We know getting ready for Christmas Day can be time-consuming and stressful – and more so if you are responsible for cooking the turkey, or any other meats, this year. To help, we have put together this Christmas Day cooking schedule, along with the times, to help prepare for the big day.
We’ve also put a simple cooking schedule together so your turkey and all the trimmings will be delivered piping hot to your hungry, expectant guests.
And, to help plan effectively, we’ve also put some ideas together on what you can prepare in the days beforehand.
If you are catering for a large group of diners on Christmas Day, you won’t be surprised to learn that our schedule starts on Christmas Eve!
What to buy and when
Knowing what to buy in the run up to Christmas is crucial to deliver the meal you want. That means having to order your turkey from a butcher or a High Street store. Supermarkets will also publish when their items will be available. Don’t leave buying your turkey or veg until the last minute – you will just be adding to the stress!
- Decide on your recipes! This is crucial and will help keep you focused. MAKE A LIST OF THE FOODS YOU NEED!
- Order your turkey or other meat of choice by 15 December or earlier to ensure availability and quality. You can also buy a frozen turkey and defrost it in the fridge for 4 hours per 450g – there are more details on defrosting a turkey here
- Buy non-perishable items such as cranberry sauce, bread sauce, chutney, sauces, sweets, nibbles, drinks, and frozen vegetables in advance and store them in a cool, dry place or in the freezer
- Buy fresh items such as potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, chestnuts, herbs, cheese, butter, eggs, cream and fruit a few days before Christmas and keep them in the fridge or a cool place
- Buy or make your Christmas pudding, cake, mince pies and other desserts beforehand and store them in an airtight container or freeze them until needed – some people use ‘Stir up Sunday’ as the day to make their Christmas pudding or cake
- Buy or make your stuffing, pigs in blankets, gravy, and other side dishes and freeze them until the day before Christmas, then defrost them in the fridge. DON’T FORGET TO DO THIS!
- Christmas Eve: check recipes and ingredients to ensure you have everything you need – be prepared to visit a local shop for last-minute supplies.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll need to check that you have enough plates, saucers and pans, as well as cutlery, for the big day about a week before.
What to do in the days beforehand
Part of the plan for Christmas Day success is not to leave everything until Christmas Day – especially if you are feeding family and guests. There are lots of dishes you can prepare and chill or freeze to help deliver great food. You’ll need to know what your menu is going to be and the timings for it (see below!).
While on the subject of what to do in the days beforehand, this is also the time to divvy up the jobs to other family members. They can:
- Help prepare food
- Bake cakes
- Make side dishes.
Get them involved – this is meant to be a family day, after all! This is also the time to consider the other important non-cooking jobs that need doing, such as laying the table (which family members can do the night before), and helping you check that your To Do list is being completed.
For example, if you have bought a frozen turkey for your Christmas dinner, this will need to be taken out of the freezer DAYS beforehand to ensure it is thoroughly defrosted. If it isn’t, you won’t be having a roast turkey dinner…
- Make a detailed plan of your Christmas menu, including the timings – this means deciding when you are going to eat and work backwards from there – temperatures, and quantities of each dish. Use a roast calculator or the cooking instructions that will be on the wrapping of your bird.
- Check your oven, fridge, freezer and kitchen equipment and make sure they are clean and working properly.
- Stock up on essentials such as foil, cling film, baking parchment, butcher’s string, toothpicks, plastic containers, freezer bags, sticky food labels and kitchen roll.
- Prepare your table decorations, cutlery, crockery, glasses, napkins, Christmas crackers and candles. You can also set the table the night before Christmas to save time.
- Wrap your presents and write your cards. Don’t forget to buy stamps and post them in good time – use the Royal Mail website to find out the latest posting times to guarantee delivery. If children are writing to Santa and you would love to receive a reply, we have an article for that!
A simple cooking schedule for cooking turkey and the trimmings on Christmas Day
It’s easy to get caught up in the fun of present giving, but you’ll need a schedule that you will need to keep to. Simple things like warming the oven up will be crucial, preparing veg and bringing the meat up to room temperature before placing it in the oven will make your day so much more enjoyable and stress-free!
The first, most important step, when putting a Christmas Day cooking schedule together is to know when you are going to sit down to eat – and work backwards from there. Below, we offer a schedule for meeting a 2pm Christmas lunch, leaving time for any mishaps (which will happen!), and eat the meal before 3pm for the King’s speech.
- Preheat your oven to 200C/Gas 6 and take your turkey out of the fridge to bring it to room temperature. If you are stuffing the bird, do it now and weigh it. Most people will cook the stuffing separately to make things easier but if you do stuff the bird the added weight will impact the cooking time. KEEP A RECORD of the weight and cooking time so you don’t forget it or get confused about how long it needs to cook for.
- Cover the turkey in foil and place in a hot oven for 15 minutes before turning the heat down to 180C/Gas 4. Check your timings on the bird’s wrapper but usually you will need to cook it for 15 minutes per 450g of total weight. About 30 minutes before the cooking time ends, remove the foil to help brown the bird.
- Peel and chop your potatoes, carrots, parsnips and other root vegetables. Parboil them for 10 minutes, then drain and toss them with oil, salt, pepper and herbs. Arrange them on baking trays and roast them in the oven for 40 minutes or until golden and crisp, turning them halfway through.
- Trim and halve your Brussels sprouts and boil them for 5 minutes or until tender. Drain and toss them with butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg. You can also add some cooked bacon, chestnuts, or cream for extra flavour.
- Reheat your pre-made stuffing, pigs in blankets, gravy and other side dishes in the oven or on the hob, following the instructions on the packaging or your recipe.
- Check your turkey is cooked through by inserting a small knife into the breast’s thickest part. Or use a meat thermometer. The juices that run should be clear, with no sign of pink. If there is pink, roast the turkey for another 15 minutes and test again. Once the turkey has finished cooking, transfer it to a carving board and cover it with foil and a tea towel. Let it rest for 30 minutes before you begin carving.
- It is important to leave a turkey to rest so that the fibres relax, the juices to redistribute, carving is easier and the meat remains moist. Different cooks have different ideas about the resting time but scientists – The Times reports – reckon the turkey should be rested for 90 minutes to account for the bird’s internal temperature to continue rising. Remember, the bird will stay warm while covered in foil and initially will remain cooking (the temperature will rise by up to 10C).
- Make your Yorkshire puddings by whisking together 4 eggs, 200ml of milk, and 200g of plain flour. Season with salt and pepper and let the batter rest for 15 minutes. Pour a little oil into a 12-hole pudding tin and heat it in the oven for 5 minutes. Carefully pour the batter into the hot oil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until risen and golden.
- Reheat your pre-made bread sauce, cranberry sauce and other sauces in a small pan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add some milk, water, or stock if they are too thick.
- Warm up your pre-made or bought desserts in the oven or microwave, or serve them cold with cream, ice cream, or custard.
Enjoy your Christmas feast with your family and friends, and don’t forget to save some leftovers for Boxing Day!
Christmas dinner countdown timetable
Here is our tried and tested Christmas Eve and Christmas Day time plan to help you on your way to a stress-free day in the kitchen.
We have used a dining time of 2pm – which gives you plenty of time to dish up and serve and be seated for the King’s Speech.
This is only a guide so you can make adjustments to suit your own needs:
Christmas Eve schedule
You can prepare a lot of things today – peel and cut the veg and place in the fridge.
Make your stuffing, wrap it and place in the fridge. NOTE: You can cook and store stuffing in a freezer for up to three months!
You can also peel, par boil and fluff up the potatoes which can be stored in the fridge.
This is also a good time to weigh the turkey to see how long the recommended cooking time is. Doing this will also underline how early you need to start if, for example, you are looking at a 2pm dining time.
It’s worth noting too that if you are putting your turkey into a turkey’s cavity, then you should weigh the combined offering to ensure everything is cooked properly. You will need to cook for slightly longer – however, on a day like this we would recommend cooking the turkey and stuffing separately!
Doing as much prep today will help with the busy schedule tomorrow as possible.
For example, you could cook your sprouts today and then quickly fry them tomorrow before dishing up the main meal.
You can also set the table.
Most importantly – check your timings for tomorrow’s meal!
Christmas Day schedule
Let’s face it, we all know that preparing and cooking Christmas dinner will be a mad dash but it is a fantastic feeling when everything is cooked properly and served up at the right time (and temperature!).
This guide can be adapted but it illustrates the thinking and times that you need to be aware of for dining success.
We have detailed what we need to do in the event you haven’t done any preparation on Christmas Eve.
8:00 AM Take the turkey from the fridge to bring to room temperature.
9:00 AM Preheat the oven to 220°C/Gas 7.
9:05 AM If you haven’t already done it, set the dinner table
9:30 AM Place the turkey in the oven. Cook the turkey for 35 to 40 mins a kilo – so a 5kg turkey will take between 3 and 3½ hours.
9:30 AM Cut your veg and prepare sprouts
10:00 AM Turn the oven heat down to 180°C/Gas 4
10:01 AM Baste the turkey (Do this every 30 minutes or so)
10.30 AM Baste the turkey
11.00 AM Baste the turkey
11.30 AM Baste the turkey
Noon Par boil your potatoes for 10 minutes – if roasting carrots and parsnips then do these too
12:01 PM Baste the turkey
12.30 PM Baste the turkey and remove the foil on the turkey and turn the heat back to 220°C/Gas 7 for 30 mins to crisp the skin.
12:35 PM Make your stuffing as per the pack instructions
1 PM Check the turkey is cooked and remove from the oven and cover with foil.
1:05 PM Place the par boiled potatoes (along with parsnips and carrots) with oil on a tray and into the hot oven
1:10 PM Make the gravy and put to one side ready for quick reheating
1:20 PM Place the Yorkshire pudding tin in the oven with oil to heat up
1:25 PM Begin cooking vegetables – add boiling water to make the cooking time shorter. Reduce the heat when the water is boiling
1:26 PM Check the cooking time for your pigs in blankets and add them to the oven – along with the stuffing
1:30 PM Carve the turkey – which has rested for 30 mins
1:35 PM Take out the Yorkshire pudding tin and add the batter
1:40 PM Place the carved turkey on a warm plate and cover with the foil you used earlier
1:45 PM Drain the vegetables and place in a warm serving dish. Cover with foil
1:50 PM Check the Yorkshires – but DON’T open the oven door. If they need 5 more minutes then leave them
1:55 PM Remove the roasted vegetables and then the Yorkshires
2:00 PM Place everything on warmed plates, take to the Christmas dinner table and let everyone get stuck in.
2:05 PM Relax knowing that you’ve delivered a great feast when you said you would. The wine will taste better at this point!
After eating you can microwave a Christmas pudding – more efficient we think than steaming it.
Dish up other desserts, if diners can face it!
NOW you can put your feet up and let someone else deal with the washing up!