Preparing, stuffing and cooking your turkey

Poultry, like turkey, chicken, duck or goose can carry food poisoning bacteria. These will be destroyed during cooking but there is plenty of opportunity to transfer the bacteria during preparation

Preparing your turkey

Handle your turkey as little as possible by unpacking it directly into a roasting tray before placing it straight in the oven. Remember that you don't need to wash a turkey or poultry - this can actually spread germs around your kitchen through drips, drops and splashes - proper cooking will kill any germs present.

If you do want to clean the turkey, wipe it with a disposable paper towel and throw away the paper towel and any packaging into the bin immediately. Always remember that before and after you handle your turkey to wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water and dry with a clean towel.

Raw poultry and meat can contain germs like Salmonella and Campylobacter, also it's important to cook these foods thoroughly. safefood carried out research to find the best and safest way to cook a stuffed turkey and it showed that it is safe to stuff provided extra cooking time is allowed (this only applies to birds cooked in electric, fan assisted ovens). For other oven types, it is recommended that you cook your stuffing in a separate oven-proof dish.

Stuffing made easy

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

  • Prepare the stuffing just before cooking
  • Try not to overstuff your bird; use only 10% of the weight of the bird in stuffing e.g. 500g stuffing for a 5kg turkey
  • Allow extra cooking time for stuffed birds - to help you calculate this, try our turkey cooking calculator
  • Check that stuffing is piping hot all the way through before serving.

Cooking your turkey

Cover the turkey with tinfoil during cooking as this will help it to cook more evenly and help it to stay moist and juicy. You will need to baste it every hour - the tinfoil can be removed for the last half hour to finally brown the skin.

If your turkey isn't stuffed, you can check whether its's thoroughly cooked by piercing the thickest part of the breast meat (between the leg and breast) with a clean fork or skewer and once the juices run clean, there is no pink meat left and the turkey is piping hot all the way through, then it's properly cooked and ready to serve up.

For stuffed turkeys, you will need to allow extra cooking time as research has shown that when a turkey is stuffed, it's the centre of the stuffing that is the slowest to cook.  So when stuffed, it's important that you check the stuffing itself is piping hot all the way through to the centre as well as making sure the meat at the thickest part of the breast and thigh are cooked thoroughly before serving.

If you are cooking a boned and rolled turkey or a turkey crown, then you should follow the cooking advice of 20 minutes per pound plus an extra 20 minutes at the end.  Again it's important to make sure the juices run clean, there is no pink meat left and the turkey is piping hot all the way through.

Don't rush to carve your turkey, one way of making sure that the stuffing is properly cooked, without the risk of overcooking it, is to remove the turkey from the oven when the meat is fully cooked, and leave it to rest for half an hour covered in tinfoil.

Different ovens have different performance capabilities and it is important to keep in mind that  even when ovens are correctly adjusted, the presence of other items in the oven, or frequent opening and closing of the oven door can make an oven less effective and extra cooking time may be needed.

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