Sort out your shopping list essentials, plan your prep and finalise your timings to make this year’s Christmas Day meal as easy as can be…
If you’re hosting Christmas Dinner this year, take away all the stress with our essential guide to shopping, preparing and cooking a festive feast.
And remember to delegate! Even if you don’t want someone else helping in the kitchen, assign certain tasks to other family members. Jobs like laying the table, organising drinks or getting everyone round the table in time to eat should be handed over to someone else.
What Christmas dinner essentials should be on your shopping list?
The easiest way to remember everything is to make up a shopping list of essentials. Write down your Christmas Day menu, then itemise everything you’ll need to buy for each of the courses. Include cheese and biscuits if you intend serving these after dessert, or later in the evening.
You can decide at this stage if you are making everything from scratch or buying ready-made items like fresh stuffing, pigs in blankets and gravy. Remember, on the day your guests will enjoy fabulous food and company and won’t even notice if you’ve taken a few shortcuts!
Preparing the festive meal can be fun this Christmas if you tackle some of the jobs ahead of time.
What can you prepare in advance?
3 weeks before Christmas
- Finalise the guest numbers.
- Write your menu and shopping list. Split the list into sections i.e. fresh goods, frozen goods, buy ahead products.
- Order the turkey or meat joint, or ask your local supermarket when fresh turkeys will be available.
2 weeks before Christmas
- Buy all the soft drinks, Champagne or wine and any other alcoholic drinks you’ll need.
- Buy cheese crackers and oatcakes, biscuits and cakes and canned items with dates that will take you right through the festivities, using your shopping list as a guide. When supermarkets are busy in the days running up to the 25th you don’t want to be doing a big shop then!
- Tidy your freezer, then buy any frozen items you’ll need over the holidays. Remember, frozen desserts can give you a choice on the day, or be kept to feed your guests as a Boxing Day treat, and ready-basted frozen parsnips taste just as good as fresh!
1 week before Christmas
- Buy any fresh items with long dates i.e. bacon, orange juice and cheese.
- Check that your fresh turkey or meat joint is going to be available for your chosen date – two days before Christmas is ideal.
- Make soup if you are having this for a starter, and freeze.
2 days before Christmas
- Buy any final fresh items on your shopping list like fruit, veg, bread, pigs in blankets, fresh stuffing, milk, cream and custard.
- Double check your menu and make sure you have everything you’ll need for your chosen starter, main, sides, dessert and cheeseboard.
1 day before Christmas
- Make your starter and dessert if possible, leaving just the main course to cook on the day.
- If you are having soup, take your made-ahead variety out of the freezer and defrost. You may decide a main course, dessert and cheeseboard is enough, though!
- If you are having a frozen dessert, take it out of the freezer and place it in the fridge.
Meal timings for Christmas Day
Everyone has a different timetable on Christmas Day, with some eating at 2pm, and others in the late afternoon – and menus on the day can differ hugely.
To make your timings as easy as possible, decide on your preferred time for dinner and work backwards from there. You are aiming to have a master list with specific times for each item to beginning cooking, and in the case of your turkey, when it needs to come out of the oven and rest.
Boiled vegetables can go on the cooker half an hour before serving time, so if you want to eat at 2pm write down 1.30pm for these items. Do the same for ready-made products like fresh stuffing or pigs in blankets which should having cooking times listed on the packaging, or check your recipes if you are making your own. Roast potatoes and roasted vegetables can be added when necessary (timings may vary for these depending on par-boiling and size but you can give an estimate time for each).
Most important of all is the cooking time of the turkey, which depends on the size of your bird. Remember, it’s best to take the raw turkey out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking time starts, and once cooked, a turkey should be left uncovered to rest for at least 30mins to 1 hour before serving.
With the excitement of the day, it’s best to set a kitchen timer, or phone alarm, to alert you to all your timings.
Christmas dinner timings guide
This might be how your guide will look for a 2pm dinner, but remember to work backwards from 2pm to estimate you own times for cooking each element, depending on turkey size, your menu and the quantities of food you will be cooking.
- 9am: Take your uncooked turkey out of the fridge to allow it to come to room temperature.
- 9.50am: Place your turkey in the oven to roast, following the tips below from Paul Kelly.
- 11.45am: Prepare par-boiled potatoes and veg for roasting and add them to the oven following your estimated timings. Prepare any additional veg for boiling, like sprouts.
- 1.15pm: Take the turkey out, check it is fully cooked, and leave it to rest uncovered. Use juices from the turkey to make gravy and put aside.
- 1.25pm: Add pigs in blankets and fresh stuffing to the oven.
- 1.30pm: Boil sprouts or any other veg that’s not being roasted.
- 1.50pm: Heat your gravy.
- 1.55pm: Pass the turkey over to the table to be carved.
- 2pm: Serve your dinner!
Cooking and serving tips for turkey
Paul Kelly of Kellybronze Turkeys guides us through the do’s and don’ts to help ensure your bird is cooked and carved perfectly.
- Always place your turkey breast down on the baking tray when you cook it. This is because the majority of fat deposits are in the back of the bird, so as it begins to cook – the fat renders down through the bird keeping it moist and providing optimum flavour.t.
- Invest in a meat thermometer – it’s the only way to ensure your turkey is perfectly cooked. You should always check cooking times according to the size of your bird, and the thigh is the best part of the bird to check the temperature.
- Don’t cover your turkey in foil once it’s out of the oven. The logic is that we don’t want it to get cold. However it means that it continues to cook the meat and is a big reason turkey gets a bad reputation for being “dry” at Christmas. Just leave the bird to rest on the side for an hour after, and it will remain cooked to perfection.
How to carve a turkey step by step
- Wings off first. Hold the wing by the tip. Cut it at the midsection, then do the same to the other wing.
- Legs off next. Hold the leg by the end knuckle. Cut through the skin between the leg and the body and twist off, then do the same again to the other leg.
- Breast meat off. Use the tip of the knife, cut along the breast bone (keep the knife close to the bone) until the breast is removed.
- Peel off both leg and breast skin. Place on a baking tray. If you want amazing crackling, season and return to a hot oven for approx 10-15min until crisp – it’s delicious!
- Slice it up. Slice up the breast meat and carve the leg off the bone.
- Enjoy! Pour over the re-heated gravy juices from the bird. Allow time to soak up the juices before serving.