How to cook a turkey

What’s the secret to a stress-free Christmas, crunchy roasties and a perfectly cooked bird?

We’ve got all the answers you need from top celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson.


Don’t buy a self-basting turkey. Either wrap it in foil or, if small enough, pop it in a roasting bag. Fold back the foil half an hour before the finished cooking time. One of the best forms of baking is to buy some muslin, dip it in melted butter and lay it over the whole turkey. Some chefs cook the turkey breast-side down so that most of the juices run into the breast instead of the back which isn’t used.

2. My top tip is to wrap the whole baking tray in foil rather than just the turkey. Make a cross with two large pieces of foil over the roasting tray, sit the turkey on a bed of root veg and throw in some onion, carrot, celery, thyme and a couple of cloves of garlic. Pour over a couple of glasses of wine (red or white), and some stock and fold up the cross. Wrapping the entire thing in foil reduces your cooking time by about a third and all the juices run down into the vegetables and create a base for your gravy.

3. About half-an-hour before the turkey is expected to be done, carefully open the foil to expose the turkey surface for browning, keeping the drumsticks wrapped in foil. During the last half hour of roasting, baste occasionally with juices in pan to encourage browning.

4. Most people have one oven and struggle with coordinating the turkey, potatoes and roast veg. My suggestion is to cook the roast potatoes for 40 mins, take them out and then put the turkey in. The turkey needs to then come out of the oven and rest, covered in foil, for about 20 mins – so in that time you can finish off the potatoes.

5. One of the biggest problems people have is undercooking or overcooking the turkey. The answer is to use a meat thermometer (you can pick one up for about £6) or our turkey timer. Push it through the thickest part if the thigh, hold it there for 5 mins, and if it registers 75°C, that’s perfect because at that temperature you’ll have killed any harmful bacteria and your turkey’s safe to eat. And you’ll have a nice juicy breast and your brown meat will be cooked too! 7.

Use an aluminium roasting pan for easy clean-up. No messy turkey pan to scrub!

Turkey stuffing

Turkey’s not turkey without the stuffing – get it right with these tips

1. To achieve a perfectly roasted turkey, don’t stuff the main cavity of the bird – cook your stuffing separately as this will enable the heat to cook the bird from inside out.

2. If you miss the traditional stuffing, you can stuff just the neck end i.e. the round end so that the heat still penetrates the centre. Or instead of stuffing the bird traditionally just pop half a lemon, half an onion, a few garlic cloves and a sprig of rosemary and thyme in the cavity.

3. Instead of wrapping chipolatas in bacon, buy some of your favourite stuffing or make it yourself – then make into a little disc and wrap in streaky bacon and bake until crispy and thoroughly cooked.

Turkey trimmings

You don’t have to make everything on the same day. Read AWT’s ideas for making veg in advance and his recipe for delicous roasties.

1. Make sure your roast has a good balance of colours, flavours and textures – take into account oven space and ease of cooking. Have one puree which can be made in advance, stored in reusable food containers before freezing and can then be defrosted and reheated when needed (broccoli and potato, parsnip and potato, swede and carrot etc). One green vegetable e.g. sprouts can then be cooked the day before and reheated with butter and one roast vegetable.

2. For the best roasties, use floury potatoes such as vale sovereign, blanch for approximately 10 mins until the edges start to break up, strain and put back on the heat to dry out. Toss in seasoned flour and then put into reasonably deep hot fat (oil, dripping, duck or goose fat) and roast at a high temperature for 40 mins. Strain off the fat and cook for another 20 mins until crispy.

Turkey leftovers

There’s always something leftover from Christmas dinner but whether it’s veg, turkey meat or even just the bones, there’s a recipe for it somewhere.


Using up leftovers:
* Try a Christmas colcannon – Chop turkey into small pieces and mix into mash, cauliflower and leeks. Serve piping hot as a main dish with a little cranberry sauce.
* Turkey patties – Mix chopped turkey with an egg, breadcrumbs, a pinch of sage and pepper. Shape into patties and fry in butter. Serve hot in burger buns.

2. If you’re in a reasonable state at the end of your Christmas day celebrations, strip the turkey meat from the carcass the same evening and place in the fridge for sandwiches. Put the carcass in a large pan with some root veg and stock to create a base of a soup or stock, this will give you a bit more space in your fridge!

3. Try and keep Christmas eco-friendly. Go to your nearest farmer’s market and buy local. Stick to what’s in season; root vegetables are best for the winter – they haven’t travelled thousands of miles across the world and lost their flavour along the way and are great for roasting along with the turkey.

Christmas turkey recipes

We’ve got lots of delicious turkey recipes, but here are some of our favourites for Christmas.

Traditional turkey recipes
Lemon roasted turkey
Turkey with chestnut stuffing
Roast turkey with garlic and herbs
Classic turkey with trimmings
Roast turkey
Roast turkey with herb and honey butter
Roast turkey with chestnut, sage and apple stuffing
Roast turkey with herby cranberry stuffing
Roast turkey with lemon and parsley butter

Celebrity chef turkey recipes
Phil Vickery’s saffron turkey with stuffing
John Burton Race’s Christmas turkey
Roast turkey and parsley stuffing

Alternative turkey recipe
Tandoori roast turkey

Where to next?
Christmas turkey recipes
Christmas recipe guide
Christmas food countdown

Cook your turkey to perfection with our instant defrosting and cooking times – use the turkey timer below!