So, it is nearly that magical time of year again, Christmas! We have noticed a shortage of advice on cooking a simple Small Whole Turkey.
This recipe makes a Perfectly tender whole Turkey between 2kg to 4kg (5lb - 9lb). We take you through every step of making the best Roast Turkey Xmas Dinner!
From where to buy a small turkey. Whether to buy fresh or frozen, and how to safely defrost a frozen whole turkey.
To what to stuff with, how to remove a wishbone and string the poultry. And finally, of course, the temperature and cooking times for how long to roast?
Looking for a Christmas Dessert? We have the perfect British Christmas Pudding recipe that you must try!
How do you prepare and cook a Small Whole Turkey?
Check out the slideshow below for step-by-step images for preparing and cooking a small whole turkey.
There is a wealth of information to read through on this blog page. If you don't want all the 'ins and outs of the turkey's a***', feel free to jump straight to the recipe card.Jump to Recipe
However, you may want to come back and check the images for removing the wishbone, trussing the turkey and carving.
What size turkey do I need for a small family?
The pictures you see in this blog post are of a 3.6kg Whole Turkey. There was plenty to serve us, a family of 4 (2 Adults and 2 Children) with enough leftovers!
Check the table below for how many people a small turkey will serve.
|Whole Turkey Weight||Number of Servings|
|2kg / 4.5lb||4 People|
|2.6kg / 6lb||5 People|
|3kg/ 6.5lb||6 People|
|3.6kg / 8lb||7 People|
|4kg / 9lb||8 People|
What is the smallest size of a whole turkey?
2kg is the smallest whole turkey you will be able to buy. Of course, if you need smaller than that, you can opt for a Turkey Crown instead!
We also have a simpler slow cooker turkey crown recipe you may like to try for a complete hands-off turkey cooking experience.
Where can I buy a small turkey?
Small turkeys are easier to get hold of than big turkeys. They are also available all year round, which is a bonus. Whoever said a Turkey is just for Christmas!
Which is best, frozen or fresh turkey?
Fresh is usually best. However, it is not a massive difference. There is some argument that frozen turkey is not as tender.
This is not true if you buy a pre-frozen Turkey from a supermarket because it will have been ready-basted and flash-frozen to protect the meat quality.
I happily buy frozen, knowing I can cross one more thing off my Christmas list before they all sell out!
Conversely, you can find mini or small whole turkeys all year round in the freezer aisle of most supermarkets.
Are small whole turkeys more tender?
Smaller turkeys are usually small as they are younger. This leads to a juicer, more tender meat when roasted.
How to defrost a frozen Small Whole Turkey?
The guidance from The Food Standards Agency is to defrost your turkey in a container big enough to catch any juices to avoid cross-contamination.
This should be placed in a fridge for about two days before cooking. You are allowing your turkey enough time to thaw thoroughly.
Thawing time for turkey
The defrosting time for your turkey should be on the packaging. However, if you want to double-check, see the below table.
|Whole Turkey Frozen Weight||Defrost Time - covered in fridge|
|2kg / 4.5lb||20 hrs|
|2.6kg / 6lb||25 hrs|
|3kg / 6.5||30 hrs|
|3.6kg / 8lb||35 hrs|
|4kg / 9lb||40 hrs|
Can I cook a small turkey from frozen?
It is not advised to cook a whole Turkey from frozen unless it is expressly stated on the manufacturer's label of the turkey.
Even if the packaging says you can, I would still advise against it. It will cook unevenly, taking 50% longer to cook from frozen and dry out the meat.
How to prepare a small whole turkey for roasting?
We will go through every step of turkey preparation with you, from removing the wishbone, adding flavour and keeping the meat moist.
How to string up, prevent burning, what temperature and how long to cook for?
What to prepare on?
We like to use a large cut of foil on the worktop whilst preparing our Turkey. This is to prevent cross-contamination on worktops. It can be thrown away once your prep has finished.
Remove your turkey from the packaging, throwing away excess fluids.
Do I need to keep giblets?
First, locate the giblets and neck inside the cavities of the turkey and throw these away or use how you wish.
Some people like to boil them to use for stock. However, I want to make my gravy using the leftover drippings instead.
Should I wash the turkey?
It is essential not to wash your turkey because this can lead to cross-contamination. Instead, use a kitchen towel to pat it dry, removing any excess moisture.
How and when to remove the turkey wishbone?
We prefer to remove the bone before cooking, making it easier to carve. It also saves you time fiddling around when everyone is waiting for a slice of turkey!
Lift the skin at the neck end (between the wings). Feel with your fingers to find the long, upside-down v-shaped wishbone. Use a sharp knife to slice down both sides of the bone. You are scrapping against the bone with some force.
Put your fingers into the cuts and wiggle the bone to release both bottom parts. You must use some force to tug it out without snapping the wishbone.
Should I stuff a turkey?
We never stuff our turkey with stuffing, especially a tiny turkey. Instead, we like to fill the cavity with vegetables, fruit and herbs.
Ways to add flavour to a turkey?
Suppose you want to add some delicious flavour to your turkey. Cut an onion and lemon into quarters and stuff inside the Turkey cavity, in addition to a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme.
The flavours will not only infuse into the turkey meat. But also aids in making delicious turkey gravy from the drippings.
How do you keep the turkey meat moist?
Unlike a large turkey, a small turkey will not need regular basting to moisten the meat.
Simply rub a generous amount of herby butter. We show you how to make it in the recipe card, under the skin, in addition to over the skin.
This will keep the meat well-basted during cooking and add a delicious herby flavour.
How do you stop turkey wings from burning?
To prevent the wing tips from burning, pull the wings out and twist them back under the neck area.
How do you string up (truss) a whole turkey?
Indeed, it is best to truss the turkey to keep it compact and help it cook evenly. Use kitchen twine to string them together.
Trussing (tying up with string) a turkey is pretty tricky. Especially with it being a smaller turkey, the neck is only tiny!
Starting at the neck, you will find under the skin flap between the wings. Twist the string around it.
Pull the string under the wings and up and around the breast. Tie off tightly here.
Finally, cross over the turkey legs, pull, wrap and tie them up tightly with the remaining string to keep them together. Cut off any excess cooking twine.
What to cook turkey in?
You can buy a disposable turkey tray if you want. On the other hand, being a small turkey, it should fit in most roasting trays you already own.
Do you have a Roasting Tin with a rack? Use that to keep the turkey off the base of the tray. This allows the heat to circulate the whole of the turkey & it cooks more evenly.
What to use instead of a rack when cooking Turkey?
I do own a rack. But I like to DIY my rack with roughly chopped onions and carrots.
Not only do these work in the same way as a rack does, by lifting the turkey off the base of the pan. It also doubles up to give extra flavour to the turkey drippings used for gravy.
What should I add to the roasting pan before putting the turkey in the oven?
Use roughly chopped carrots and onions as a rack to prop up the turkey from the base. Then add seasoning to the whole turkey and, finally, stock (we used chicken stock) to the roasting tin.
Adding stock is an important step. This will work to keep your Turkey moist through the steam that is released. In addition to helping create a delicious gravy after the turkey is cooked!
The stock should not be touching the base of the turkey. We use 500ml. Adjust depending on the size of your tray.
Should I put foil over it during cooking?
The last step before the turkey goes in the oven is to put foil over the top of the turkey. DO NOT wrap the foil tightly all the way around.
Simply lay over the top of the turkey and tuck the foil under the two long ends of the pan. Meanwhile, keep the two shorter ends open.
This foil should be removed 40 minutes before the end of cooking. At this time, you add the glaze to allow Turkey to brown.
Cooking time for a small turkey?
Most Turkeys will have a time already calculated on the front of the packaging.
Check out the chart below to show how long it will take to roast your size bird. This may vary depending on the turkey you have purchased.
|Whole Turkey Weight||Oven cook at 180°C fan /190 °C / 375°F - start covered loosely with foil.|
Remove foil, glaze and leave uncovered for the final 40 minutes.
|2kg / 4.5lb||1 hr 50 min|
|2.6kg / 6lb||2 hrs 00 min|
|3kg / 6.5||2 hr 10 min|
|3.6kg / 8lb||2 hr 20 min|
|4kg / 9lb||2 hr 50 min|
Our turkey cooking times are calculated when cooked in a fan oven at 180°C (190°C conventional)/ 375°F /Gas mark 5.
It should be noted always to rest the bird after it comes out of the oven. We suggest 30 mins - 1 hr covered loosely with foil.
If you are unsure what temperature to use for your oven, we have more advice here.
Do I need to baste?
When cooking a small turkey, there is no need to baste the turkey continually. Unlike you would with a big Turkey.
We only baste it once during cooking, which is when we add a delicious oil, herb and maple syrup glaze.
We use a deliciously sweet glaze made from oil, fresh rosemary, thyme and maple syrup.
Not only does it add great flavour to the turkey. The maple syrup also helps give the turkey a delightful golden brown colour.
Regardless of the size, remove the turkey 40 minutes before the end of cooking, take the foil off and pour it all over the turkey. Return to the oven, leaving uncovered.
The glaze should be added for the final 40 minutes of cooking and left uncovered to begin the browning. Do not add the glaze earlier, as it will burn!
How to check if your turkey is cooked?
There are a couple of ways to check, use a meat thermometer (if you have one). Or, check the juices run clear from the thigh meat.
How to check juices?
Pierce the thickest part of the turkey thigh with a knife or skewer. Squeeze the juices out. They should run clear.
Of course, if the juice is still pink. The turkey will need to cook for another 15 minutes before checking again.
Cooked temperature in celsius and fahrenheit?
If you own a cooking thermometer, poke it into the thickest part of the Turkey thigh.
It should be noted that you should not push too far in. The thermometer will end up in the inside cavity or hit a bone, which will give a wrong reading. Check in a few places to be sure.
The thermometer should read 75°C (165°F). If not, return to the oven for 15 minutes and check again.
Why rest cooked turkey?
Check the temperature or juices once you are happy that the turkey is cooked. It is equally important to give the turkey resting time.
Remove the turkey from the roasting tin and place on a chopping board.
Layer a single sheet of foil loosely over the top of the whole turkey; do not wrap it up tightly.
Rest the whole turkey covered for at least 30 minutes. Of course, leaving longer, up to 1 hour 30 minutes, will allow the juices to settle and redistribute.
As a result, the turkey meat will be juicier and easier to carve.
The meat of the turkey leg is still pink. Is it safe to eat?
It is common for smaller turkeys to have pinker and darker flesh, especially around the joint areas. They are usually younger birds with less fat covering protecting them.
So, as long as the juices run clear and the temperature is correct, there is nothing to worry about.
If you are still worried, you can always remove the legs and return them to the oven for 15 minutes to rest your mind!
What to do with leftover stock and turkey drippings?
Remove the vegetables. You can eat them if you want or discard them. The best thing for this delicious leftover stock and drippings is to create gravy with it!
How to make gravy from juices?
Check out our turkey gravy with red wine post for what to do to make a delicious gravy from the Turkey juices.
Even if you do not want to use red wine, you can still follow the recipe in the same way but using extra stock instead of red wine—more details on the gravy blog page.
How to carve a small whole turkey?
Carving instructions are illustrated by the pictures below, starting with the legs, then the breast and finally the wings.
How to cut turkey legs off?
Pull the leg away from the carcass, cutting the skin and flesh between the leg and breast that joins it.
You may hear a pop whilst doing so, which is the ball joint coming out of the socket. Cut away any remaining flesh and skin and place aside, repeat with the other leg.
How to remove cooked breast from a small whole turkey carcass?
Use the breastbone as a guide for where to cut. Follow along the breastbone with a sharp knife.
Pulling with your other hand and cutting as you go, remove the whole breast from the carcass. Finally, cut the bottom near the wing to release the entire breast.
Now slice the breast into smaller slices.
How to cut Turkey wings from carcass?
Finally, to remove the wings, hold on to what is left of the carcass, twist the wing away, and cut around the joint to detach from the body.
What to serve with a small whole roast turkey?
We have many Roast dinner side dishes like our sage and onion stuffing, which you can make to serve with your roast turkey dinner. Take a look at more side recipes below.
📖 Step by Step Recipe
Small Whole Turkey- How to Prepare and Cook
- 3.6 kg Turkey If using frozen - make sure you leave enough time to defrost ahead of time.
- 100 grams Unsalted butter room temperature
- Thyme 2 sprigs
- Rosemary 2 sprigs
- Salt and Pepper season
Ingredients for inside Turkey Cavity
- 1 onion chopped into quarters
- 1 lemon chopped in quarters
- 1 handful Fresh Thyme & Rosemary
Turkey base for baking tray - can later be used for Turkey Gravy
- 2 onions cut in half
- 2 carrots cut into quarters
- 500 ml chicken stock or turkey / vegetable stock
Turkey Glaze - to put on for the final 40 minutes of cooking.
- 3 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 3 tablespoon Maple syrup
- 2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
- 2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
- Salt and Pepper
- Remove the turkey and butter from the fridge and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before prepping the bird to cook.3.6 kg Turkey
- With the softened butter, add rosemary and thyme leaves, salt and pepper and stir together100 grams Unsalted butter, Thyme, Rosemary, Salt and Pepper
- Preheat the oven at 180°C fan / 190°C / 375°F Gas mark 5Pat the turkey down inside and out with kitchen paper towel.Check inside the cavities and remove the giblets and neck joint.
- Remove the wishbone see blog post for instructions on how we did this.
- Place the quatered lemon, onions and fresh herbs inside the empty cavity1 onion, 1 lemon, 1 handful Fresh Thyme & Rosemary
- Rub the butter under the turkey skin and all over the top of breast, legs and wings.
- Truss the turkey with cooking string, see blog post for instructions on how to do this.
- Place carrots and onions for the base of the turkey to sit on top of in the baking tray (or use a rack)2 onions, 2 carrots
- Place the turkey on top of the cut vegetables, season with salt and pepper and pour the chicken stock around the bottom of the tray, not over the turkey.500 ml chicken stock
- Lightly place foil over the top of the turkey and secure on long edge of roasting tin only. Leaving the small sides open. Place in the oven to cook covered, removing 40 minutes before the time given on the packet instructions to glaze as in next step.(for example, this 3.6kg turkey went in for 1 hr 40 mins covered and the final 40 minutes uncovered with glaze to brown) Check times on the packet for your size of the turkey and adjust accordingly
- Mix up the glaze ingredients3 tablespoon Olive Oil, 3 tablespoon Maple syrup, 2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme, 2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary, Salt and Pepper
- 40 minutes before the end of cooking time, remove the foil and baste the whole turkey with the glaze.Leave the foil off and place back in the oven and cook for the final 40 minutes allowing it to brown.
- Once cooked, remove the turkey from the tray and place on to a chopping board. Cover loosely with tin foil allow to rest between 30 minutes to 1 hr 30 minutes before carving
- Keep the leftover cooking juices to make the turkey gravy - see blog post
- When its time to carve, see blog post for instructions and pictures on how we did this.
- Serve with all the usual trimmings and Enjoy!!
This post was originally published on 03/11/2020 and modified on 20/09/2023 with more serving suggestions and updated advice.
When everyone has had enough turkey, cover it with foil or in a lidded container and transfer to the fridge within 90 minutes of serving.
How long does cooked Turkey stay good for?
Cooked turkey will be safely stored in the fridge for up to 4 days after cooking.
How to reheat leftover Turkey?
Turkey must only be reheated once, so only reheat as much you need using one of the following methods.
Reheating in the oven
Wrap the desired amount in foil add a few spoonfuls of stock/ gravy, and place in the oven at 180°C/350°F for about 30 minutes. Check it is heated through before serving.
If reheating a large joint, it may take up to 45 minutes.
Reheating in the microwave
Place slices of turkey in a microwave-safe bowl, and add stock or gravy to prevent it from drying out. Cover and microwave until piping hot throughout. Time will vary depending on how many slices you reheat.
More Christmas Recipes
Check out more of our Christmas recipes below!
We want to take this time to wish you a Merry Christmas and hope we helped you achieve the most perfect Turkey Christmas dinner after following along with our recipe.
Feel free to comment below, letting us know how you got on.