Cooking a Turducken is a labor of love. While none of the steps are very difficult, there are quite a few of them, and it does require that you plan a good bit ahead. It is rather labor intensive, and when it comes to putting the final package together (stitching up the whole thing for roasting) you’ll most likely need another pair of hands. But it can be done – and if you pay attention, you don’t necessarily have to be a great cook. I encountered my first Turducken years ago, and immediately set out to reproduce one. At the time, instructions weren’t easy to find, so I jumped right in. The final product was edible – but barely. Over the subsequent years I’ve continued to research and work on this amazing dish, and have finally, I’d like to think, mastered it.
Before you start there are some things to keep in mind before you jump in the first time like I did. While you can certainly do all the de-boning yourself on defrosted birds, which I normally do, if you happen to have a butcher that will do this for you you’ve just saved yourself a tremendous amount of the labor involved.
Typically the Turducken is done with whole duck and chicken, which are de-boned, with the skin left on. After doing it several different ways, I take the skin off the duck and chicken, as well as the bones. Yes, they don’t really ‘stay’ together, but once the turkey is rolled around them and they are roasted, it’s impossible to tell anyway. The skins from the two smaller birds can lead to a rather greasy final product, although a couple of strips of duck skin laid on top of the meat can add great flavor. So I remove all the bones and skin, add back a bit of the duck skin, and reassemble the smaller birds as I go. It’s also far, far easier to skin and de-bone the birds if you aren’t worrying about keeping them whole. (Did I mention having a butcher do the hard work?)
I also normally preach brining whenever working with turkey or chicken. In this case I do brine the birds but only for a short time, otherwise the stuffing inside ends up too salty to eat. So I go for about four hours in a brine with only half the normal concentration of salt. This helps a little, just as the standard brine does, yet prevents over salting in the final product. This is not an inexpensive dish – so I like a little insurance from the weaker, shorter brine.
The Turducken will need to cook for approximately 9 hours at 225 degrees F so begin preparation well in advance. The fowls can be de-boned the day before and kept refrigerated overnight. Save the turkey carcass for making stock and some duck skin to render fat. We sometimes make the sausage stuffing the night before and store it in the refrigerator, but it helps to warm it in the microwave before final assembly.
Finally – before the instructions! –Turducken is big, and it’s going to take a long time to cook. Make sure you have a large enough roasting pan, and that it will fit in your oven. I actually use a disposable roasting pan on my gas grill – I can control the temp with the grill as well or better than the oven, and it frees up oven space. You MUST use a meat thermometer too – it’s the only way to know if the birds you worked on so long are done. Get one.
Ok – here’s what you need to do!
16-20 lb turkey (I’ve gone as large as 25 lbs) 4-5 lb. duck 3-4 lb. chicken Your favorite stuffing – I like sausage and cornbread although you can use three different stuffings if you wish! Butcher’s twine and a large needle – an upholstery needle works well OR Metal skewers – several of them 2 tablespoons kosher salt 2 tablespoons black pepper 2 tablespoons onion powder 2 tablespoons garlic powder
First step is to de-bone the turkey, as well as the duck and chicken if you haven’t gotten the butcher to do it for you. Make sure your knives are sharp and you have lots of room to work. Instructions on how to do this case be found here. Make sure you save all the bones and skin. Crispy duck skin is a thing of glory, the fat is prized in most classical kitchens, and the remainder of the bones make the most amazing stocks. If you de-bone the birds the day before, make sure you stash them in a very cold location overnight – they need to stay below 40F. If you wish to brine, don’t go more than four hours. When ready to roast, in a mixing bowl, whisk together salt, pepper, onion and garlic powders. Prepare the stuffing you wish to use, and set it in a large bowl beside your work area. Preheat your oven to 250F. Place the turkey, skin side down on the work surface. Sprinkle the inside of the meat with the salt/pepper mixture, rubbing it in well. Spread a thin layer of the stuffing over the surface of the meat, keeping it about ½ inch thick. Pace the duck on the center of the turkey, and repeat seasoning/stuffing. Repeat with chicken. Now is the tricky bit – where you’ll want someone to help out. Carefully lift the sides of the layered birds, folding the sides of the turkey over and around the layers of stuffing, duck and chicken. Have someone hold the back of the turkey together at the edges. With either metal skewers or butcher’s twine and a big needle carefully ‘stitch’ the bird closed. Carefully turn the turkey over. Since he has no bones, he’ll be kind of squishy, so he’ll have to be trussed. Use butcher’s twine to truss the bird well, folding the legs back to their ‘original’ position and trussing them and the wings in place.
10. Place the trussed bird in a roasting pan on a rack. Whew – you’re getting there!
11. Place a meat thermometer all the way in the center – your goal is the have the tip of the probe in the center of the chicken’s stuffing. Cover the Turducken with foil, and place it in the oven. That’s all you’re going to have to do for a while!
At this point all you need to do is some monitoring – but a long time. I’ve had smaller Turducken take 8 hours and larger ones almost twelve hours – another reason for using the grill! You’re looking for an internal temperature of 165F – and once this is reached, you’re done. There is NO other way to determine if the bird is cooked. Now on occasion – every couple hours, check to make sure you don’t need to siphon off or remove the pan drippings – Turducken can produce tons of drippings and you don’t want them high enough in the pan to hit the bottom of the roast.
Once the bird has reached 155F, turn the oven up to 400F, and remove the foil. This will allow the skin to brown well all over as the last few degrees are acquired.
Once 165F has been reached, remove the birds from the oven, and allow it to rest for at least 45 minutes to an hour. This resting stage is critical – don’t skip it. This will ensure that the roast remains juicy throughout. When it’s time to carve, simply cut straight down the middle to expose all the beautiful layers. That’s it!
Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back and bask in the adulation you’ll receive. I stated earlier that Turducken takes work – but it's well worth every minute. You’ll find yourself pulling this one out over and over!