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  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Data work
Topic: Heat

It's time to eat turkey! But what happens when turkey cooks? How do we know how long to leave it in the oven? In this activity, students examine the chemistry and physics of cooking turkeys. They then present their findings in the style of the TV chef of their choice...

11-14 How Science Works:
communication skills

3c: present information and develop an argument using scientific, technical and mathematical language, conventions and symbols and ICT tools.

Published: 8th December 2006
Reviews & Comments: 5

Learning objectives

Students will learn:
• About some of the chemical reactions that happen when meat cooks
• About heat transfer in cooking, including the factors that affect how quickly heat is transferred to the centre of the meat

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

11 – 14 Heating and cooling (KS3 QCA module 8I)
• The mechanisms of heat transfer: conduction, convection and radiation, and applying them to familiar contexts

14 – 16 How science works: communication skills
• 3c: present information and develop an argument using scientific, technical and mathematical language, conventions and symbols and ICT tools.

14 – 16 Energy, electricity and radiations
and Chemical and material behaviour

See downloadable teachers notes for details of individual specifications

Running the activity

Display page 1, which states the problem and sets the challenge. Tell students that the recommended cooking time for a 5 kg turkey is 4 hours at about 170 �C.

Display page 2, which describes some of the chemical changes that occur as a turkey cooks. Draw attention to the TV chef's final speech bubble, which gives specific cooking advice. Point out some of the difficulties – some turkey parts are best cooked slow and cool; others fast and hot... [In expensive restaurants, chefs cook all the parts separately. They show another turkey to the diners, take it away 'to be carved' and return with meat carved from the separately cooked parts].

Page 3 is about cooking times. It's a tough turkey, best suited to your more mathematically inclined students. Either display this page, or give copies to small groups of appropriate students. Tell them to follow the instructions to calculate the cooking time for the 10 kg turkey. You might like to give students small cubes – or lego – to help them visualise the problem (although you need a lot of cubes – 125 per group!)

Now give small groups a copy of page 4. Ask them to use it to plan their TV chef presentation to Sam's dad. If students have not done the task on page 3, they will not be able to complete the cooking time box. Then get students to give their talks – have fun!

Peter Barham is the scientist who advises Heston Blumenthal. In his book 'The Science of Cooking' (Springer 2001), he suggests cooking a turkey like this:
• Heat the oven to 170 �C. Put the turkey in a roasting tin. Pour 200 ml of stock into the bottom of the tin. Spread butter over the turkey breasts. Cover the breasts with aluminium foil. Use a wooden skewer to fix the foil in place (not a metal one, as it conducts heat into the breast quickly and could lead to over-cooking)
• During cooking, check regularly to make sure the stock has not all boiled away – the purpose of the stock is to keep the turkey moist and limit the cooking temperature to 100 �C. The legs and wings will be heated by the steam from the stock and the connective tissue will be denatured slowly, making the meat tender. The foil-covered breast is insulated from the steam and protected from radiant heat.
• After 5 hours 45 minutes, drain off any remaining stock. Remove the foil from the breast. Allow the temperature to rise. The breast cooks quickly and Maillard reactions occur on the surface of the turkey. Remove from the oven after about 6.5 hours.

The calculation described on page 3 goes like this:
If I double the weight of the turkey:
The volume, a three-dimensional quantity, gets bigger by a factor of
23/3 = 2.00
The surface area, a two-dimensional quantity, gets bigger by a factor of
22/3 = 1.59
The distance to the center, a one-dimensional quantity, gets bigger by a factor of 21/3 = 1.26
In the case of the turkey, we doubled the weight—which turns the problem upside down. The square-cube law still applies, but in this manner: The distance to the center of the turkey, a linear dimension, increases as the cube root of the weight, and the area increases as the cube root squared.
Increase in cooking time If you put the three factors together, the cooking time increases by 2 X 1.26 = 1.59. (4 hrs. X 1.59 = 6.4 hrs.)

News links

Royal Society of Chemistry
Very clear information from the Royal Society of Chemistry, suitable for teacher use and 'A' level chemists:
Browning the breast and Maillard reactions
More on Maillard reactions

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?

Turkey review

Dec 20th, 2012

1 Star

the link to the activity no longer works

Reviewer: charlotte morgan

Turkey review

Dec 6th, 2007

4 Star

I used this with a top set Year 8 class and they loved it! They did need some interlink maths blocks to help them, but beyond that, the activity ran itself. I would definitely use it again.

Reviewer: Joyce Kahwa

Great Activity for Festive Season

Nov 15th, 2007

4 Star

Fantastic activity that the students love in the ruin up to Christmas, when they lack motivation and what to do 'fun' things they loved this when I used it (some time ago when a previous festive season approached).

Reviewer: Tracey Holmes


Mar 6th, 2007

4 Star

I used this with year 10 just before Christmas; we were doing P1a (AQA) so it fitted with thermal energy transfer and also went nicely with B1b Adaptation (size of animals etc). A good way to keep the work ethic going to the last minute..

Reviewer: Barbara Adamson

An end-of-term Christmas Cracker

Dec 21st, 2006

5 Star

I tried this with my year 10s (set 2 of 5) last lesson of the day before we broke up. I thought they might revolt on the basis that it was too much like work. However, they really got into it. I gave them Peter Barham's detailed instructions for cooking a turkey as well as the main sheet, but told them that I was expecting them to pull together everything that they'd learned about cooking in both physics and chemistry this term (we're doing Gateway P1 and C1 at the moment). I put a list of key words on the board that I was expecting them to include somewhere during their 'programme' and offered a prize for the best presentation, judged on the quality of their science, with creativity of presentation as the tie-breaker. A couple of the groups made themselves really spectacular costumes (chefs and turkeys) out of paper, string, and sellotape – all in 20 mins preparation time. According to the girls who won it was "a proper good lesson" and they want to do lots more like it -- a big improvement on their usual reaction to physics lessons!

Reviewer: Kirstie Urquhart