If you’re a seasoned pro at making Thanksgiving dinner, then you likely have your schedule down to a science. You know when to put the turkey in the oven, the perfect time to start mashing the potatoes, and so on. But it can be a little intimidating figuring things out your first few tries, especially if you don’t have oodles of gadgets or space is tight in the kitchen.
There’s a reason cooks set their alarms early on Thanksgiving morning; there’s lots to do, and cooking the turkey takes time. Between thawing and methods like brining, a lot of the prep for the turkey actually starts a couple days before. There are several factors that determine how long you need to cook the bird — whether or not it’s frozen, stuffed or unstuffed, and what kind of oven you use. But what if you forgo the oven all together and go for the hands-off, but lengthy, method of slow cooking.
As long as you don’t get too ambitious with a big bird, you might be able to get away with it — but should you?
There are a couple things to consider here: size and safety. As a family holiday, lots of people like to gather relatives they never see otherwise around the table. That means double-digit whoppers of birds are popular. Obviously, a six-quart slow cooker isn’t going to handle all that meat. One woman who made a whole slow-cooked turkey, Stephanie O’Dea, said her 9.5 bird was wedged inside the appliance pretty tightly.
As long as you don’t get too ambitious with a big bird, you might be able to get away with it — but should you? The USDA isn’t too keen on the idea. In order for your turkey to be safe for consumption, it has to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. O’Dea said she checked to make sure her turkey was over 170 degrees in several spots after five hours on high. A couple recipes we saw recommended sticking the turkey on a roasting pan and putting in the broiler after slow cooking to help brown the bird, which might kill off some of the bacteria, too.
While those who have tried the method love the tenderness of the meat the no-basting approach, you definitely don’t want to give your entire family food poisoning. However, if you only have a few people stopping by your Thanksgiving feast, “A cut-up turkey can be cooked in a slow cooker,” Tina Hanes, a technical information specialist with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, tells Digital Trends. “If possible, begin cooking on the ‘High’ setting for an hour or more. Then turn the cooker to ‘Low,’ if desired. The appliance should maintain a temperature of between 170 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit.” Also, you should resist the urge to baste, because it can take up to 25 minutes to regain the steam you lose when you take off the lid.
America’s Test Kitchen has a recipe for making turkey breast in the slow cooker your guests will be sure to gobble up. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)