Everyday Meals

The ultimate guide to buying and cooking a turkey

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When buying a turkey for Christmas Day, whether it’s a whole turkey to a turkey crown, there are many things to consider. Express.co.uk spoke to Swaledale Butchers, a specialist butchery team, who shared their guide and tips for buying a turkey. 

Swaledale Butchers “recommend buying a free-range slow-grown breed such as a bronze turkey”.

They explained: “The bronze turkey grows slower than mass-produced white turkeys; they are farmed for up to 22 weeks, producing incredible flavour and defying the notion that turkey is tasteless and dry.

“Our turkey offering is a unique bird that has enjoyed a diet of fresh herbs alongside an active life. This diet produces wonderfully flavoursome meat, while the free-range nature of these birds also helps create additional fat often lacking in supermarket brought turkeys. 

“The fat is your friend when roasting a turkey as it keeps the meat basted as you cook. It also adds more flavour,” the experts added. 

In terms of how big a turkey you need for your family, Swaledale said: “This is one of the most challenging questions for a butcher to answer because people have different appetites. 

“Customers at Christmas also possibly want cold turkey for a boxing day buffet or a turkey curry the day after that. 

“As you are making an extra-special effort to cook a crowd-pleasing turkey centrepiece that you’re likely only going to enjoy once a year, we suggest over-ordering for the festive period.” 

The butchers added a 4-5 kg bird for five to seven people, all the way up to an 8-9 kg bid for 14 to 16 people. 

Turkeys can be purchased fresh, now, and frozen. Swaledale then suggests “defrosting it safely in a fridge at 4℃ for 24 hours per 2kg”. 

How to cook a turkey: 

The butchers said: “Roasting a free-range bronze turkey will take less time than a supermarket bird. The best way to cook a turkey is to roast it with butter and herbs.” 

1. Remove the turkey from the packaging and pat it dry. Remove the giblets from inside the turkey (they are in a bag); use these to make a stock.

2. Bring the turkey to room temperature. Bring a block of butter to room temperature.

3. Preheat your oven to 180ºC/Fan 160ºC/Gas 4.

4. Using your hands, apply the softened butter all over the turkey and under the skin, and season the turkey with salt and pepper. Scatter some bruised thyme on the breast and add some to the cavity with a halved, unpeeled onion. You can also add stuffing using pork meat if you wish. Cover the breast entirely with a lattice of smoked, streaky bacon.

5. Cover the turkey loosely with foil and place it breast-side up in a deep roasting tin.

6. Cook the turkey for 25 – 30 minutes per kg. 

7. Baste the bird five to six times during cooking, spooning the fat and juices that gather in the bottom of the roasting tin over the bird’s breast, legs, and wings.

8. Remove the foil and streaky bacon for the final 40 minutes to achieve a golden brown colour.

9. Remove the turkey from the oven and allow it to rest in a warm place; a resting time similar to the bird’s roasting time is advised.

10. Add the juices to your giblet stock to produce an excellent gravy; remember to skim off the fat.

When checking a turkey, “65ºC is the magic number”. The butchers “recommend cooking large birds, joints, and so forth to temperature rather than a generic time”. 

“You should probe your meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey leg. If it reads 55-57ºC, remove the turkey from the oven. The turkey will continue to cook whilst resting under the foil, bringing it up to 65ºC.” 

In terms of how long a turkey needs to cook based on its weight, Swaledale said: “As a guide, roast the turkey for 25-30 minutes per kg, so a 5kg bird will need two and a half hours.

“Remember, your turkey will continue to cook once out of the oven. A margin of 8-10ºC should be accounted for, therefore removing it from the oven when the thermometer reads 55-57ºC.”

If you don’t want a whole turkey, turkey crowns are without the legs and wings and are great for fans of succulent white meat and easy carving. 

They’re also perfect for smaller get-togethers, or if you’re planning on serving a choice of mains. 

If you want an alternative to turkey, some fantastic beef cuts provide great options and different price points. 

Swaledale Christmas meat box focuses on a roast rolled sirloin joint, ham rump, and delicious pigs in blankets. 

Swaledale also offers fantastic top sides and porchettas for those still wanting a treat but at a more affordable price. 

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