December 16, 2011

Guest Post: Tips to conquer your first Turducken

Serving a Turducken at your holiday feast this year? Our ever-witty friend Tim shares his first Turducken experience in this entertaining guest post. Pick up some pointers for ensuring your own chicken/duck/turkey mashup makes it to the Christmas dinner table on time, after fun-filled day of team cooking, and in a way that would make John Madden proud.

Turducken: It's What's for Dinner 
by Timothy Rapp

To make a Turducken is to scoff at Mother Nature. It is to snicker up toward the gods and say, “One of your measly little birds cannot satisfy the feast that I require. Nay, I shall slay three winged creatures—a chicken, a duck and a turkey—and I shall eat heartily as is my wont.” Remember your priorities, of course. Thanksgiving isn’t just about pigging out. It’s also about giving thanks for your blessings and loved ones and all that good stuff.  But make sure to do that quickly so you don’t delay the lusty eating for too long.

Turducken (photo courtesy
Now, I’m no expert cook and I’m not going to act like one. I am but a mere man who attempted to make a Turducken and lived to tell the tale. I’ll save the techniques and pairing options for the Food Network or your favorite food blogger.

Rather, the following is an outline of the basic steps needed to create a Turducken along with some advice (read: an account of the dumb things I did you’ll want to avoid repeating) should you decide to travel down this delicious path of poultry.

Three Birds are Better than One

Your first priority is to obtain the three birds required to create your Turducken. I recommend a three-pound chicken that will be stuffed into a six-pound duck that will be stuffed into a 16-pound turkey. And all three need to be deboned.

This next part is vital: Do not assume that the deboning process is a simple one.

It isn’t.

So wait, this thing calls for three whole birds, all of which have to be deboned? Do you think you are going to do that yourself?” my friend Meg asked incredulously—she’s witnessed me destroy potential meals in the past due to my discernible lack of skill in the kitchen—when I told her of my Turducken aspirations.

“Well yeah, that was my plan,” I responded, suddenly pensive about the whole operation.

“HA! Dude, I wouldn’t even dream of trying to debone a whole bird. Do you know how hard it is to remove the bones without mutilating all of the meat? Good luck with that one, man…”

"Hmm,” I hummed, now totally defeated. “The recipes haven’t mentioned the difficulty of the deboning process. I hadn’t even considered it until now.”

“Well, they call them butchers for a reason, you know? You’re going to need one.”
Outside of the South or a major city, however, it can be a bit difficult to find to find a butcher that will carry all three birds and will be willing to debone them on top of that. Be sure to start your search for a butcher a week or two before Thanksgiving.

I drove 40 minutes to get to Phoenixville on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving because that’s where I found a butcher willing to fulfill my bird and deboning requirements on short notice.

This won’t be cheap. You’re creating a Turducken, damn it. You are laughing in the face of millions of years of evolution that kept distinct the poultry you’ve seen fit to conjoin.

I spent $96 for the three deboned birds.

Of course, the birds are only one part of the meal. We haven’t even gotten to the stuffing yet.

Stuffing and Supplies

There are various theories on the stuffing, with many traditional recipes calling for three different styles—and hence, three layers of stuffing— between each bird. Others believe that the tri-stuffing leads to a convoluted flavor and sullies the individual taste of each bid. These folks recommend one style of dressing.

You do what feels right to you. You can find a fairly simple recipe at for a sausage and oyster stuffing that is really tasty.

I ran for fear when I encountered Paula Dean’s recipe at She listed the cooking level as “difficult.” And if Paula Dean thinks her recipe is difficult, I figured I had a better chance of rigging a DeLorean with time-traveling capabilities than I did at reproducing her version of the Turducken.

Once you’ve got your recipe and your meat arrangements are set, it’s time to hit the grocery store and gather your feast supplies. You’re going to need a large roasting pan to put in the oven, so grab the biggest aluminum one you can find unless you have your own at home.

Again, do this early—the aluminum ones get snatched up quickly as Thanksgiving approaches.

Of course, I waited until the last minute and was thus forced to create a shoddy concoction of double-layered roasting pans and aluminum foil—imagine for a moment the Tin-Man being put through a trash compactor, and you’ll get an idea of what this looked like—because my Turducken was too heavy and tall for the pans they had left at the store.

Also, load up on kitchen string. I’ll explain later.

Go Team Turducken!

If you’ve done all of this, you can consider yourself the foreman of Team Turducken. And yes, you’ll need a team. I recommend four people total: You (the foreman); a menial laborer (someone to chop things, basically); a non-queasy friend (someone has to handle the raw meat to construct this thing, after all); and a really good cook (because you can feed their ego with praise during the process and basically goad them into doing everything for you).

Turduckens require a team effort.
My Team Turducken consisted of three solid cooks: My mother, my friend Jacobs and my sister’s boyfriend, Alex. My sister wanted nothing to do with the procedure and wasn’t excited in the least when I told her of my Turducken plans. I’m guessing it is because she is currently trying out a vegetarian diet.

Also, it’s quite delightful (read: pleasing to the immature mind) to call and heckle all of your vegetarian and vegan friends with the bloody details of your Turducken adventures. Namely the ones who mention they don’t eat meat or animal products five minutes into a conversation with a stranger and will surely respond to your Turducken quest their usual righteous indignation.

As the foreman, it is your job to “oversee” the whole operation. Of course, this is just a fancy way of saying, “I bought all of the ingredients and now I’m going to shout out instructions while the rest of you do all of the work.”

As the foreman, you should also provide some Turducken context. Mention that in a 2002 New York Times article written by Amanda Hesser entitled “Turkey Finds Its Inner Duck (and Chicken),” you learned that while the origin of Turducken remains disputed, the spirit of stuffing various animals into one another is a time-honored tradition. Now read them this section of that article:

“But it is not difficult to find in the annals of culinary history examples of birds stuffed into birds. There is a reference in the diaries of John B. Grimball from 1832 for a Charleston preserve of fowl. It consisted of a dove stuffed into a quail, a quail into a guinea hen, a hen into a duck, a duck into a capon, a capon into a goose, and the goose into a peacock or a turkey. The whole thing was then roasted and cut into ‘transverse sections.’ It makes Turducken seem like the lazy way out.”

Indeed it does.

Be sure to remind your friends that if someone claims to have invented the Turducken—Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme insists he invented the meal in a Wyoming lodge, for example—it’s more likely that the dish was being made in the South long before the 20th Century.

One way or another, it is now a staple of Southern and Cajun butchers. Oh, and a favorite of John Madden. At this point, you should one last excerpt from Hesser’s article:

"There are a few diehard fans, like John Madden, the colorful N.F.L. football analyst, who usually buys three to last him and his broadcast crew through the Thanksgiving Day game. ‘The first one I ever had I was doing a game in New Orleans,’ Mr. Madden said. ‘The P.R. guy for the Saints brought me one. And he brought it to the booth. It smelled and looked so good. I didn't have any plates or silverware or anything, and I just started eating it with my hands.’”

If that doesn’t get you excited to eat, well, it shouldn’t—it’s an extremely disturbing mental image. Rather, just focus on the fact that what you are about to create will take you to realms of deliciousness you’ve yet to traverse.

Drinking was also an important part of this endeavor for me, in case you hadn’t guessed that by now.

Start Times, Seasoning and Sewing

Seasoning the duck.
If you are preparing your Turducken on the morning of Thanksgiving, however, it might be a little bit too early to imbibe. Which sucks, I know. But between preparation and cooking time, you are going to need about eight hours, which means you’ll probably need to get a very early start.

Remember, you still have to season all of your meat with salt, pepper and seasonings (Cajun or Creole, preferably), slather your first layer of stuffing on the turkey, lay down your deboned duck over the stuffing, apply layer two of said stuffing, lay your deboned chicken on top of all that, pile on one last layer of stuffing and finally sew the entire thing shut!

A big crowd-pleaser when you are about to sew everything together is to announce all of your actions in the style of the Swedish Chef from The Muppets. Make sure to end every sentence with this: Børk! Børk! Børk!    

The sewing is probably the most difficult step of all. You’re going to pinch this monstrosity together and sow it with kitchen string. You can skewer the sides together if that will help, but sewing this sucker together is probably your best bet.

Again, make sure you find actual kitchen string ahead of time!

I chose to make a last-minute Wal-Mart run and had to settle for hemp string, which I later read on the package “should not be ingested.”

But hey, it didn’t say it shouldn’t be used to tie a Turducken and be cooked in an oven for hours on end, so no biggie, right?

Now comes the easy part—flip your Turducken so the sewn side is in the bottom of the roasting pan, cover it and throw it in the oven. Again, cooking times and styles vary, but plan on leaving it in there at 350 degrees and basting your Turducken with the natural gravy that will form every 30 minutes to an hour.

Critical Tips for Basting and Baking

I was sure to assign Jacobs the duty of basting, noting that I picked him to do so because I felt he “could handle it—you are well-known as a Master Baster, after all.”

For whatever reason, my mother was not pleased with that joke.

Also, if you remove the Turducken from the oven to baste (because you forgot to get a turkey baster and you burnt your hand the one time you reached into the oven with a spoon to splash gravy on the Turducken), be sure none of the gravy forming in the roasting pan spills onto the bottom of the oven. This will cause an immense amount of smoke to billow throughout your house during the cooking process, which in turn will set off the fire alarm, scare your dog into the basement for the duration of the morning and cause the green-bean casserole your mother attempted to cook later that day to taste like a bonfire.

Your mother will not be pleased with this, either.

Plan on cooking for five to seven hours. And make sure you have a meat thermometer so the turkey is fully cooked. It turns out that Turducken is basically a food borne illness waiting to happen if you aren’t careful. Must be all that raw meat or something. So be sure to check out the USDA webpage on Turducken and heed the following advice:

“As when cooking any meat or poultry product, USDA strongly recommends using a food thermometer to ensure the turducken has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F throughout the product."

Many websites and meat thermometers will recommend that the turkey cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 180-185 degrees. Jamming a pop-up turkey timer into your bird is another option. One way or another, about an hour before your Turducken will reach its ideal temperature, remove the top cover of your roasting apparatus so as to brown the outside of the turkey.

Turducken = Love

And once it is done, guess what? There isn’t any complex carving or cavorting necessary. (Though you will want to do a little jig, I promise you that.) Just cut right down the center of the bird and peel out delicious slices of succulent meat bathed in stuffing and gravy.

Beautiful, isn’t it?
Tim, his proud mom and the Turducken
Congratulations, friend—you just one-upped Mother Nature. You made celebrating the harvest an art form. You knocked on the windowpane of life and asked intelligent design, “How do you like these apples?”

And more importantly, you have probably found that along the way, you had a damn good time making this insult to evolution with your family and friends.  Hell, you’ll probably want to do it next year just so you can gather everyone around and create a few memories. And isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?

No, you nostalgic sap, it’s about pigging out. Now pound your chest and let out a primal scream as you stuff your face with obesity-ensuring goodness, for you have created the Turducken.

Go ahead—use your hands.

No comments: