Jamie Oliver’s turkey farmer says there’s a good reason why you shouldn’t cover your turkey in foil once it’s cooked

Turkey farmer Paul Kelly and Jamie Oliver Rachel Hosie
  • Turkey is known to some as a dry, bland meat, but this doesn’t have to be the case.
  • Many people think covering the bird in foil after cooking it is a way to keep moisture in.
  • However, according to turkey farmer Paul Kelly, this is actually the worst thing you can do.

The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s one bird’s time to be the star of the show: the turkey.

The trouble is, turkey doesn’t have a good reputation – some people even think it’s dry and bland with the texture of sawdust.

In a bid to keep the meat moist, most people cover their turkeys in foil immediately after taking it out of the oven, in the hope that this will keep the juices in.

However, this is actually one of the worst things you can do.

“You must never cover the bird,” Paul Kelly of KellyBronze turkeys – who have long supplied birds to Jamie Oliver – said at a London turkey masterclass (yes, that’s a thing).

Paul Kelly and Jamie Oliver with a turkey. Rachel Hosie

He said that covering a turkey when it comes out of the even essentially means it will continue to cook.

“When it comes out of the oven, the thermometer says it’s cooked and it looks cooked, but we all jump on it with a sleeping bag and a load of tinfoil because we don’t want it to go cold,” Kelly said. “That’s an absolute disaster because what you’ve done there is create an oven and the bird will continue to cook.

“Indeed, when you take the turkey out and you leave the thermometer in, the temperature will continue to rise for about 45 minutes. It will carry on cooking so you must never cover the bird. Put it to the side and rest it for at least one hour.”

Kelly demonstrated with a 6kg turkey which had been cooked for one hour and 55 minutes, and his bird was still 52°C at core after being out of the oven for two hours.

(Before you ask – the short cooking time because KellyBronze turkeys are about six months old when killed vs. the usual 12 weeks for most supermarket birds, meaning they have developed more intramuscular fat which conducts heat through the meat quicker than a lean bird).

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“The tin foil theory is about keeping moisture in, much like brining, using butter, oil, and basting,” Kelly explained. “All that came about when birds were being killed younger and younger and younger. People were taking the fat out of turkey, it was going to be dry and you had to do lots to put the moisture back in.”

Whatever you do, don’t put it back in the oven

If you have too many glasses of Champagne on Christmas day, everything is running late, and you’ve left your turkey for so long that it truly has got cold, whatever you do, don’t put it back in the oven.

“If the meat’s a bit tepid, don’t put it back in the oven to bring it back up to temperature,” Kelly said. “Carve it and then get your stock piping hot and pour the stock over the meat and that will bring it back up to temperature.”

Paul Kelly demonstrates how to carve a turkey. Rachel Hosie

Other tips to keep in mind:

  • Add half a pint of water to the bottom of the roasting tin, not to keep the bird moist but in order to create a delicious stock when the juices are released. If the water has nearly all evaporated after an hour of cooking, top it up.
  • Cook the turkey breast down first because “all the fat deposits of the bird are in the back of a mature turkey, so when it starts to cook, that fat is rendering down through the bird,” Kelly explained. You can flip it over after an hour.
  • Don’t stuff the turkey: “We don’t recommend stuffing the bird because if you do, you can’t get the heat through it evenly, it can’t cook,” Kelly says. “If you really desperately want to stuff it, maybe just lie some meat or sausage gently in the cavity but you’ve got to let the heat get through the middle.”