turkey top tips – all you need for a perfect bird


I get so many turkey questions at this time of year. I’ve pulled all the answers together here – covering what size to buy, preparing, testing it’s done, resting and carving – so that you can have a delicious turkey without the stress this Christmas.

1. Which weight?

As well as looking at the number of guests, factor in your leftover requirements and how many sides you’ll be serving. Perhaps rather than buy a huge bird, you may be better buying an extra turkey crown and cooking it on Christmas Eve. Buy the best you can afford. A smaller better quality turkey is better value than a giant standard turkey.

Make sure you have a big enough tin for your bird and that the tin will fit in your oven.

Last year I fed 13 people with a 6.5kg (14lb) Bronze turkey and we had leftovers for days after. The cooking time table below shows which weight feeds what number of people.

2. Preparing your turkeyI would recommend you do this on Christmas Eve.

Don’t wash your turkey. You may need to pluck a few feathers out with tweezers. And don’t worry about any marks on the skin – they are the sign of a turkey that has lived a good active life outdoors.

I always cook my stuffing separately as adding stuffing slows the cooking time. If you want to add stuffing, add it to the neck end of the turkey rather than the cavity.

Keep the giblets but take them out of the cavity and set aside for the gravy.

Spatchcock your turkey to cut the roasting time in half

Your butcher can do this for you or you can do it yourself using a tough pair of scissors. I’ve made a video to show you how to do this at home. You’ll use the scissors to cut out the backbone and then flatten the turkey before roasting it. Keep the backbone and roast it in with the turkey to give good flavour to the gravy.

Make a flavoured butter

Either use the flavoured butter straight away or wrap tightly in parchment and keep in the fridge for a week, or freeze and defrost at room temperature until soft. This quantity will work for any size turkey.


4 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary (about 3 x 7cm branches)

a third of a block of room temperature salted butter

2 clementines or 1 orange

To make:

  1. Put the butter in a bowl and use a fork to mash the chopped rosemary into it.
  2. Use a Microplane to zest the orange or clementine into the butter then mix.

Add flavour to the turkey

Slash the thigh meat a couple of times, through to the bone, and push a third of the butter into the slashes.

Create a pocket between the skin and the breast meat:

  • Start from the bottom end of the turkey (between the legs). Put your hand between the skin and the breast meat and push towards the other end of the turkey to separate the skin from the breast meat. It will look like you’re wearing a turkey skin glove!
  • Be careful if not to tear the skin, especially if you wear a ring.
  • Push two thirds of the flavoured butter into the gap – so the butter sits between the skin and the meat. Pull the skin back over the breast meat and push the skin so that the butter disperses all over the breast.

Cut the clementine (leftover from zesting) in half and push it into the cavity of the turkey along with a handful of sage leaves and a whole bulb of garlic, chopped in half with the skin left on. If you are spatchcocking, just put the clementine and garlic under the bird in the tray.

Put the turkey into a large roasting tin. Scatter salt over the skin and put the tin in the fridge – uncovered or loosely covered with foil so that the skin dries out and will crisp.

4. Times and temperatures

Bronze/heritage turkeys have less fat than supermarket mass-produced turkeys so they cook faster. All the timings below are based on:

  • An unstuffed turkey. If you are stuffing the neck cavity, weigh your bird with the stuffing in place.
  • Starting the turkey from room temperature – take it out of the fridge 2 hours before cooking.

Start the turkey at 200°C (180°C fan)/ 400°F for the first 20 minutes and then drop the temperature to 180°C (160°C fan)/ 350°F for the rest of the cooking time.

The time below doesn’t include resting time. When calculating what time to start cooking your turkey, add at least 45 minutes, but up to 2 hours.

5. Is it done?

The most foolproof way to test a turkey is to use a digital thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. A premium Bronze turkey is ready when it is 65°C/150°F ( A standard supermarket turkey is ready when it hits 75-80°C/170-180°F.

Or, do what I do, and push a knife through to the bone where the thigh meets the body. The juices should be pale gold and clear; if there are traces of blood, return to the oven, cook for a further 10-15 minutes then test again.

6. Resting

When turkey rests, the juices disperse through the meat and the meat is more tender. And you free up precious oven space.

A whole turkey will keep warm for a couple of hours, Put it on a warm platter or tray and cover it with two layers of foil then drape a towel over it and leave it in a warm corner of the kitchen. Keep the sticky bits and juices from the roasting pan, and the juices that come out as it rests for your gravy.

7. Carving

Use a large sharp knife, ditch the carving fork and use your hands to hold the bird. Use a carving board with a lip to catch the juices.

  1. Cut the legs from the body at the point where the thigh meets the breast.
  2. Cut through the knee joint to separate the drumstick from the thigh.
  3. Slice the leg meat off the bone.
  4. Cut along both sides of the breast bone then use your knife to separate the breast meat from the ribcage.
  5. Turn the breast skin side down on the board and cut into 1cm slices.
  6. Pull any extra meat from the bones. Freeze the bones to use for stock.

Get all my other Christmas cooking tips here.

My leftovers guide is here.

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