Follow our simple tips for buying, preparing, cooking and storing ham and turkey.
Choose the right-sized ham or turkey to serve the number of people at your table. Some leftover meat makes for easy meals in the days following Christmas but you don’t want it lingering too long. Cooked turkey shouldn’t be kept more than 2 days. Ham can be kept longer – as long as it’s stored correctly – but it should be eaten or frozen within 2 weeks.
If you’re buying fresh turkey, do this as close to Christmas as possible – and then store it on the bottom shelf of your fridge. Make sure your fridge is set at a temperature of 2 to 4°C.
Tip: If you’ve been sick in the lead-up to Christmas, get somebody else to prepare and cook the food for you.
If you’re going to be cooking frozen turkey, thaw it thoroughly in its original wrapping in a tray on your fridge’s bottom shelf. Allow 24 hours thawing time for every 2 to 2.5kg (2 to 3 days in total).
Check it’s fully thawed before you cook it. You can do this by inserting a skewer through to the bone at the thickest parts of the bird (the breast and thigh). If the skewer goes in easily, the turkey’s fully thawed.
Tip: Have your knives, other utensils, the chopping board and the roasting tray ready for action before you get your turkey or ham out of the fridge.
For both fresh and frozen turkey, follow the cooking instructions. A turkey will need at least 2 hours 40 minutes cooking – longer if it’s larger.
Stuffing your bird will extend its cooking time, so it’s best to cook the stuffing separately. If you don’t want to do this, increase the cooking time by 5 minutes for each kilogram of turkey so that the stuffing gets thoroughly cooked. This is about an extra 20 to 30 minutes cooking time.
Most whole turkeys come with a “pop-up button” that tells you when the bird is cooked – but the best way of making sure is to use a food thermometer. Insert the thermometer into the thigh but make sure it doesn’t touch the bone. When the turkey’s fully cooked, the temperature should be 75°C or above. If you don’t have a thermometer, use a skewer or carving fork to pierce the flesh: when the turkey’s cooked, the juices will run clear with no sign of pink.
Tip: You can find meat thermometers at specialist kitchenware shops for around $20.
You’ve bought a vacuum-packed cooked ham? Then it’s ready to go, straight from the fridge to the table. But if you like to glaze your ham and serve it hot, cook it at 160°C for 20 minutes per kilogram. You want the inside to reach at least 60°C – use a meat thermometer to check the temperature.
Follow these golden rules when it comes to leftovers:
- Leftovers should be cooled as quickly as possible – and refrigerated within 2 hours.
- Reheated poultry and stuffing must be heated until it’s steaming hot right through. Don’t reheat leftovers more than once. Use any leftovers within 2 days.
- A cooked cured ham will last up to 2 weeks in the fridge. Keep the ham covered with a clean damp tea towel – and change the towel daily. Cut off and freeze some of the meat if you can’t use it in time.
Buying free range
You can now buy free-range turkey and ham.
Crozier’s is the sole supplier of free-range turkeys to independent butcheries throughout New Zealand. The turkeys are only available frozen – this is because Crozier’s lets the birds breed in season (rather than manipulating the breeding cycle) and so the chicks hatch over summer. Turkeys for Christmas are processed at the end of summer to meet demand for the following Christmas.
If you want to buy your ham from farms that don’t use sow stalls or farrowing crates, look for one that’s at least “free range”. Some free-range hams also carry the SPCA’s “blue tick”, which shows that the farm complies with the SPCA’s welfare code. If you’re buying from a free-range farm that doesn’t have the “blue tick”, ask about its farming practices.