Happy Thanksgiving. Don’t Poison Your Family.

by Dave Arnold

Da Boid:

I’m repeating last year’s technique for my 2010 bird –the bionic turkey method. You can read the four-part saga here: figuring out the parametersbuying the bird; cooking the bird; and finishing the bird. This year I got a Narragansett bird from Heritage Foods USA. The Narragansett breed orginally hails from Rhode Island, but my turkey was born and raised in Virginia. Narragansetts are a cross between indigenous wild turkeys and domesticated turkeys, and they’re reportedly delicious. I’ll let you know. Here is a photo montage of this year’s bird:

Bionic Turkey 2010: 1) Making and aluminum-foil skeleton to match the real skeleton. 2) The completed aluminum skeleton with the hollow "oil sprinkler" leg bones in place. 3) Inserting the aluminum skeleton into the turkey (previously inside-out glove boned). 4) Pumping hot duck-fat through the legs to pre-cook them at a higher temp than the legs will cook. Notice the fat-waterfall going back into the circulating container. 5) The rest of the turkey being cooked in circulated duck fat. 6) The finished bird.


Thanksgiving Tip: Don’t Poison Your Family

You aren’t supposed to stuff a raw turkey and cook it. It takes a long, long time for the center of a stuffed bird to reach a safe temperature.  Making matters worse, stuffing is inherently contaminated because it is typically a hand-mixed product full of bacteria-friendly stuff. Some websites recommend pre-cooking the stuffing before it goes in the bird, but that’s a dicey proposition if you’re baking (or microwaving) the stuffing: you might pre-set the eggs or dry the stuffing out.

Put your stuffing in a Ziploc bag and pasteurize it at 57 C (135 F).

Here’s a workaround, if you have an immersion circulator — Put the stuffing  you intend to put in the bird into a ziploc bag, press it flat, throw in some butter-knives to keep the bag from floating (a trick from Chef Herve Malivert here at the FCI), exclude the air, and circulate the stuffing at 57 C (135 F) for an hour or two — a temperature high enough to kill the bacteria that might ail you. The USDA temperature of 165 F is absurdly high. Absurdly. I don’t understand how they can, with a straight-face, recommend that stuffing be cooked to 165 F for safety.  Much lower temps are safe if the stuffing is cooked long enough.  I choose 57 C (135 F) because it kills bacteria but leaves the stuffing functionally raw — the texture isn’t be affected.

Leave the stuffing in the circulator till just before the bird goes in the oven.  Stuff the hot stuffing in the bird and cook. The preheated stuffing will give your turkey a jump-start in cooking, a nice side benefit.

Happy Thanksgiving.

21 thoughts on “Happy Thanksgiving. Don’t Poison Your Family.

  1. Long time reader, first time commenter. I can’t wait to hear how you like the Narragansett turkey – my husband and I are moving to a small farm shortly and we’re hoping to have a small breeding flock of Narragansetts! I’ve never eaten one, though, and I don’t know anyone else who raises them, so I have nobody to ask!

  2. Hilarious stuff(ing)! The wretched tale of the franken-turkey is such fine pathos. I do hope this is high parody and that you don’t spoil a good turkey like that. It must have been all the churchgoing that let my grandma live 98 years eating a bunch of poisonous stuffing that didn’t get cooked inside the improperly cooked turkey every Thanksgiving. Praise the lord, pull the bird out of the oven, and let’s eat!

  3. Cooking in plastic bags? I’m sure that’s just as much cause for concern as underdone stuffing. Ziploc bags were made to store in, not cook in, and even then I feel weird about my food touching plastic. How about just make it on the side, as dressing? Been doing it for years. Moist, tasty, safe.

    1. Ziplocs are interesting. They are rated for hot foods, and are made from polyethylene without plasticizers, but they themselves don’t recommend cooking with them even though they recommend reheating in them.

      1. I don’t understand.

        They are interesting? Does that mean we’re wasting the flavor if we cook in them?

        Cooking, microwaving in ziplock.. safe, flavor safe, etc? Can we test these things next? I am such a hick, I’d never even thought of these things until Kate brought it up. THANKS KATE.

        1. Sorry Well,
          I meant the SC Johnson wax company is interesting. On their ziploc freezer-bag web page (http://www.ziploc.com/Products/Pages/FreezerBagsSmartZipSeal.aspx?SizeName=Gallon) they say “Microwaveable (use as directed). When defrosting & reheating, open zipper one inch to vent. Caution: when using in microwave, place the bag on a microwave-safe dish. Handle with care. The bag and its contents may be hot. Do not overheat the contents as bag may melt.”
          So clearly they think products can be reheated safely (as I said, Ziplocs don’t contain plasticizers). At the same time they called a chef friend of mine that had posted a Youtube video of cooking in a Ziploc and told him not to do that. How can it be that ziplocs are okay for reheating but not for cooking (at low temperatures). Weird. I think the problem is that Ziplocs can’t be used at boiling temperatures because the polyethylene starts to melt around that temp. I think SC Johnson Wax doesn’t understand low temperature cooking.

          You aren’t wasting flavor if you cook in ziplocs. I have never, ever tasted any off flavors as a result of cooking with Ziploc freezer bags.
          Happy Thanksgiving

          1. In the midst of the recent news of water bottles and receipts containing BPA (go ahead and google it), I wouldn’t be surprised if plastics themselves are found to contain cancer-causing elements. Sorry, I refuse to cook in anything plastic; hard, flexible, or otherwise. And I definitely do not microwave. Even if it turns out to be “safe,” you’re still zapping out all the nutrients that are in the food. And isn’t that the point of eating?

  4. One of my cookbooks (The Best Recipe by Cooks Illustrated) recommended microwaving stuffing just before filling it into the turkey. They wanted it hotter than is comfortable to hold in your hand-they don’t give a specific temperature. Their logic, if I understand, is that if the stuffing is warmer at the core say 120 F or more, then then it has a head start over the turkey which may be at room temperature. Although the temperature of the stuffing will fall until heat penetrates the cavity, it may stay insulated and not require as much heat gain to get the stuffing to start cooking and the stuffing stays in a somewhat in a better heat zone for safety. I think next time I will try the sous vide method to get similar results.

    1. I lost my thread or link to the do it yourself sous vide (immersion circulator ) guy with the pictures a plenty, and instructions. Can you help me?

  5. A semi-thread hijack question. Reading back through last year’s post, I understand why you favor hot-fat ladling over torching for skin-crisping. But I’m curious: do you “sear” with torch for finishing meats without skins, like steaks or pork?

    1. I hardly, if ever, use a torch for crisping things up. The butane torches tend to be better than the propane. I’m pretty sure it is the Mercaptans they add to the fuel that stink up foods and lead to torch taste. The butane torches seem to be better at combusting that stuff.

  6. last time we did stuffing at work we formed it inot a roll and wrapped it in caul fat then buttered foil. After cooking and cooling you can cut in hockey puck sized slices and fry it in butter/duck fat (or schmaltz) to brown and crisp it. Then use it as a base to plate the rest of the bird on.

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