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Help Cooking a Whole Turkey - Ask Jason

I get a lot of great questions from my readers. In order to help out everyone else I'm answering some of the most popular ones here on the blog. Have something you need help with? You can ask me on Facebook, contact me directly, or view all of the Ask Jason questions!

Can I have a little bit of help about cooking a whole turkey?

- Chris Wright

Note: The following article is an edited transcription from the video.

There's a good Facebook thread in the group talking about different methods of cooking a whole turkey. I personally never cook sous vide whole turkeys.

Normally I break them apart because I prefer the white meat sous vided at 140°F (60°C) and the dark meat at 148°F (64.4°C). It's also a little bit easier to handle the individual parts than an entire turkey. The same goes for chicken as well.

Note: For more information you can read my comprehensive article on How to Sous Vide Turkey.

Sous vide turkey thigh bath squareish

But if you do want the presentation of an entire turkey or some other reason, you have a few options. The temperature really depends which part you want do not have cooked perfectly. If I want the white meat cooked perfectly, then I'll cook the whole bird at 140°F (60°C) and the darker meat will be a little less cooked than I prefer. Or I can do 148°F (64.4°C) and the white meat is going to be dryer. But remember, it's still going to be better than a traditionally roasted turkey, but it'll be drier than I prefer, but the dark meat will be cooked perfectly. Or you can choose somewhere in between if you want them both slightly off. But, that's the temperature impacted trade-offs for sous viding a turkey whole.

For timing, it depends on how you prepared the turkey. A lot of people recommend spatchcocking it so it can lay the bird flat. And that way you're only heating through 2 to 4 inches instead of an entire bird thickness. For a 3-inch thick piece of meat, you sous vide it for about 5 hours to cook through.

One of the biggest problems with cooking a turkey that hasn't been broken down at all, is the giant air cavity in the middle. This reduces the heat transfer which slows down the internal cooking. You need to fill the cavity with something that can effectively circulate the heat.

Stuffing the turkey with stuffing is not the solution. This makes the turkey a solid 10 or 12 inches thick which on the Time & Temperature Charts will take about 14 to 15 hours to sous vide. However, during that time the outside of the turkey could be overcooked and the in between portions could have been sitting in the danger zone for 10 of the 14 hours that it was cooking. You can really run into some problems here.

One solution is to put stock in the bag with the turkey. Doug Piper was in our Thanksgiving Video course and he did a version of it where he put the turkey in a sous vide bag then put turkey stock in the bag and basically poached it in the sous vide machine. This method creates a good environment for heat transfer all through the turkey. While the water bath heats up the broth, move the turkey around a little bit so the warmer broth swirls further into the cavity sooner. You'll now be cooking it from the inside a little faster as well.

Sous vide turkey roulade 96

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Another possibility was posted by Rick Christopherson. Rick puts the turkey, cavity first, into a large bag. He then uses his fist to push the bottom of the bag into the bird's cavity so the water in the bath can circulate around inside of it. For it to work most effectively, be sure the water fills the cavity up when you place the turkey into the bath.

Those are 2 options you can use when sous viding a whole turkey. I'm sure there are other creative ways to accomplish the internal heat transfer, but you have to do something because you can't just leave the air in there. Not only will your turkey float in the water bath, but it won't heat all the way through and cook. It's seems like a huge pain to do that for a turkey dinner but I know some people like the presentation.

If I want to present an upscale turkey meal, I keep the dark meat whole. You can leave the skin on and quickly roast it after the sous vide to give it some nice coloring. I also make a turkey roulade out of the breast meat. When sliced up it looks really pretty on a plate with the dark meat. So even if your turkey is cut into some pieces, you can still make it look really fancy and upscale. I still feel like I'm doing my best to make everyone at the table happy without having to put in too much energy into doing a turkey whole!

Sous vide thanksgiving dinner 10

If you like this you can get more than 85 inspiring recipes to get you on your way to sous vide success. It's all in my best selling book Modernist Cooking Made Easy: Sous Vide - Get Your Copy Today!

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All tags for this article: Ask Jason, Sous Vide, Sous Vide Turkey , Sous Vide Turkey Breast, Sous Vide Turkey Thighs , Turkey


Jason logsdon headshot This article is by me, Jason Logsdon. I'm an adventurous home cook and professional blogger who loves to try new things, especially when it comes to cooking. I've explored everything from sous vide and whipping siphons to pressure cookers and blow torches; created foams, gels and spheres; made barrel aged cocktails and brewed beer. I have also written 10 cookbooks on modernist cooking and sous vide and I run the AmazingFoodMadeEasy.com website.