How to cook a turkey

How to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving

This handy guide explains all you need to know about how to cook a turkey, and how to ensure that turkey is prepared to perfection – don’t spoil your best laid plans!

Christmas is almost upon us, and the centrepiece to many Christmas dinners – certainly here in the UK – is a large, bronzed turkey.

It’s not very often people cook a whole turkey, and as it’s such a large (usually frozen) cut of meat, so it’s especially important to make sure it’s defrosted and cooked properly.

Let it thaw completely

Be sure to let your turkey completely thaw before cooking. If it was frozen through when you bought it, the turkey will thaw within a few days in the fridge.

You should allow a full day in the refrigerator for every 2.5kg or five pounds of turkey. For quicker thawing, you can place the turkey in a cold water bath and change the water every 30 minutes until it’s thawed – but that’s certainly much more work!

Ensuring it’s cooked

To make sure that turkey is fully cooked through, you should check its temperature in three places: the breast, the outer thigh, and the inside thigh. In each case, the meat should be at least 75°C/165°F. If any place is below that temperature, of if any of the juices are not running clear, put the turkey back in the oven for another 20 minutes.

You can shield the breast meat with tin foil if needed to keep it from overcooking.

After its cooked…

Rest the turkey. This avoids getting a plate full of fats and juices in the centre of your table rather than your gravy bowl, and it makes the meat much easier to carve

  • Grab one side of the roasting rack with an oven mitt and tilt the turkey so the liquids inside the cavity run out into the pan. (These are the juices you use to make the gravy.)
  • Then, lift the whole turkey (still on the rack) and transfer it to a cutting board.
  • Cover the turkey loosely with aluminium foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. This gives time for the meat to firm up and the juices to be re-absorbed into the muscle tissue, making the turkey easier to slice and taste juicier.

Cooking times

The following table summarises some guideline cooking times by weight.

Turkey weightCooking timeFeeds
2kg (4lb 7oz)1hr 50 minutes4-5 people
2.5kg (5lb 8oz)2 hours5-6 people
3kg (6lb 10oz)2 hours 10 minutes6-7 people
3.5kg (7lb 11oz)2 hours 20 minutes7-8 people
4kg (8lb 13oz)2 hours 50 minutes8-9 people
4.5kg (9lb 15oz)3 hours9-10 people
5kg (11lb 0oz)3 hours 10 minutes10-11 people
5.5kg (12lb 2oz)3 hours 20 minutes11-12 people
6kg (13lb 4oz)3 hours 30 minutes12-13 people
6.5kg (14lb 5oz)3 hours 40 minutes14-15 people
7kg (15lb 7oz)3 hours 50 minutes15-16 people
7.5kg (16lb 9oz)4 hours16-17 people
8kg (17lb 10oz)4 hours 10 minutes17-18 people
8.5kg (18lb 12oz)4 hours 20 minutes18-19 people
9kg (19lb 13oz)4 hours 30 minutes19-20 people
9.5kg (20lb 15oz)4 hours 40 minutes20-21 people
10kg (22lb 1oz)4 hours 50 minutes21-22 people

We hope this article has taught you everything you could ever want to know about how to cook a turkey – but if you think we missed anything, then let us know!