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How to roast a whole turkey

by Great British Chefs17 December 2019

Learn how to roast a whole turkey to perfection, including tips on brining, resting and what sides to serve with the festive bird.

How to roast a whole turkey

Learn how to roast a whole turkey to perfection, including tips on brining, resting and what sides to serve with the festive bird.

Turkey may have once had a bit of a reputation for being the dry, tasteless centre piece of a Christmas dinner, but it doesn't have to be this way! Its size makes it great for feeding a crowd at a Sunday roast, so it shouldn't be relegated to a once-a-year (or two if you celebrate Thanksgiving) affair. With a few little tricks and some TLC, turkey can and should be every bit as succulent and delicious as your favourite roast chicken.

What to look for when buying a whole turkey

It is best to prepare ahead when selecting your turkey, as you may need to pre-order from your butchers to get a good quality one (especially during the festive season, when they are in high demand). Frozen birds are available year-round (fresh turkeys outside of Christmas usually need to be ordered from butchers); just ensure you leave yourself enough time to defrost it – overnight is best.

When buying turkey, choose a free-range, organic bird if you can: the better the living conditions of the bird, the more flavourful the meat will be. Make sure the giblets are included, too, as these are perfect for enriching a gravy or stuffing.

Do consider buying two smaller turkeys instead of a bigger one if you are feeding a larger number of people, as they will likely fit in your oven better, plus they'll have less chance of drying out.

How to roast a whole turkey

The best way to roast turkey is a hotly debated topic. To brine? To cure? Or keep it plain and simple? It really comes down to personal preference, but we prefer the brining method to ensure the juiciest meat. Check out our brining guide here to learn more, and follow the recipe below for a perfectly brined and roasted bird.




  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp allspice berries
  • 6l water
  • 600g of salt
  • 200ml of maple syrup, or honey
  • 200ml of whisky
  • 2 oranges, zested
  • 6 sprigs of thyme
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, bashed
  • 1 turkey, approx 4-5kg
  • 1 dash of vegetable oil
  • 2 onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 carrot, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, roughly chopped
  • 250ml of white wine
  • chicken stock, around 1.5l
  • 50g of unsalted butter, softened
  • salt

First make the brine. Toast the cinnamon, cloves and allspice berries in a hot, dry pan for 30 seconds, or until fragrant


In a pan large enough to hold the turkey, add 1l of water along with the salt, maple syrup or honey, whisky, orange zest, thyme sprigs, bay leaves and garlic cloves and bring to the boil. Stir to make sure the salt has fully dissolved, then remove from the heat and add the remaining 5 litres of cold water to cool the brine down


Once the brine has completely cooled down, place the turkey in the pan and submerge. Place a weight on the turkey if needed, to ensure it is fully submerged in the brine. Cover and leave in the fridge or a cold place such as a pantry or garage to brine for 24 hours

Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry using kitchen paper. Rub with oil and a little salt (not too much, as the turkey will be seasoned from the brining)
Preheat an oven to 170°C/gas mark 3 ½. Place a large roasting tray over a high heat and add a splash of oil. Put the turkey breast-side down in the pan and brown all over, then remove from the tray
Add the chopped vegetables and wine to the tray then place the turkey on top. Add the stock to the tray, then rub the softened butter onto the top of the turkey
Transfer the tray to the oven and roast for 1.5–2 hours, depending on the size of the bird. Due to the stock in the pan, this is a quicker method than roasting as the bird is partly steamed too. Juices should run clear (not pink) when a skewer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh when it is ready. If you have a temperature probe, you're aiming for around 70°C – the bird will continue to rise in temperature when resting, eventually hitting the 74°C sweet spot
Leave to rest uncovered in a warm place for 30 minutes before carving
The delicious stock in the bottom of the tray can be strained and made into gravy, or saved to use in other dishes such as soup, pie or risotto

What to serve with roast turkey

Roast turkey is of course traditionally served with an array of roast vegetables, stuffing, cranberry sauce and plenty of gravy. If you're going down this classical route, we'd recommend Dominic Chapman's Roast Bronze turkey with all the trimmings.

If you're feeling a bit more adventurous and looking for something a little more refined, check out Alyn Williams' Christmas turkey recipe. He roasts the crown separately and rolls up the legs with a festive sausage meat, chestnut and sage stuffing.

The cavity of the bird can of course also be stuffed. Try out Helen Graves' boozy prune, bacon and brandy stuffing, Anna Tobias' simple celery stuffing or keep it classical with a pork and apricot stuffing.

Have a browse through our chefs' creative Christmas sides dishes for more inspiration. Particular highlights include Peter Gordon's Roast parsnips with bacon, olives and sprout leaves, Luke Holder's amazing Fried Brussels sprouts with lemon, sage and Parmesan crumb and Paul Welburn's luxurious Truffled Jerusalem artichoke gratin.

Don't forget to get creative with your turkey leftovers, too. Turkey arancini, Turkey and stuffing sausage rolls and Turkey bhajis are all great ways of using up cooked turkey. William Drabble suggests a delicious pumpkin and turkey risotto, and there are of course an array of curries to try such as Turkey biryani or Vivek Singh's South Indian-inspired stir-fry.

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