How to Slow Cook Turkey
in Your Oven or Crock Pot
The idea of a slow cook turkey is really appealing. You leave it cook for a long time (even overnight) on a low heat, and with very little work you end up with a moist, wonderful turkey that's fall-off-the-bone tender.
Turkey Slow Cooking Safety. There has been some controversy about safety when you slow cook turkey. Why? Because the US Department of Agriculture does not recommend cooking any poultry at temperatures lower than 325 degrees-- and slow cooking a turkey in the oven overnight or in a crock pot typically results in cooking temperatures of around 200 degrees. Nonetheless, there are a lot of cooks out there who swear by the results they get when they slow cook turkey-- and they never give their guests even a speck of food poisoning. So... what's the answer?
Slow Cooking a Turkey More Safely
There will always be a bit more risk involved in making a slow cook turkey as opposed to cooking it at a higher heat. But the risk still isn't very high. If you're planning to slow cook your bird knowing that it increases the risk of bacteria, then there are some things you can do to offset some of that health risk.
Thaw it Properly. Begin by thawing your turkey completely in the refrigerator, according to these instructions. Thawing a turkey in the fridge is far safer, bacteria-wise, than the water method or microwave thawing. Which means that, if you plan to make slow oven or crock pot turkey, you'll need to plan plenty of time to thaw out your bird-- about 1 day for each 5 pounds of turkey.
Rinse and Prepare. When you're ready to cook, you'll also want take out the giblets from the middle of the turkey. Make sure to rinse the turkey inside and out completely in cool water. Pat the turkey dry. At this stage you can season the turkey in any manner desired (go with traditional flavors, cultural flavors or mix it all up-- you can find a ton of great turkey recipes right here!).
Don't Stuff. It is not recommended that you stuff a slow cooked bird. Stuffing increases the chances of transferring bacteria into the dressing and making people sick.
How to Slow Cook Turkey in the Oven
Get the right equipment.
If you're going to slow cook turkey in the oven, you'll need a shallow roasting pan (for even cooking), and a rack (so the underside of the turkey doesn't get mushy when you cook it). In the bottom of the roasting pan you'll want to place about double the amount of water or chicken stock you would when cooking a conventional bird so that the water doesn't evaporate leaving your juices to burn.
You can find a list of the turkey cooking supplies you'll probably need here.
Preheat the Oven. Heat to oven to 400 degrees F. You'll turn it down in just a moment for the slow cooking, but starting it at 400 will help to kill bacteria.
Prepare your Bird. If you don't want your meat to dry out, thoroughly rub the inside of the turkey with butter and start the cooking with the breast DOWN instead of up. You can also put some juicy fruit like a halved orange in the middle so that the turkey bastes itself throughout the long cook time. Cover with aluminum foil, leaving poke holes for the steam (otherwise you'll get a poached turkey-- yuck).
Start Cooking. Turn the oven up to about 400 degrees and braise the turkey for 20 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 200 degrees for the rest of the roasting time, which should be about 8-10 hours. About 1.5 hours before you plan to serve the meat, flip the bird over. Oil and season the skin (or under the skin if that's what your turkey recipe specifies), then put the aluminum foil back on until the last 40 minutes of cooking. Remove it then to brown the turkey skin.
Pull it Out. Before removing your slow cook turkey from the oven, test for doneness using a meat thermometer. The turkey needs to reach an internal temperature (at the thickest part of the meat) of about 170 degrees (no less than 165 F). Once the turkey reaches that temperature it can either remain in the oven on low until you're ready to carve it, or come out and rest at room temperature for 20-30 minutes before carving.
How to Make a Crock Pot Turkey
Making a slow cook turkey in the crock pot is pretty similar to making one in the oven. For a crock pot turkey, all of the precautions taken for the oven method should be repeated. Thaw carefully, remove the gizzards, rinse, etc.
Check the Size. First, you've got to make sure that your turkey is the right size for your crock pot. No matter what you do, a huge 20-pound turkey is probably not going to fit in your crock-pot... and no turkey will cook well if it doesn't fit well. Your crock pot turkey will cook best if there is room around the bird on all sides.
The best kind of turkey to make in a crockpot? Turkey breast instead of the whole turkey-- it first perfectly!
Get Cooking. To start your crock pot turkey, pour a can of chicken stock in the bottom of the slow cooker so the turkey won't stick or burn.
Season the Bird.
Season the bird however you wish. When I slow cook a turkey in the crock pot, my favorite way to make it is rubbing melted butter between the skin and the breast, and stuffing fresh herbs under the skin. Be sure to salt and pepper the skin.
Get Cooking. Place the turkey breast side up in your crock pot, and place it on the high setting for one hour. Again, this will help to kill any bacteria that are lingering around.
Slow Cook Your Turkey. After an hour on high, turn your crock pot to low for 8-10 hours for a perfectly cooked, fall-off-the-bone slow cook turkey.
Getting Crisp Skin.Be aware, though, that making a crock pot turkey will never get you crispy, crispy skin like you'll in the oven. What you will get is tons of moisture, flavor, and tenderness.
Want that crisp skin? Cook the turkey in the crock pot until just about finished, then carefully move to a roasting pan. Finish in a 325-350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.
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