Thanksgiving day can be, well, overwhelming. There are rolls to roll, pies to prepare, casseroles to cook, all in addition to the central focus of the whole meal, the turkey. What is an oven to do? What are you to do?
For one of the easiest—and certainly the tastiest—turkeys ever, cook it sous vide. Now, I know that not everyone has a sous vide circulator, but if you do, you should seriously consider sous vide-ing your bird for Thanksgiving. You free up the oven for hours, the turkey can be held even if it’s done early, and you will not get a juicier turkey by any other method. Trust me. I’ve tried pretty much all of them.
Sous vide has many advantages (and, yes, some disadvantages), but the main one is that with the help of a leave-in probe thermometer like ChefAlarm®, it’s basically impossible to overcook your turkey. Take a look at the method and consider this amazing way to make your Thanksgiving day stress-free and delicious.
At what temperature should I sous vide turkey?
One of the best things about sous-vide cooking a turkey is that you can cook it to the exact temperature you want for just the right doneness—whether dark or light meat. Use the USDA safe poultry temperatures chart and dial in just the temp you want, then make sure it cooks at that temperature for the food-safe time.
I generally cook my sous vide breasts in a bath at 152°F (67°C) until they reach an internal temperature of 150°F (66°C). Once that temperature is reached, I make sure that I leave the breasts in the cooking bath for 5 minutes, as the safe bacterial-kill time at that temperature is 4.9 minutes. Use a ChefAlarm leave-in probe thermometer, a waterproof needle probe, and some sous-vide tape to keep track of the internal temperature. Once you reach the desired temp, set the ChefAlarm’s timer to make sure the turkey stays at the required temperature long enough to kill all the bacteria.
The legs and thighs need a higher temp to melt the collagen into gelatin, so I’ll cook them at 192°F (89°C) to get the meat up to 190°F (88°C). The leg meat comes out tender, yielding, and delicious.
How long does it take to sous vide turkey?
Cooking a turkey via sous vide doesn’t take very long—about 2 hours! Even with only one circulator, you can get the whole thing done in less time than it takes to cook a bird in the oven. Put all the parts, bagged separately, in the water bath and set it to your lower temp for the breasts. Once the breasts reach their target temp and time, move them to a cooler to keep warm while you crank the heat up on the circulator to finish the legs and thighs. Of course, speed is not necessarily of the essence with sous vide, but it’s nice that you can get the job done so quickly.
Note: to get the fastest results, make sure that your turkey is properly thawed.
Should you brine a turkey before sous vide cooking it?
Put briefly, you don’t need to. The primary objective with brining is to denature the proteins so that they don’t squeeze water out when they overcook; and in a hyper-controlled environment, like a sous-vide bath, there’s no need to guard against it. Cooking your turkey up to 150°F (66°C) presents little to no risk of drying out, so the extra—and, frankly, bothersome—brining step is not necessary.
That being said, seasoning is recommended. I salt the breasts lightly and add fresh herbs to each sous-vide bag. You can use any seasonings you like, but sage, black pepper, and some parsley are very nice. The flavorings all cook and infuse into the turkey directly, giving you deeper seasoning. The result is unlike any turkey you’ve ever had.
Should I sous vide turkey with the skin on?
One of the joys of a roasted turkey is the crackly/crisp skin. Unfortunately, sous-vide cooking won’t give you that. It turns out that gently simmered poultry skin isn’t everyone’s favorite. Who knew? You get better results—easier carving, better presentation, deeper flavor infusion—by removing the skin from the turkey parts before you bag and cook them.
But just because you can’t get crisp skin from sous vide doesn’t mean you can’t have crisp skin with your sous vide turkey. You can follow the instructions on our blog for rendering beef tallow to render out a delicious batch of turkey schmaltz. Chop the turkey skin into small bits (you can use a food processor, but I recommend just using a sharp knife and doing it by hand), put them in a pot of water to just cover, add a good pinch of salt, and simmer them. After the water cooks out, the fat will start to render and fry the turkey skin. You’ll end up with tiny golden nuggets of turkey-skin chicharrones.
Or you can very gently render and cook whole sheets of the skin over low heat in a pan, much like bacon. We did that for this cook and then sliced those crisp-skin pieces into strips to serve with the turkey.
If you can resist eating them all at once, you can scatter the crisp skin from either method atop your sliced turkey when you serve it. Or, don’t resist, and just snack on them while you cook your other sides. Either way, save that turkey fat for later use.
If your Thanksgiving day is big and hectic, if your oven is running at max capacity, and, most of all, if you have a sous vide circulator, give this method a try. Yes, it’s unconventional, but it is also exceptional. The texture of perfectly done breast meat, the richness of the dark meat, the depth of seasoning—they all shine in this presentation more than in any other.Print
Sous vide turkey for Thanksgiving or any other celebration.
- 1 turkey, well thawed
- Fresh herbs—for instance, parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary
- Kosher salt and fresh-ground black pepper
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
Special equipment: sous vide circulator
- Use your immersion circulator to preheat a pot of water that is large enough to hold all the turkey bags. Heat it to 152°F (67°C).
- Break the turkey down into its parts. Remove the skin from the breasts, thighs, and legs.
- Place one turkey part each in vacuum-seal bags. Season each bag with fresh herbs, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and 1 Tbsp butter.
- Seal the bags.
- Probe one of the breasts by using some sous vide tape and a waterproof needle probe.
- Set the high-temp alarm on your ChefAlarm for 150°F (66°C).
- Place the bags in the water bath and cook.
- When the high-temp alarm sounds, set the ChefAlarm’s timer for 5 minutes.
- When the timer sounds, remove the bags with the breast meat to an empty cooler to keep warm. Increase the temperature of the water bath to 192°F (89°C) and continue to cook the dark meat.
- Re-set the high-temp alarm for 190°F (88°C) and insert a probe into one of the thighs using sous vide tape.
- When the high-temp alarm sounds, remove those bags to the cooler.
- You can drain the turkey/melted butter liquid from the bags and use it to enrich your gravy.
- Slice and serve the best turkey ever.
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