Turkey cooking time: How to defrost a turkey at Christmas and how long to cook it for

Make sure Christmas dinner goes off without a hitch with these festive cooking tips.

Thursday, 23rd December 2021, 2:36 pm

According to Food Standards Scotland (FSS)’s latest Our Food in Scotland tracker survey, nearly two thirds of people believe that they are unlikely to get food poisoning prepared at home.

However, cooking can just as easily go wrong in your kitchen at home as it can out and about.

This is especially true around Christmas, when you likely have several dishes on the go at once, are cooking in higher quantities, and might even have multiple cooks in the kitchen trying to help out.

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To help you make sure your Christmas meal goes smoothly, here are some common mistakes to look out for during the festive season.

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How to defrost a turkey

If you’ve frozen your turkey from buying it in advance, you can thaw it in the fridge or in a bucket.

Turkey is the traditional centrepiece for Christmas meals - but how do you cook it safely? Photo: PublicDomainPictures / pixabay / Canva Pro.

If you’re defrosting in the fridge, make sure you place it breast side up in sealed packaging.

You should allow at least one day of thawing for every two kilograms of turkey.

The average turkey usually weighs between three and six kilograms, so you should allow two to three days for defrosting.

You should then cook the turkey within four days of thawing.

The length of time that you should cook your turkey for depends on the size of the bird. Photo: MCCAIG / Getty Images / Canva Pro.

If you’re low on fridge space, you can also defrost at outdoor temperatures.

Still in its packaging, submerge the turkey underwater in a large container of cold water.

Seal the container and leave it somewhere like a garage, shed, or the boot of your car to slowly thaw.

This method should take about two days.

This only works during cold weather, so don’t try the same technique during the heat of summer.

You can also simply leave your turkey in seal packaging in your kitchen for about 24 hours, but be careful as a warm kitchen is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

However, if you will be eating your turkey immediately after it’s defrosted, it may be safe to do so.

You'll know your turkey is fully defrosted when you can touch the inside of the beast bone within the cavity and it doesn’t feel frozen.

You should also be able to wiggle the legs and wings easily.

To be extra safe, use a cooking thermometer and probe the thickest part of the leg or breast.

The thermometer shouldn’t read below one degree Celsius.

How long to cook a turkey

How long you should cook a turkey depends largely on its size.

You should also allow more time if you are cooking your turkey with stuffing, as that slows down the process.

To avoid this, you can always cook your stuffing in a separate tray.

For any size of turkey, place it on a cooking tray and into a pre-heated oven of 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Leave it in for 40 minutes per one kilogram for the first four kilograms.

If your turkey weighs more than four kilograms, leave it in for a further 45 minutes per kilogram over that weight.

By the end, your turkey should be 75 degrees Celsius.

Once again, you can use a cooking thermometer in the thickest part of the leg or breast to check.

You’ll also know whether the bird is fully cooked when there is no visible pink meat and the juices are running clear.