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Turkey: It doesn’t have to be dry!

Photo from

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When I posted about Christmas turkeys the other day, many people commented on how they find turkey to be unpleasantly dry and bland.  It’s a widespread complaint alright, and many of us grew up with Christmas turkey that had all flavour cooked out of it by over-zealous mammies and grannies.  The same applied to the vegetables when I was growing up as well, come to think of it.

But turkey doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve cooked Christmas turkey a few times following Nigella Lawson’s guidelines from her book How To Eat, and each time it turned out tender, delicious and very far from dry (I can’t bear to use that word that starts with ‘m’ and rhymes with ‘joist’; it’s the worst word ever).

Nigella’s tips are:

  • Don’t be alarmed by the shortness of the cooking time, turkey really does not need to be cooked all day.
  • Take the turkey out of the fridge first thing in the morning so that it’s at room temperature when it goes into the oven.
  • Put the turkey breast down in the roasting tin: this allows the fat deposits in the back to percolate through the breast as it cooks, and makes for the tenderest, most succulent meat.
  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200ºC and keep it at this temperature for the first 30 mins. Then turn it down to gas mark 4/180ºC.

For the following weights of turkey, you need to cook it for these times:


Make sure you ask your butcher to weigh the turkey for you, as it will flatten your kitchen scales.  If you’re stuffing the turkey, include the weight of the stuffing.

More of Nigella’s tips:

  • Baste the bird regularly through the cooking time, and turn it the right way up for the last half hour of cooking.
  • The guidelines above are for without foil, but if you want to use foil, add an hour to the cooking time, and still remove it for the last half hour in order to brown the breast.
  • You can check that the meat is cooked by poking a skewer into a part where the meat is thick: the juices will run clear if it’s cooked.

This technique has worked perfectly for me a number of times: tender, succulent, perfectly-cooked meat.  And not a single food poisoning incident.  Hurray!


  1. I couldn’t agree with you more Jean. If the turkey is dry it’s been cooked incorrectly. My Granny use to put it in at Halloween, practically, and then would complain it was dry! Turkey is absolutely delicious when done right, just make sure it’s MOIST MOIST MOIST! Sorry Jean.

  2. Nice post, I’ve been reading about brining the turkey and would recommend people look into it as it sounds like a lot less effort and retains moisture better.

    Also there was something to do with cooking it upside-down so all the juices drain to the breast. I’m trying it this year for the family, though I’m only a novice chef I’ll admit lol

  3. Hi
    Are you sure about these timings for cooking. AN 11.5kg bird is 25 pounds. 4 and a half hours for 25lb is 10.5mins a lb? Is this right?

  4. I would cook a turkey for longer than Nigella’s guidelines – and it never comes out dry. A 6.75kg bird takes a good bit more than 2.45 hrs in my experience – best way to keep the meat from becoming dry is to soak some muslin in butter and wrap the bird in it (it browns beautifully), and to pour some cider or wine in the roasting tray (under the bird which should be on a rack).

  5. What about cooking a turkey that is boned and rolled with stuffing? Any tips on how to keep it from drying out when cooking ?

  6. I bought a turkey roasting dish 2 years ago from Aldi; the lid is ribbed and it’s great for all roasts (not only turkey). I don’t understand what all the fuss is about, the meat never comes out dry with my “magic” roasting dish and I don’t even need to baste the beast! It’s so easy, I have cooked turkeys, chickens, leg of lamb and beef in it and even though I am not a very experienced cook, it always comes out perfect. I can’t remember the price (it would have been less than €10 or else I wouldn’t have forked out the money) and the best cooking utensil investment I’ve ever made.

  7. I loved Nigella’s tips. It also helps to keep everything you do logged, in case there is a need for later review. Though, I must say that when growing up and my father began to review his log with us, to let us know how it got it just right, we were oftentimes too bored to listen. Our favorite log entry, however, was the Christmas year when he forgot to check to make sure the stove was turned on. The TV turkey dinners were okay that year.