Roast Turkey 101: From freezer to table – Part 2

Turkey – it’s not just for Christmas anymore.

In North America, turkey is a popular dish served during Thanksgiving. In Malaysia, this extra large bird tends to make its appearance during the Christmas season.

But turkey is not just for Christmas anymore, as this high-in-protein-but-low-in-fat meat is great for lowering cholesterol levels. It is also a source of iron, potassium, vitamin B6, amino acid tryptophan and selenium, making it a healthy meat to include in your daily diet.

Refrigerated, cooked turkey lasts about 4 days. Frozen, its shelf life extends to from two to three months.

Let’s get started on Part 2 of our basic guide to preparing turkey from freezer to table.

Roasting your turkey

It’s finally time to get that roast on. Since it’s down to the basics here, here’s a simple recipe that works. The stuffing is also store-bought. Feel free to make your own.

Special equipment

• Roasting rack

• Meat thermometer


• Set your oven to 180°C on the convection (fan) setting and the heat source furthest from the breast i.e. in this case, typically, you’ll want to set the bottom heat source on only.

• If you’ve trussed your turkey but have not put in the stuffing, shove stuffing into its cavity. The stuffing needs to be quite packed to ensure there are no air pockets.

Stuffing ready to be stuffed into the turkey.
Empty cavity…
Stuffed cavity.

• Mix garlic powder, onion powder and fine salt.

Mix it up.

• Sprinkle generously and thoroughly all over the skin. Use your hand to pat the salt and powder mixture into the skin. Don’t rub it in.

A generous sprinkle of seasoning.

• Place turkey on a roasting rack over a roasting pan. The rack ensures the air circulates around the bird and cooks it evenly, while the roasting pan catches some very important juices.

Turkey on roasting rack.


• Once your oven is sufficiently hot, place turkey on the lowest rack. The interesting thing about cooking turkey is that we’re looking for two different temperatures for two different parts of the same bird – 65°C for the breast, and 74°C for the wings.

This makes cooking turkey as a whole bird a little tricky as one part is bound to get overcooked, so it’s important to keep an eye on your bird.

Browning beautifully.

• Baste turkey surface every 30 minutes with pan juices.

Basting in progress.

• While the turkey is out, test its temperature with a cooking thermometer by poking the thigh and then the breast. Generally it’ll take at least 90 minutes (for a turkey our size) to get close to the ideal temperature, so you only need to test it after about an hour in the oven.

51°C for the breast – not quite there yet.
73.4° for the thighs – almost there!

• After one hour, turn the oven temperature down to 150°C and check every 20 minutes. Be adaptive to the bird as the core temperature is most important when preparing turkey.

The higher heat browns the skin and dries it up nicely, while a lower temperature cooks the meat well and brings the temperature up to where you want it.

• Once cooked, remove from the oven. Let it rest on the roasting rack for one-third of the time it was in the oven.

Rest turkey.

• Remove pan juices and set aside for gravy.

• Once turkey is cooler to the touch, cut and remove trussing and discard.

Snip trussing away.

• Serve turkey whole after resting. When you’re ready to eat, bring it to the kitchen to carve before serving.

Important note

If you’re preparing your turkey several hours before serving, remove stuffing and transfer to a separate bowl to avoid spoilage.


Carving breaks the turkey down into smaller, servable portions. This is especially useful if you’re having a large sit-down dinner so your guests won’t have to wait as long to start eating.

If you’re roasting turkey to store for yourself, you should carve it as it takes up significantly less space in your freezer.


• Use a sharp carving knife.

• Slice both wings off at the joint, completely removing the wing and drummet from the main body. Separate drummet from wings at the joint.

Cut off wings first.

• Remove both thighs completely and separate drumstick from thigh.

Cut off thighs.
Drumsticks, drummets, wings and thighs.

• Make a deep cut across the body from the cavity, starting from the back bone, under the breast, all the way to the neck – you don’t have to sever it completely. You want to separate the backbone from the breast.

• Push both sides open to separate – almost like a coconut!

Push ribs away from breast.

• Scoop out stuffing and arrange on a serving plate or bowl.

Remove stuffing.

• Cut away ribs from breast.

Separate ribs and breast.

• Lay breast on its flat side and find the middle bone. Slice and cut right next to it and cut the breast meat off completely.

Lay turkey breast on its flat side.
Cut next to the middle bone.

• Cut and remove the other breast.

Remove the other breast.

• Cut breast meat into slices of about 1.5cm to 2cm wide. Arrange on a serving platter.

Slice breast meat.
Arrange on serving platter.

• Slice thigh meat and arrange on platter. You can arrange the meat any way you like, but we recommend “rebuilding” it. Lay thigh meat next to the breast, drumsticks next to the thighs. Then lay drummets on the opposite side and wings next to it.

‘Rebuild’ your turkey with the sliced meat.

• Ready to serve!

Important note

This method is for carving turkey away from the dining table. You can use a similar concept for carving at the dinner table but generally the stuffing should be removed first.

Then cut off the wings and thighs. To keep things neat, the breast meat is normally sliced off the bone and served instead of being removed entirely and then cut and served. Avoid turning the turkey upside down or sideways when carving in front of guests.

Pro tip

Serve the turkey whole on the dining table so guests can see how beautiful it is and take the necessary pictures. When dinner is ready to be served, bring it into the kitchen so you can carve it properly and thoroughly.


Much like chicken, turkey meat can be quite dry and even more so as they’re significantly bigger. Gravy adds moisture and brings extra flavour to the meat.

This recipe for gravy has a liquid texture and saltier flavour that complements the turkey meat well.


• Turkey bits, reserved from earlier

• Turkey drippings, from roasting the turkey

• 330g chicken stock

• 150g brown onion (1 large onion), sliced thinly

• 17g garlic (about 4 cloves), sliced thinly

• 8g soy sauce (1 tbsp)

• 9g fish sauce (1 tbsp)


• Cut neck into smaller segments and mince liver and turkey bits.

Cut neck and mince turkey bits.

• Heat a small pot on high heat and pour in oil from turkey drippings.

Pour in turkey dripping oil only.

• Add chopped neck. Continue stirring so it doesn’t stick to the pot.

Add chopped neck.

• Once neck is very brown (about 7 minutes), add sliced onions and garlic. Continue stirring.

Add onions and garlic.

• When onion has softened, about 4 minutes, add the brown turkey drippings. Your gravy will really start to brown after this.

Add brown drippings.
Gravy starts to brown.

• After 4-5 minutes, add chicken stock and continuously stir, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot for 1 minute.

Add chicken stock and stir.

• Add minced bits and let it cook for 4-5 minutes.

Minced bits go into the gravy.

• Add soy sauce and fish sauce. Stir and let boil until gravy reduces, about 10 minutes. If you would like a slightly thicker sauce, add some butter.

Note how the bottom of the pot is clean and not ‘sticky’ with brown bits.

• Strain gravy to remove chunks. Serve in a bowl or gravy boat.

Strain gravy to remove chunky bits.
Looking delicious!

Important note: Feel free to add a herb of your choice in step 4.

Extra tips

• This guide is for preparing a whole turkey. If you find frozen (or fresh) turkey meat in parts, similar rules still apply, but the timing must be adjusted accordingly. Remember – temperature is key!

• Whole roast turkey does not need to be served hot, although it does taste better that way. Cold turkey slices can also be used to make sandwiches.

• Serve with cranberry sauce as they go perfect together. You don’t have to make this from scratch as fresh or frozen cranberries are not always available in our supermarkets. However, canned or bottled cranberry sauce is always available and most are delicious.

• Stuffing is completely optional. Some prefer to serve their stuffing on the side, while some prefer no stuffing at all. It’s up to you!

We know this list is comprehensive and can be overwhelming, but don’t panic. Just take it step by step and you’ll be roasting perfect turkeys in no time.

This article first appeared in

Butterkicap is a food and culture platform and community that enables anyone to experience Malaysia through stories of her people, food and places.