13 best turkeys
Bag a tasty turkey for your festive table
Cooking the perfect turkey for the big Christmas Day meal takes a bit of know-how. It has to fit in your oven – a consideration many of us forget until it’s sadly too late – and if your bird arrives frozen and needs to be defrosted before cooking, getting your timings right (and clearing some space in an already-full fridge) is crucial. Plus, of course, there’s the burning question of whether you have it at lunchtime, for dinner, or sometime in between.
But the first challenge is to pick your bird, which is why we’re here to take the guess work out of choosing the best turkey, whether you’re looking for a whole bird to present at your Christmas table, or an easy-to-cook pre-prepared package.
For each whole bird, we followed the cooking instructions to the letter, and rested them for 30 minutes to an hour after they came out of the oven – an essential addition to your cooking time in order to release the juices, as otherwise you risk serving tough meat to your guests.
We found that although the average weight of the whole birds we tested was 5.5kg, their size varied quite a bit – generally, a 5kg turkey feeds about 10 to 12 people, while an 11kg bird can feed up to 24, but we recommend checking the supplier’s website for exact servings. The crowns involve less guessing and all feed a set number of guests.
Free Range Barra Bronze Turkey: from £80, Barra Bronze
Fed on home-grown oats, award-winning Barra Bronze turkeys are raised by a fourth-generation farmer in the wilds of Lochend of Barra, Scotland. Dry-plucked to keep the skin crispy, and with generous marbling that bastes the bird from the inside, the birds are cooked without any foil to ensure a golden finish.
Arriving with a pop-up thermometer, the instructions are simple to follow (add an onion to the cavity, season, cook upside-down and turn 30 minutes before the end – although it’s worth working out how you’ll perform this manoeuvre in advance), and result in a beautifully bronzed bird.
Underneath the crispy skin, is plenty of tender, juicy white meat that carves like a dream and rich, gamey dark meat. The bird’s dark-brown juices make delicious gravy, and even the fat is well worth skimming off and saving (it’s excellent for sautéeing veg). Although not a budget option, this is a fantastic all-rounder for your Christmas table.
5kg Whole Organic Turkey: £108, Copas
Winner of a slew of Great Taste awards, this impressive-looking beast comes complete with a pop-up timer, a sachet of sea salt, and a handy booklet containing instructions on everything from cooking your bird in an oven or Aga, to recipes for your leftovers. The website is open now for orders up until 17 December, although Copas recommends ordering sooner rather than later, as some sizes sell out the closer it gets to Christmas.
Free-range turkeys start at £70 for a 4kg bird. Copas recommends cooking breast-side down before flipping over for the last stage of cooking. We were worried this technique – which a few of the brands we tested recommended – might result in a less crispy skin, but it was golden and delicious, with moist, tasty flesh underneath.
The website allows you to choose which turkey to order based on the number of guests, and we found portions to be generous.
Christmas Simplicity Box for 4-6: £69, Donald Russell
This slow-cooked, free-range Loué turkey crown serves four, and comes with all the trimmings: brussels sprouts with shallots and smoked bacon, braised red cabbage, caramelised carrots, pork chipolatas wrapped in bacon, goose-fat roast potatoes and, of course, gravy. The instructions concerned us at first – par-boiling then frying or grilling the chipolatas, and cooking the frozen crown for just 65 minutes, seemed unusual.
But the result was a generous serving of beautifully juicy, tender and flavour-filled turkey and plenty of delicious side dishes, all made with minimum fuss. The (very rich and tasty) gravy doesn’t go far, so could do with a bit of watering down, and if one of your guests is a big potato fan, you might want to make a few more (or buy an extra pack) to be on the safe side.
But otherwise, there’s very little not to love about this box.
Herb-Fed Free-Range Bronze Turkey: £61.75 for 4-5kg, Herb Fed
Recipients of a flurry of Great Taste awards, Herb Fed’s free-range turkeys are raised in small flocks and fed over 10 varieties of fresh herbs to give them more flavour. And it appears to work: although the two hour 10 minutes cooking time for a 5kg bird was surprisingly brief, the skin crisped up beautifully, and the flesh was delicious, tasting almost buttery.
We found the flavour lighter than some of the others – making it an ideal choice if you’re not keen on very strong-tasting birds – and very tender, too. The bird comes with free delivery, and a bundle of herbs to make a Perfect Christmas Stuffing recipe, which is included in the cooking guide.
They were a bit worse for wear by the time they reached us, however, so don’t rely on them if you’re making stuffing.
Ballotine of Turkey: £34.95, Forman & Field
If you’re looking for the taste of turkey with none of the hassle, this ballotine feeds six, is great value, and is incredibly simple to prepare. A mix of turkey and chicken meats wrapped in bacon, the addition of chestnuts, cream and sage packs in the flavour, and it’s ready in a speedy 20 minutes.
Serving six, it’s a juicy, tasty alternative to the classic bird, and the lack of greasy pans to wash up is a definite bonus.
The only downside is the lack of juices to make gravy, but it’s a small price to pay for the time you’ll save on prep, cooking and washing up.
The Best British Free Range Marbury Red Oat-Fed Turkey: from £50, Morrisons
Ranging from 4kg-7kg, and feeding around eight to 16 people depending on size, these turkeys are great value for free-range – and our 5kg bird was a real whopper. Available for pre-order in Morrison’s stores or online, these free-range birds enjoy a relaxed, slow-growing lifestyle, with an enriched environment to stave off boredom.
The meat had quite a strong turkey flavour, but if a gamey bird is to your taste, this is an excellent option for those who want dinner from a happy bird at a pocket-friendly price.
Tesco Finest British Free-Range Heritage Narragansett Turkey: £58.59, Tesco
This heritage breed is reared in East Anglia and given a varied diet for extra flavour. Following the cooking directions, which advise basting with butter or oil before cooking, will help your bird emerge from the oven with crisp golden skin, looking like it’s fallen out of the pages of a Dickens novel.
Arriving with giblets – ideal for making an extra-rich gravy while your turkey cooks – this looked and smelled super Christmassy.
Keep an eye on the cooking time, as a bit of extra time in the oven made the meat a little tough, although it was still very tasty. Available to buy in large and medium sizes (between 4-6.5kg), from 17 December.
Cranberry Burst Turkey Parcel: £45, Waitrose
If you’re after a good-looking centrepiece for your Christmas table, try this neat parcel, with turkey breast wrapped in smoky bacon, studded with sage, and stuffed with pork sausage meat and cranberry. Very easy to cook in its bag – you simply open it up at the end for browning – it certainly looks the part as its carved and the insides ooze out. Just make sure you’ve removed all the string first, to prevent your knife snagging.
There’s quite a big stuffing-to-turkey ratio, and the cranberry could be a little on the sweet side for some, but the meat was deliciously juicy and tender, and we loved the combination of flavours.
Feeding eight, it’s simplicity itself to cook – you don’t even have to handle it raw – and a great option for those who prefer a crown to a whole bird.
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference British Free Range Norfolk Black Turkey: from £44, Sainsbury’s
All birds are not created equal, and the 5.5kg turkey we tested was bigger than most, so before you buy, make sure you have room in your oven alongside your roasties. Instructions include putting a lemon into the cavity and adding water to the roasting pan, which as well as helping keep the bird tender made for a delicious gravy when we used up the juices. The bird came out of the oven crisp and golden and carved easily into thin slices.
With a strong gamey flavour – according to Sainsbury’s, this is due to the birds being allowed to roam in open woodland – this is ideal for fans of a true turkey taste. Even the white meat was dark and rich, although the whole thing was also tastily tender, at an excellent price.
The Collection British Oakham™ Turkey Crown with Pork, Chestnut, Bacon & Thyme Stuffing: from £28.80, Marks & Spencer
Ideal for smaller ovens and kitchens, this compact bone-in turkey crown is stuffed with British pork sausage meat, chestnuts and herbs and comes wrapped with smoked streaky bacon. Nestled in a foil tray ready for cooking, preparation is straightforward – it’s brushed with butter and seasoned then wrapped in foil, which is removed for the last 15 minutes for browning.
Although the end result wasn’t particularly golden, and didn’t give off a classic turkey aroma, after the recommended 40 minutes’ resting time the meat turned out to be incredibly juicy and tender, and the stuffing was delicious.
With a very subtle turkey flavour, this is ideal for those who don’t like a strong, gamey taste. Although this serves six to eight people, four keen turkey-lovers polished the whole lot off between them in testing, so don’t expect any leftovers.
Whole KellyBronze Free Range Turkey: from £73.02, KellyBronze
Ranging from the tiny 2kg KBXS bird which feeds up to four people, up to an 11kg roast that will serve 24, KellyBronze has a turkey for every table. Arriving complete with a KellyBronze-specific thermometer, the cooking instructions are detailed – using tin foil, even when resting your turkey for up to an hour after it emerges from the oven, is an absolute no-no.
But the additional effort is worth it: crispy skin (made even crisper if you follow the instructions for making turkey crackling), and flesh that was the most juicy and tender we tasted on a whole bird. Cooking surprisingly quickly, and with notes on carving too, this is an ideal choice if you’re worried about getting the big meal wrong – follow the instructions to the letter, and you’re guaranteed a delicious dinner.
Deluxe British Free Range Silver Slate Turkey: price to be confirmed, Lidl
The price of this bird is a closely guarded secret until they go on sale in store on 20 December, but as we’re assured it’ll be below £9/kg, we know it’s definitely great value. Silver Slate turkeys are slow-grown for a richer flavour, and it works. Emerging from the oven a gorgeous golden brown, the skin was crisp and the meat easy to carve. It was delicious, too – beautifully tender, moist and delicate, with a rich turkey taste.
Easy to prepare and cook, with lots of juices ideal for making gravy, this was one of the tastiest turkeys we tried. As they’re only available to buy in store and are likely to go fast, you might struggle to get your hands on one of these birds – but it’s definitely worth the effort.
Daylesford Organic Turkey: £16.99 per kg, Ocado
Daylesford turkeys are raised in the Cotswolds on an all-natural forage-based diet, and their relatively petite size kilo for kilo (a 6kg bird serves eight) makes them the ideal free-range choice for smaller ovens. Cooked without foil and slathered in both butter and oil, the skin browns quickly, so it’s worth keeping a close eye on it and covering the bird if it starts getting too dark to get the ideal golden glow.
We found the cooking time a little over-generous, so invest in a thermometer and make regular checks when basting to make sure your bird stays juicy. The final result was a delicious, delicate-tasting meat and the addition of water to the pan gave us plenty of rich, dark juices for gravy.
The verdict: best Christmas turkeys
The Barra Bronze is a good-looking, well looked-after turkey that’s packed with flavour and juices that make for great gravy.
Those on a budget should consider getting their elbows out in Lidl from 20 December for a tender, wallet-friendly option.
And if you’d prefer to take all the hassle out of Christmas day prep, the delicious Donald Russell Christmas Simplicity Box makes life very easy indeed, without scrimping on flavour.
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