How to roast a turkey including roasting times.

Roast turkey is especially popular around the festive season, but it is a nice meal anytime of the year. Roasting a turkey can seem a daunting task especially if you are cooking for a large number of guests.

A traditional roast turkey dinner typically consists of slices of turkey meat, roast potatoes, stuffing, plenty of assorted fresh vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, roast parsnips and cauliflower, cranberry sauce, bread sauce and a large helping of delicious gravy.

Safe handling of raw turkey

Roasting a whole turkey doesn't have to be difficult, so long as due care is taken when handling the raw poultry. It is essential that all necessary hygiene precautions are taken, such as always washing your hands before and after handling the raw meat, as well as making sure that all utensils, equipment and surfaces have also been thoroughly cleaned and sanitised.

During cooking it is vital that the correct temperatures are reached, so that bacteria are destroyed and any potential food safety problems are avoided.

Fresh or frozen?

If you are going to cook a fresh turkey, store it in the refrigerator until you are absolutely ready to prepare it. Raw poultry should not be kept out of the fridge for very long.

For frozen turkeys, ensure that the bird is completely defrosted (see defrosting poultry) before you are ready to start preparing it, having stored it in the fridge away from other foods beforehand.

Roasting times for Turkey

Well in advance of cooking the turkey, even the day before, you should check how long you will need to roast the bird and leave it in the fridge until then.

The larger the bird, the longer the cooking time needed and some birds can take up to five hours.

If you find that you have miscalculated and you do not have enough time before your guests arrive, by turning the temperature of the oven up, you could find that the turkey meat will become dry and tough rather than succulent and moist.

Therefore it is best to be well prepared beforehand and slowly roast the turkey rather than leave it all until the last minute and risk potentially disastrous results.

See the tables below for roasting times for turkey.

In general, calculate 15 - 20 minutes roasting time per lb of meat for a bird weighing up to 16 lbs.

For a bird over 16 lbs, add 12 minutes for each pound over 16 lbs.

Turkey Roasting times (unstuffed)
metric imperial time
2¾KG - 3½KG 6 - 8 lbs 2½ - 2¾ hrs
3½KG - 5½KG 8 - 12 lbs 2¾ - 3 hrs
5½KG - 6½KG 12 - 14 lbs 3 - 3¾ hrs
6½KG - 8KG 14 - 18 lbs 3¾ - 4¼ hrs
8KG - 9KG 18 - 20 lbs 4¼ - 4½ hrs
9KG - 10½ 20 - 24 lbs 4½ - 5 hrs
Turkey Roasting times (stuffed)
metric imperial time
2¾KG - 3½KG 6 - 8 lbs 2¾ - 3¼ hrs
3½KG - 5½KG 8 - 12 lbs 3 - 3½ hrs
5½KG - 6½KG 12 - 14 lbs 3½ - 4 hrs
6½KG - 8KG 14 - 18 lbs 4 - 4¼ hrs
8KG - 9KG 18 - 20 lbs 4¼ - 4¾ hrs
9KG - 10½ 20 - 24 lbs 4¾ - 5¼ hrs

First things first

First of all preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC) - 350ºF (176ºC) but no higher than 350ºF (176ºC).

Once you have made sure that your hands, surfaces and utensils are clean, remove the turkey from its packaging and place it on a clean chopping board.

Removing the giblets and neck

Next, remove the neck and the giblets from the neck and body cavities.

Giblets are the liver and heart of the turkey and are usually wrapped in paper or plastic before being inserted into the abdominal cavity. Sometimes the neck is packaged with the giblets. Giblets are used to make gravy, flavour soups or even to make stuffing.

Upon removing the giblets, immediately store them safely in the fridge and use within two days.

If you are not going to use the giblets, discard them with the unwanted packaging.

If it hasn't been removed already, cut the neck off close to the body but leave the skin of the neck in place. The turkey should then be rinsed with cold water inside and out and dried with a paper towel.

Grease, season, stuff and truss the turkey

Once the turkey is dry, grease the body with butter or olive oil to help the skin brown. Rub salt into the cavities and season with pepper for additional flavour as well as any other herbs and spices of your choice, although this is optional.

If you are going to stuff the turkey, to ensure an even cooking, and for safety reasons, some people recommend that the stuffing is cooked outside of the bird in a separate roasting tray, during the last hour of the roasting time.

For more on stuffing a turkey and for stuffing recipes see our section on stuffing poultry.

Truss the bird with string or skewers (see section on trussing poultry) before placing it on a rack in a shallow roasting tray.

Use a meat thermometer

Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh of the turkey, making sure that the thermometer doesn't touch the bone, as this will give an incorrect reading.

Using a meat thermometer is really important, as it is the safest method of ensuring that the turkey is properly cooked.

Poultry must not be undercooked, as this could lead to food poisoning if all the resident bacteria are not destroyed during cooking.

Meat thermometers can be bought from most supermarkets, grocers or kitchen stores. If you purchase an ovenproof thermometer, it can be left in the oven throughout cooking time.

It is essential that the turkey thigh meat reaches an internal temperature of 180ºF (83ºC), whilst the breast should reach a temperature of 170ºF (77ºC).

Once these temperatures are attained the turkey will be properly cooked and any harmful bacteria destroyed.

Roasting the turkey

Before you place the turkey onto the lowest shelf of the oven, add half a cup of water to the bottom of the tray and loosely cover the turkey with aluminium foil, folding the foil over the edges of the tray.

Keep the turkey covered with the foil for the first 1 - 1 ½ hours of roasting. In doing so, the turkey is kept moist and the heat is able to circulate well. If you prefer, the meat thermometer can be inserted into the meat through the foil.

After this amount of time the foil can be removed if desired to allow the turkey to colour and brown.

Basting the turkey

Baste the turkey every 20 - 30 minutes with the accumulated juices and fat from the roasting tray. Basting the turkey will give the bird a nice and crispy skin.

When basting the turkey, it is best to remove the turkey from the oven and close the oven door as quickly as possible so that heat is not lost from the oven and further roasting time is required.

How to test when the turkey is cooked

If you do not use a meat thermometer, the turkey will be properly cooked when the juices run clear upon inserting a fork or skewer and when the drumstick and thigh feel loose when twisted and wiggled.

If the turkey is not fully cooked, return it to the oven for a further 15 minutes and then check again. Be careful not to overcook the turkey, as the meat could dry out and lose its flavour.

Give the turkey a rest

When the turkey is done, remove the tray from the oven and allow to stand for 15 - 20 minutes on a carving board so that the juices set and saturate the meat. If you make a small cut between the thigh and the rib cage, the juices will be released and run down more freely. This will also make carving easier.

Make a giblet gravy (if required)

If you have reserved the giblets to make a gravy to accompany the turkey meat, you can start preparing the gravy 1 ½ - 2 hours before the turkey will be ready to serve.

The following is a simple recipe for a giblet gravy.

  • Giblets and neck from 1 turkey
  • 1 chopped small onion
  • 3 cups of water
  • 2 roughly chopped sticks of celery
  • 2 roughly chopped carrots
  • 2 tbsp of cornstarch
  1. Place the giblets, turkey neck, chopped onion and the three cups of water into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
  2. Once boiling, reduce the heat and cover the saucepan, simmering for 45 minutes.
  3. Drain the stock and set the giblets, neck and onion to one side.
  4. To the stock add enough water to make up three cups and place back in to the saucepan.
  5. Add the carrots, celery and the herbs.
  6. Remove the turkey meat from the neck and roughly chop the meat together with the giblets. Add this to the rest of the ingredients in the saucepan.
  7. Bring all of the ingredients to the boil and simmer for a further 35 - 45 minutes on a reduced heat. This time do not cover the saucepan.
  8. Strain the broth and discard the meat, giblets and vegetables. Return the liquid to the pan.
  9. Then mix the cornstarch together with the ¼ of a cup of water and add to the broth. Stir well and bring to the boil.
  10. Boil for 1 minute stirring constantly.
  11. The gravy will have then thickened and will be ready to serve with the turkey.

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