How to cook turkey – our size guide and how long it takes to defrost and cook Thanksgiving dinner in the oven

Most Brits tuck into turkey on Christmas Day but, if you're looking to have a Thanksgiving turkey on November 22, here's some tips to help.

What size turkey do I need?

When picking the perfect turkey, you're considering more than the roast dinner itself.

Part of the fun of Thanksgiving is having enough leftovers for turkey sandwiches in the evening, and maybe a home-made curry or pie the next day.

However, this doesn't mean you need to panic buy the biggest bird in the store.

This would be unnecessarily expensive and the bigger the bird, the longer it will take to cook.

The general rule of thumb is to allow 1lb, or 500g, per person.

Whole birds are the best value, but crowns are easier to carve – because the legs have already been removed.

Is a 12lb bird big enough?

Yes, unless you are cooking for around 12 people.

For a group of six to eight, you're recommended to buy an 8lb turkey – but some birds grow to much larger than that.

This farm in East Devon produced three 60lb turkeys in 2016.

The enormous birds are eight times the average weight of babies born in the UK.

Should I buy fresh or frozen turkey?

Frozen turkeys will be cheaper, although fresh will taste slightly better.

If you've opted for frozen, the turkey can defrost either in the fridge or out on the kitchen counter (the quicker option).

If you're using fresh meat, simply take the turkey out of the fridge an hour before cooking – to bring the bird up to room temperature.

You can prepare the stuffing in advance, but don't stuff the bird until it's about to be cooked.

And only stuff the neck cavity, not the body, as this will not cook through.

Thawing your turkey

  • 5lb bird: Thaw in the fridge for 27 hours, or in a cool room for 9 hours.
  • 6.5-7.5lb bird: Thaw in the fridge for 42 hours, or in a cool room for 12-14 hours.
  • 10lb-12lb bird: Thaw in the fridge for 66 hours, or in a cool room for 18-22 hours.
  • 15lb-16.5lb bird: Thaw in the fridge for 90 hours, or in a cool room for 27-30 hours.

How long do I need to cook my turkey in the oven for?

You should cook your bird at 180C (fan oven), 375F or Gas Mark 5.

A 5lb bird takes around two hours to cook, a 10lb bird three hours and a 15lb bird takes four hours.

British Turkey have a handy cooking calculator, so you can check exactly how long to give yourself.

The calculator measures weight by kg, but you convert it yourself easily enough – just allow 0.45kg for every 1lb.

The weight you enter should include any stuffing – not just the size of bird you bought.

How do I know if the turkey is cooked through?

The classic test is to pierce the thickest part of the leg with a fork or a skewer.

If the meat juices are a pale gold colour and run clear, the turkey is cooked.

If there are any traces of blood, return the bird to the oven.

You should rest your turkey for at least half an hour before carving it.

Cover it tightly in foil to ensure the meat is kept moist and juicy.

This also gives you time to blast the heat on the oven – and crisp up your roast vegetables and potatoes.

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