What size turkey do I need? A guide to choosing and cooking your turkey at Christmas

About to order or buy your Christmas turkey? Find out what size to buy depending on how many you're feeding, whether to brine, how long to cook and the best way to carve it. 

What size turkey should I buy?

roast turkey

If you opt for a whole bird, here's how big you should go depending on how many you have to feed.

Ideally, allow 500g of meat on the bone per person: that should give you a generous serving and allow for a little leftover for turkey sarnies and the like.

4 people: turkey crown, or go for the smallest size turkey and be prepared to get creative when it comes to leftovers

6-8 peopl
e: 4kg turkey - approx cooking time 2.5 hours

10 people
: 5kg turkey - approx cooking time 3 hrs 10 minutes

12 people
: 6kg turkey - approx cooking time 3.5 hours

14 people
: 7kg turkey - approx cooking time 3 hours and 50 minutes

16 people
: 8kg turkey - approx cooking time 4 hours and 10 minutes

*Cooking times obviously depend on your oven

Should I stuff the turkey?

According to James Martin the answer is a categoric no. But if you must, stuff the neck cavity only, leaving the main cavity free for heat to circulate, making sure the turkey is throughly cooked through.

What cut of turkey?
A turkey crown is essentially a breast of turkey on the bone with the legs and wings removed. It's a great idea if you'll be a small-ish gathering or if no-one in your family likes the dark meat.

What is brining and is it important?

Brining is when you steep the turkey overnight, usually in a salty mixture to which you can add other festive flavours. As Nigella vouches: "For me the only turkey is a brined one. Not only does it tenderise and add subtle spiciness, but it makes carving the turkey incredibly much easier."

You can brine a turkey for up to two days, but you'll need a container big enough to submerge it completely and somewhere cold enough to keep it during that time.

I'm using a crown - can I brine that?

Yes, but you only need to brine it for around five to six hours.

After brining, wash the bird throughly inside and out and pat dry before cooking it. Do this 1-2 hours before you're thinking of putting it in the oven.

How long do I need to cook a turkey for?

  • Aim for 20 mins for every kilogram plus a further 70 minutes if the joint is under 4kg
  • Add 90 minutes if the bird is over 4kg
  • Cook it at 190C (Fan 180C)/375F/Gas Mark 5
  • Cover the turkey loosely with foil and remove foil for last 40 minutes for browning, or put slices of streaky bacon on the breast to prevent it from drying out

Once the turkey is cooked, you should leave it to rest, covered loosely with foil, for a minimum of 15-20 minutes before carving.

How to carve a turkey

The cook may wish to present the roasted turkey to the assembled company for general acclaim, but if they're canny they'll then retire to the kitchen and employ Jamie Oliver's cunning turkey-carving trick. He removes each breast whole from the bone and then carves it once off the bird. It's much easier this way.

Happy festive feasting.

*If you are starting off with a frozen turkey - click here for advice on how to defrost it safely before cooking.




Last updated: 12-Dec-2013 at 3:26 PM