Making a turducken from scratch: the good, the delicious and the exhausting

Blog PhotoFor a long time, probably 10 years or more, one common Thanksgiving-table topic for my family has been turducken.

You know, that combination of mostly-boneless turkey, boneless duck and boneless chicken, all roasted together with stuffing in between? Yeah, that. We’ve always talked about it, saying, “Man, that’s something we should try.”

So when frozen whole duck went on sale for $2.50 a pound at a local grocery store in October, I bought one and figured this was my chance. I made a turducken from scratch last weekend and I thought I'd share with you, with plenty of time to spare in case you want to make one for your own Thanksgiving. I'll post general information about the experience today, and associated recipes tomorrow. (Edit: You can find those here.)

Also, because today's the first day of November, this is the first of what I hope will be many Thanksgiving-friendly blog posts. (If you'd like to submit a recipe to run here this month, please click here for details. I'd love to feature your contribution.)

So. Turducken. It was a beast, a considerable amount of work and a huge, delicious, meat-and-stuffing-filled success. I'm here to tell you - it can be done. However, if you want to make one for your Thursday Thanksiving feast, you might want to make sure you have a free day Wednesday. I cooked mine last Sunday and spent much of the day Saturday getting ready.

I started by doing lots of Googling, finding turducken recipes here and here, and reading through the USDA's safety instructions for turducken here. I had to laugh when the USDA called it a "risky assemblage," even though it's true.

I made some decisions early on after this research: I didn't want oyster dressing inside my turducken, even though it's a traditional choice. I did want to brine the meats beforehand, and I needed to roast the sucker, not smoke it, because the USDA was pretty firm on that point. It wouldn't make much of a blog post if I gave all who ate it food poisoning.

I also realized I needed to learn how to debone poultry. To do this, I requested “The Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child from the library, as well as “Julie and Julia,” by Julie Powell, which places a lot of emphasis on deboning a duck. Two weeks ago, I read the relevant parts of both books and bought and thawed an extra whole chicken for practicing. It was a little intimidating at first, but the practice was invaluable. By the time I got to deboning the duck, turkey and actual chicken for the turducken, I was totally confident. It only took about 20 minutes for each bird.

I decided on my recipes about a week and a half before T-day and made a master shopping list. This list included kitchen twine, which I had a little trouble finding and finally bought at a kitchen specialty store in town. You'll also want to make sure you get a meat thermometer, if you don't have one already.

Blog PhotoI also made a timeline for a week out: Monday, buy turkey, Wednesday, start thawing chicken and duck, Friday, toast bread for stuffing, etc.. This was incredibly helpful for making sure everything was prepared for the deboning process Saturday and the final assembly early Sunday morning. I'll share that timeline, along with my recipes, here tomorrow.

I started at 5 a.m. Sunday because a turducken needs to cook for a long time at a somewhat low heat. Mine cooked for 11 1/2 hours, and at the end, I was turning up the oven to get the whole thing to a safe temperature of 165 degrees. But because I'd planned so well, the only item I had to scramble for Sunday morning was a disinfected needle to stitch up the turkey. Everything else was totally prepared.

Although a turducken is a lot of work (seriously, I made it last weekend, and I'm still slightly exhausted), there are some great things about it. Because it's boneless, it carves up nicely. No turkey carcass on your table when you make turducken!

I also cooked the three poultry carcasses into stock immediately Saturday after deboning my birds. Because of this, I didn't feel guilty if I took off more meat during the deboning process than I intended. I figured, it wasn't like our turducken wasn't going to have enough meat.

There was so much meat on the carcasses, in fact, that Rob and I sorted the bones out, left the meat in, added noodles and ate turducken and Noodle soup for lunch on Sunday while the beast was cooking. It was so tasty. What a great option, to be able to enjoy leftover soup before you're totally sick of the combination.

Now, I wouldn't recommend making turducken on a whim. But I have to admit, I spent all of last week in an excited tizzy, thrilled at the prospect. Rob keeps saying, "Next time we make turducken...," and "Maybe if I got a pheasant while hunting, we could make phurducken!" I laughed at that, but I'm not ready to think about trying it again. Yet. Maybe in a year or two.

 Click to see other Thanksgiving recipes shared on this blog.Recipes for stuffing, brine and seasoning mixtures to follow tomorrow, along with a timeline for planning, in case you want to make a turducken this Thanksgiving.

Also - see that fancy "Heaping Harvest" image to the left? I just introduced it as my way to organize all Thanksgiving recipes posted on this blog. If you click on it, it will take you to the recipes I've posted this fall. Keep an eye out - there will be lots more there as November progresses.

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