Sous Vide Turkey: Once you’ve gone sack, you’ll never go back!


There is nothing more the centerpiece of a traditional American holiday meal than roast turkey with all the trimmings.  I recall in my childhood, my grandmother rising at 4 am to begin the preparations for our Thanksgiving or Christmas feast.  Roasting the big bird for these special meals holds an almost sacred place in our family’s traditions and I have dutifully followed the footsteps of my fore bearers every year.  This one being no exception, except that this year we received two birds.  My husband and son played in an annual golf tournament the week before Thanksgiving, called (appropriately enough) the Turkey Shoot, for which participation each of them received a nice turkey.  We were having a larger than usual crowd at our table for Thanksgiving dinner, so I decided to cook both of them.  I would roast one turkey the traditional way and prepare its twin brother in my SousVide Supreme.

It would be a turkey throw down!

Here’s the timeline:

Five days out:  Thawed both birds in the refrigerator.

Two days out:  Made about a gallon of an 8% brine (80 grams salt/liter water or 5 T plus 1 tsp salt per quart of water) to brine one bird whole and the other in pieces by removing both leg quarters (thigh and drumstick) and both breasts.  Made turkey stock from the remaining carcass, herbs, and seasonings.

One day out: Rinsed the birds in clear water.  Refrigerated the whole turkey overnight in a plastic bag. Vacuum-sealed the two leg quarters and two breasts each in a separate food-grade, plastic pouch along with about 1/4 stick of butter (cut lengthwise) and a good sprinkling of poultry seasoning.

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Refrigerated breast portions immediately.

Turkey Breast Sous Vide Ready Blog size

With the SousVide Supreme preheated to 176F/80C I cooked the dark meat portions for 8 to 10 hours, then quick-chilled them in an ice water bath for 1 hour and refrigerated them until the big day.  (Sounds like a lot of time, but it’s almost completely mindless, hands-off time.)

The day before:  I heated the SousVide Supreme to 140F/60C and cooked the breast portions of the turkey for 2- 1/2 hours, then quick-chilled them in an ice water bath for 1 hour and refrigerated them overnight.

Cooked Turkey Breasts Blog Size

While they were chilling, I cranked the SousVide Supreme temp up to 183F/83C and cooked my veggies for an hour:  cauliflower pieces in one pouch with butter, salt and pepper and butternut squash pieces in another pouch with butter, salt, pepper, cinnamon, and just a touch of Splenda 1/2 brown sugar (about 1 tablespoon for 2 squashes, designed to feed 10 people.)  Afterwhich, I pureed the perfectly cooked vegetables, let them cool slightly, and put them into casserole dishes, covered, in the refrigerator. (Sorry, no pictures of these.)

On Turkey Day:  Hours ahead, I pulled the whole bird from the refrigerator, patted him dry, stuffed his cavities with fresh sage and thyme from my herb garden, whole cloves of garlic, and a quartered Maui onion.   I trussed his legs and brushed his breast with melted butter and settled him snugly, breast down, onto the roasting rack and into a 400F/204C oven, which heated up my kitchen mightily.

After 45 minutes, I pulled him out of the oven, turned him on one side, wrapped his wing tips with aluminum foil to prevent their charring, brushed him again with melted butter and returned him to the oven for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I pressed one button to turn on the SousVide Supreme to preheat to 140F/60C.

When the timer dinged for the oven, I pulled Tom out again, but by this time, my granddaughter had gotten to the house and in my slight distraction, I managed to burn the side of my hand pulling the roasting pan out of the oven, which doesn’t even really require the distraction of a granddaughter when handling a large bird tipped on its side.

I burned my fingers trying to flip the bird to its other side, when I remembered that my sister had sent me a pair of turkey lifters, which I got out and used.  Now sitting with his other wing in the air, I brushed him all over with butter and returned him to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, the SousVide Supreme has reached its target temperature, so I dropped the four pouches containing the cooked leg quarters and breasts into the rack of the machine to gently reheat before searing..

When the oven timer dinged again, I pulled the roasting bird out of the oven again, turned him breast side up, brushed him again with melted butter, and only burned the side of my hand slightly trying to get him back into the 400F/204C oven for his last 45 to 60 minutes of roasting, while keeping one eye on the progress of the football game going on.

Meanwhile, the vegetable casserole dishes went into the other oven at 375F/190C to warm.

About 15 minutes before the roasting bird was due to come out, I pulled the pouches of turkey from the SousVide Supreme (with just my fingers and no burns at all) and let them cool slightly in the tray lid. Then opened their pouches, pulled the pieces out, and patted them dry on the surface with a paper towel.

When, at last, the glorious roasted bird was cooked to a golden brown perfection–and he was lovely for sure–I brought him out to rest under a tent of foil for 15 to 20 minutes while I attended to last minute duties:  pop the rolls into the oven and brown the sous-vide turkey legs and breasts under the broiler for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Browned Turkey sous vide blog size

Cooked Sliced Turkey Breast blog size

Moist, tender, juicy, flavorful — in short, delicious! Nothing like the dry, slightly stringy breast meat that gives turkey its bad rap.

But back to the throw down.  The comparison of effort and ‘tending’ time stacks up something like this:

Traditional Turkey: 2 slight burns, 3-1/2 hours of closely choreographed trussing, stuffing, tending, flipping, basting, and timing.

SousVide Supreme: 0 burns, maybe 15 minutes of prep and 10 minutes of broiling

Our Thanksgiving guests were treated to comparision platters of traditional roasted turkey and turkey a la SousVide Supreme.  The verdict was unanimous — the sous-vide turkey was the hands down winner!

Here are some of the rave reviews:  The most succulent, flavorful turkey ever…More like delicious ham than turkey, which I’ve never liked much…The white meat was even better than the dark meat! This turkey is so good, I wouldn’t mind having it more often than holidays!  And from a finicky six year old: I’d like more! SousVide Rules!

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  1. Wonderful! I bought a SousVide Supreme for my husband for Christmas, and it’s taking every ounce of determination not to give it to him early. I’m looking forward to when he gets to play with it! (He’s the cook in our family)

  2. We had sworn off traditional turkey for next year, so thanks for this post! We might re-consider and use our SVS!

  3. Erich Brueschke says:


    I was wondering were on the site you can buy the advance vacuum units you mentioned in your letter that came with the SVS?


  4. Thanks Dr. Mary Dan! I plan on following your instructions to make a post-Thanksgiving sale bird.

    I made chicken breasts in the SVS for us and gave our little son some leftover roasted turkey while the chicken was finishing (since he was starving! It had been an hour since he had eaten!). Once our chicken was done, my wife shared a piece with him and he proceeded to eat most of her serving and ignored his turkey. He is now enthusiastic about our new “water oven.”

  5. Roger in Texarkana says:

    I didn’t even know MD had a blog until my sister sent me this link. We spent several hours and about $85 buying the fryer, peanut oil and bird because my wife had heard frying them was the way to go. We ran out of propane about halfway through, and although the bird was very good, the hassle was a big downer, as was the long delay while we replenished the propane.

    From now on it’ll be SVS, starting this Christmas.

  6. Steve LaCroix says:

    Dr. MD, a couple of questions, the first probably pretty dumb. Nothing new for me. As someone who likes to stop by the fridge from time to time and nosh on a piece of cold turkey, I was wondering if poultry cooked sous vide, because of the low temperature, is any less safe to do that with? And, if using a sauce, better to make it separately, or in the SVS with the meat? Thanks, and not just for this,the 35 pounds dropped so far, I owe, in large part, to you and Dr. Mike. All the best. Steve L. NYC

  7. Erich Brueschke says:

    Wonderful oven. Just Amazong.

    Two points to consider.

    1. When you reformulate the spice rubs you provided with the oven can you make sure that they don;t contain fructose? I have seen you go on and on about HFCS many times and about how bad any fructose is, so why would you send along something that contains this dreaded substance?

    2. Please make sure that the bags you use for your Vacuum sealing product are BPA free.


  8. Why cook the dark meat at such a high temp and for so long?


    Explains how pasteurization at sous vide temperatures work. It’s a very good read. In short, if you’re cooking at a lower temperature you just need to cook longer, which usually happens anyway with sous vide cooking.

  10. I have not seen your recent advertising, but are you plugging into the advantage of reducing acrylamides and AGEs by cooking this way? An article appeared recently giving safe acrylamide consumption levels. If you eat a lot of meat products, it seems that SousVide would reduce your levels considerably.

    I am a long-time admirer of your work and your blog.

  11. James Mooney says:

    wrap that turkey in bacon! No basting required. When the bacon’s done, so is the turkey.

  12. Dr. Mary

    I received my sous vide supreme for Christmas from my home chef son….we have cooked together for years.

    I have cooked chicken thighs and chilled them in ice, placed them in the fridge still sealed. How long will they stay fresh?

    Thanks, Mary

  13. @Mary

    How long you can hold a cooked item in the refrigerator depends on how reliably your refrigerator cools. If, like most home units, it routinely exceeds 40F/4C then food pathogens can potentially grow in the pouch (just as they could in the Tupperware bowl of leftovers) and holding more than 48 hours could be dicey. If the unit does hold temps below 40F/4C then up to a week is reasonable. Alternatively, you can quick chill and freeze for up to a year, then thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat to serving temperature in the SousVide Supreme. We are going to add a Quick Chill instruction to the site for future reference.

  14. @Andreatf

    Yes, we are, but thanks for sending the link to the science and for reminding us to focus more on this advantage of cooking with SousVide Supreme.

  15. @Erich Brueschke — December 2, 2009

    We are working on that now, but in truth there is only a tiny amount of fructose in the amounts of rub a person would reasonably use. And like so many things, a tiny amount of fructose actually primes the metabolic pump for better utilization of glucose. It’s when a tiny amount grows and grows that trouble starts.

  16. @Erich Brueschke — November 29, 2009

    The SousVide Supreme Vacuum Sealer should be available in the next month or two. We’ll announce it on the site when it is.

  17. @Steve LaCroix — December 1, 2009

    Sorry for the delay in responding, but we’ve had a glitch in our response system. Truly no problem with the leg and thigh, since they are cooked at 176 for a long time and likely no problem with the breast, cooked at 140F/60C, but I wouldn’t keep the meat around for more than a couple of days if your home refrigerator isn’t reliably keeping the interior at below 40F/4C.

  18. Jenna Jonteaux-McClay, RN says:

    Which vacuum sealer do you prefer, and why?

    Thank you!

  19. Jack Cushman says:

    Thanks for the how-to! We made a video to document the sous-vide technique with our (second) Thanksgiving turkey this year, based on this recipe (note the butter slices):

  20. Couldn’t help but mention…brilliant headline!

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