when ovens are at the right temperature, opening and closing the oven door, or having other items in the oven, may mean you need extra cooking time.

Remember to check that the turkey is properly cooked before serving. If you have a meat thermometer, the thickest part of the turkey should read 75ºC when it is safe to eat. If you do not have a meat thermometer, prick the thickest part of the joint with a skewer and make sure that the juices run clear, the turkey is piping hot the whole way through and there is no pink meat left. 

How to cook other types of poultry

Other birds, such as goose and duck, need different cooking times to those of turkey.

The oven should always be hotter for duck and goose to melt the fat under the skin. They also need regular basting.

In an oven at 220ºC/425ºF/Gas Mark 7, goose should be cooked for 35 minutes per kg, once the oven has preheated. Duck should be cooked for 45 minutes per kg at 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6.

These times are based on cooking an unstuffed bird in a preheated oven, and they are only a guide. Always make sure poultry is properly cooked before serving by making sure that there is no pink meat left, it is piping hot all the way through and the juices run clear.

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