I’ve been cooking our Thanksgiving turkey for the last 9 years. Am I an expert? No, but I’m pretty damn good at it. I’ve been working off a recipe from Alton Brown that keeps the meat nice and moist while still creating an amazing crispy skin.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the recipe. By all accounts it’s near prefect when I add in a little extra brining time and add a few other spices we like. But lately I’ve been rethinking all of the traditional dishes I make ever since I started using our sous vide cooker. I didn’t think it was possible to make a big improvement over the pork tenderloin I’ve been cooking for years, but man was I wrong. If I could be so wrong about one dish, maybe there are many more that could be made much better.
So, I started searching the internet for how to sous vide a turkey. There are a ton of articles like the one here, here and here. What became immediately apparent was that I wasn’t going to be able to just throw the entire bird into a bag and cook it like I have everything else. It was going to be too big to fit in anything other than a large cooler, and because it has a big hollow area inside, it wasn’t going to sink like it needs to.
After doing some more searching I found some recipes that showed how you should dismantle the bird and cook the white and dark meat separately. To ideally cook each type of meat requires different temperatures and times, and because the sous vide can keep the temperature accurate to .5 of a degree, it’s the perfect tool for this.
Two downsides of sous vide cooking a turkey are that you’re not going to have the beautiful brown-crusted turkey centerpiece to bring to the table and because you’re cooking the turkey in a hot water bath, you have to completely give up on that delicous crispy skin…or so I thought. I decided to try this recipe specifically because it has you removing all the skin before cooking and then baking it into what can only be described as delectable turkey chips while the rest of the bird cooks. BAM – really moist turkey meat and a crunchy skin, I’m in.
I should mention I proposed this to my wife, who looked at me and asked me if I really wanted to risk completely ruining the Thanksgiving turkey for us and all of the guests who were going to be joining us. Good point. And that’s how I ended up cooking a Thanksgiving turkey on a Sunday in early November. If it worked, great. If not, well, I’d be eating not so great turkey for the next week.
So early Sunday I went out and bought all the supplies necessary, which for the first time in years didn’t include any brining bags or baking trays. The recipe was pretty straight forward. Remove the skin from turkey and set it aside, then remove both breasts. After seasoning both of the turkey breasts, I tied them together with cooking string to make what looked like a roast you’d see inside the deli counter. From there I threw the roast into a Ziploc bag with all of the seasoning and popped in into the water to cook for 2 and a half hours. So far so good. The process was quicker than I was used to, because I got to skip the 24 hour brining soak where the turkey fills up half our refrigerator for the day.
It was also less stressful than normal. Usually everything has to be perfectly timed to turn out right. The recipe I used in the past requires cooking the turkey at 500 degrees for 30 minutes then throwing some aluminum foil over the breast to keep it from overcooking before dropping the temperature to 350 to finish cooking. Here I just threw the bird in a bag; threw the bag into some water, and waited for app on my phone to tell me it was done.
Better yet, unlike traditionally cooking a turkey where you have to pull it out EXACTLY when it hits the internal target temperature or risk overcooking it and eating dried out meat, with the sous vide, I can leave the turkey in the water cooking for even an extra 30 minutes without it tasting any different. This makes the entire process less stressful and is perfect for when you’re expecting guests and the timing of other dishes (or your guests) isn’t working out as planned.
So, how did it turn out? Pretty darn good. The meat was extremely juicy, and if I did it again I would cook it at an even lower temperature to make it even better. The amount of food it made for the time it took was a bit low, so next time I’m just going to buy 6 Turkey breasts and make three of these. It wouldn’t take much more time, but would make enough food for a lot more people.
After trying both methods, I’m going to make this years turkey sous vide style. It was simpler and faster than cooking it how I normally do, and it’s much harder to overcook it. Something I forgot to mention that really tipped the scales for me was that I can make the turkey breasts the day before, then just throw them back in to the sous vide for 30 minutes or so to reheat them. That way I can take care off all all my cooking the day before and relax and enjoy the time with our guests instead of watching the thermometer all day.
If you want to try it yourself, I used the Joule sous vide cooker. I bought it because it’s small enough to fit in a kitchen drawer, it’s one of the more powerful ones, so it heats up water quicker, you can check on your meal from anywhere because it connects to wifi, and the app it comes with has a lot of visual guides that will show you how each recipe will look depending on what temperature you cook it at.