Cooking the Perfect Turkey

Last year I cooked the perfect turkey- and I did it with the method called Sous Vide. Not only was the turkey moist and flavorful, but since it was vacuum packed, and I didn’t eat all the breast, I froze a part of it.  Two months later I re-thermed it (warmed it in the Sous Vide) and we had the most moist turkey breast two months later.

This is the method we will use this year to make the turkey — oh, last year we made two turkeys. Since my parents came down we fixed the traditional turkey- but when my parents tasted this one- they liked it much better.

The traditional bird is often overcooked in some parts- maybe undercooked in others.  But that isn’t surprising when you consider this: most people put the entire bird in the oven, and to make sure the turkey is cooked all the way through, some parts of the turkey will end up being dried out and overdone.

Why cook your holiday turkey with this traditional and outdated method, anyway? When was the last time you took a cow, shoved it into an oven, and hoped the ribs, steaks, and rump roast came out perfectly cooked? Never – exactly! We butcher the cow into different parts  – and all of the parts are cooked differently.  Not to mention the obvious problem – to get the temperature we want in the very middle of the animal means the temperature on the outside of the animal will be overdone for our tastes. Use the Sous Vide method instead.

First Step:
Get a fresh, not frozen turkey. Then brine the turkey.  Putting the turkey into a salt/sugar water bath will allow it to remain moist.  The brine changes the nature of the proteins in the turkey, allowing them to retain moisture.  With the turkey broken down it will be a lot easier to make up the brine, and you will navigate turkey parts better than a whole bird.

There are a lot of recipes for brines—I made mine this way:

bought it from Williams-Sonoma and followed directions.  Brine the turkey parts the day before you cook it.

TIP –  You can make your own brine – one cup salt and one cup brown sugar for a gallon of water.  Add quart of apple cider to it—and if you need more brine – add more cold salt water to it.  IMPORTANT: the brine is done in a cold refrigerator,  not on a counter top. Put the turkey parts in the brine, then them in the refrigerator.

NEW TIP – Since last year I have been salting chickens instead of brining them. This saves all that room in the refrigerator and chemically does the same thing to the turkey – allows the skin to dry a bit.  So break down the turkey- butcher it, and then use Kosher salt to salt the turkey.  Once turkey is salted, use your finger to dissect the skin away from the breast and the thigh and place a sprig of rosemary or thyme in that space. Then place the turkey, salted and uncovered, in the refrigerator for anywhere from 12-72 hours. This does mean you will need to have a non-frozen turkey!

Second Step:
Break it down.  Cut the turkey into parts.  Your butcher will be happy to do this for you.  Separate the thighs-drumsticks from the breast – separate out the wings. Cut out the breast.  Now if you like the gizzard, neck, ribs, and wings—make some soup or stock out of them. – I now do this as a first step.

Third Step:
Vacuum seal the turkey parts.  When you do this you want to put salt and pepper on the turkey – and you also want to put some savory herb spices.  Get some fresh Thyme, Sage, and garlic.

First salt and pepper the turkey – on all sides.  Next roll the sage, thyme, and garlic into plastic wrap, like rolling a cigarette. Cut off the ends of this roll and put this in the bag. Put some butter in the bag (if you prefer you could use some duck fat).  Put the turkey into the bag and seal the bag.

TIP: If you use duck fat put it at the back of the bag – not the front of the bag so the grease allows you to seal the bag. You can get duck fat from most fine food stores or kitchen stores.  IMPORTANT:  once you are done, put the bags in the refrigerator or an ice bath  -especially if you are taking a bit of time.

Fourth Step:
Drop the bags into a water bath with a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The thighs will be done in about two hours—the others in about two and a half hours.

No basting,  no checking the internal temperature of the turkey. You want to go watch a football game, go do it.  If you take an hour too long—it won’t matter. The temperature of the water oven is 150 degrees, and you won’t overdo your turkey!

Step Five:
Do you want a nice roasted finish to the bird when it is done? Then quick fry them on a medium to high heat. I have a fryer at home and I just dip them in at 375 degrees until the skin is crisp.

TIP: When making a turkey sandwich – just slice some off the breast. You will have moister turkey than you have ever had. It won’t be dry, so you won’t need a lot of extra gravy, or mayo, or butter – or any of those condiments you used to slather on just to choke the turkey down.

What about the dressing? Oh yes, the stuffing.  You can put your favorite stuffing recipe into a bag and vacuum seal it and it will cook just fine.  Or you can bake it—to make your home smell like a delicious Thanksgiving morning.

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit

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Latest Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve invited the family round this xmas for a big dinner, so obviously the roast is pretty central to that.. I found a bunch of recipes but can’t seem to decide on any one in particular – there’s so many to choose from! It’s fun planning such a big family dinner though!

  2. Sous Vide Creates the Perfect Meal | AZ LapBand Blog
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  3. Brian says:

    I’d really love to try this, I’m intrigued by the sous vide concept. But I haven’t been able to talk the wife into letting me get the necessary tools to do it… yet. When I wear her down, I’m definitely getting all sous vide on a butterball.

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  5. Flint says:

    What’s the reason why you shouldn’t use a frozen turkey? Couldn’t you just thaw the turkey in the fridge for a day or two – and then proceed with the other steps?

    I’m asking because, where I’m at (outside the US), there are only frozen turkeys available to us, no fresh ones.

  6. The Doc says:

    You could use a frozen turkey- and go from there. Sometimes they are better frozen because you know that they have been handled well. Good point.

  7. The Doc says:

    You will find that Sous Vide works so well with a great number of products. Sous Vide steak is the most delicious way to prepare it

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