How to Sous Vide Turkey
For most people, turkey just comes out once or twice a year. But once you taste sous vide turkey you'll be looking for excuses to eat it year round.
Once you discover how to cook turkey with sous vide it's hard to go back to the bland, dry roasted version.
Sous vide allows you to avoid the high temperatures you normally have to use, making it the best way to consistently create succulent turkey. This sous vide turkey guide will give you all the info you need for a great bird.
How to Safely Cook Sous Vide Turkey
Ensuring turkey sous vide is safe to eat is a big concern with turkey and all poultry. This used to mean cooking it to an internal temperature of at least 150°F or 165°F (65.5°C to 73.8°C). But as we discussed in the lesson on Sous Vide Safety, you can achieve the same safety levels through extended cooking at lower temperatures. This allows you to enjoy much juicier poultry than you normally would.
Once heated, turkey and other poultry are pasteurized by cooking it at the following sous vide times:
- 140°F (60.0°C) for 30 minutes
- 145°F (62.8°C) for 12 minutes
- 150°F (65.6°C) for 4 minutes
Below are my recommended cooking time and temperatures for sous vide turkey.
General Sous Vide Turkey Process
The process for sous viding a turkey is a little more involved than just tossing it in the oven, but almost all of it can be done ahead of time, the meat turns out amazing, and it reduces a lot of the stress I always feel when I'm roasting a whole bird.
Break Down the Turkey
The first step of sous viding a turkey is to realize that the white meat and dark meat should be cooked separately, so I almost never sous vide an entire turkey. They both shine at different temperatures, as anyone who has tried to roast a whole turkey knows.
So while you can do them at the same time, you will be sacrificing flavor and texture of one or both of them.
So you can either buy a whole turkey and break it down into legs, thighs, wings, breasts, and body, or you can buy pre-cut turkey or boneless turkey breast.
Buying pre-cut turkey is also a great way to get more light or dark meat, depending on the taste preferences of your family.
You also shouldn't sous vide a whole turkey unless you alter your method. Otherwise, the air in the cavity of the bird will usually not come up to temperature and could cause the inside of the bird to become unsafe.
You can leave the skin on thought it's hard to get super crisp turkey skin, or you can remove it, place it on a baking sheet and bake it in a hot oven until it is really crispy skin.
Season the Meat
There are many different ways you can season your turkey meat. For a traditional flavor I like some citrus peel, salt, and sage, rosemary, or thyme. You can also use spice rubs for a more varied flavor - I love a good BBQ rub or curry rub on turkey.
Seal the Turkey
Place the parts of the turkey separately in Ziploc-brand freezer bags, vacuum bags, reusable silicone sous-vide bags, or another sous vide bag. Vacuum sealer bags work great as well.
Seal the top of the bag, then the sealed bags can be stored in the fridge overnight until you are ready to sous vide them the next.
Cook the Dark Meat
The dark meat cooks at a higher temperature than the white meat so I usually cook it first.
I prefer dark meat cooked at 148°F (64.4°C) for a cook time of around 6 to 12 hours. I think it results in a good amount of tenderness while still retaining a lot of moisture.
Once the dark meat is cooked, I take it out, chill it in an ice bath, and keep it in the refrigerator until about an hour or two before it's time to eat. Then I reheat it in the sous vide machine, dry it off with paper towels, sear it, and serve.
I know that ChefSteps just leaves their dark meat in the sous vide machine while the white meat cooks, but I haven't tried this myself.
This year I'll be cooking my dark meat the day before Thanksgiving so it'll be all ready to go once I toss it in the bath a few hours before we eat.
Here's a more detailed look at how to sous vide a turkey leg and thigh.
Cook the White Meat
Sous vide turkey breast benefits from a lower temperature than the dark meat. I have found that setting my immersion circulator to 140°F (60°C) for 4 to 8 hours is what I like best for breast meat.
At this temperature it comes out perfectly cooked, tender turkey breast and is some of the most flavorful turkey you can make.
You can either time the turkey breasts to be done when you are ready to eat, or you can do it ahead of time, chill them in an ice bath and store them in the refrigerator.
Then when you are an hour or two away from eating you can bring them back up to temperature in the sous vide bath before drying them off and searing them.
Here's a more detailed look at how to sous vide a turkey breast.
Make Stock with the Body
If you are a fan of gravy with your turkey, you may be wondering how you'll get enough juices to make it. Using the body and wings of the turkey to make stock is my go-to method, even if I end up roasting the bird in a traditional manner. A good stock, especially if you have a pressure cooker, has more flavor than the simple pan drippings will.
To make a turkey stock, combine some aromatics like onions, carrots, and celery with some herbs and spices like bay leaf, coriander and peppercorns. Add the turkey bones, wings, or body - roasted for additional flavor if you like - and cover with water. Either simmer on the stove for 2 to 4 hours, or pressure cook for 60 minutes. Then strain and use the stock to make gravy, add flavor to vegetables, and add body to sauces and stir-frys.
Here's a more in-depth look at how to make a pressure cooked stock.
Best Simple Sous Vide Turkey Master Recipe
Sous vide turkey is one of my favorite meals, not just at Thanksgiving. This recipe cooks the breast perfectly every time and pairs great with stuffing, mashed potatoes and some gravy!
- Published: 2021-10-31
- Prep Time: 28 Minutes
- Cooktime: Pasteurized by Thickness
- Total Time: 3 to 4 Hours
- Serves: 4
- Calories: 400 Calories
- Tags: sous vide turkey, sous vide turkey breast, turkey breast, turkey, sous vide, easy, simple
- For the Turkey Breast
- 2 pounds turkey
- 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoons spice rub or herbs (optional)
- To Assemble
- Sides (optional)
- Sauces (optional)
- Garnishes (optional)
Preheating: Preheat the sous vide machine to 140ºF (60ºC) for white meat or 150°F (65.6°C) for dark meat.
Trim and Season turkey: Trim off any fat or gristle. Salt the meat then coat with any spices.
Seal in Sous Vide Bag: Place the turkey in a sous vide bag and then seal.
Sous Vide the breast: Place the sealed turkey in the sous vide water bath and cook until pasteurized, which is usually 3 to 4 hours, depending temperature used, but can go several hours longer.
Dry the Turkey: Take the sous vide bag out of the water and remove the cooked meat. Dry it off thoroughly using paper towels or a dish cloth.
Sear the breast: Sear the meat for 1 to 2 minutes per side over high heat. It should just start to brown but the core temperature shouldn't rise. Remove it from the heat.
Plate the Turkey: Plate the turkey like you would a traditionally cooked version.
Modernist Sous Vide Turkey Options
Now that it's close to Thanksgiving it's time to talk sous vide turkey. What better way to show off your sous vide machine than making a moist, perfectly cooked turkey for you friends and family. Here's a few articles and recipes to get you started on your way.
My sous vide Thanksgiving Planning is a great place to start for Thanksgiving recipes.
Sous Vide Turkey Bites with Modernist Air
This tasty sous vide turkey bite combines a light and airy soy lecithin cranberry air foam and a smooth modernist ultra-tex gravy which makes a fun party dish! Sous Vide Turkey Bites with Cranberry Air Recipe
Grant Achatz Sous Vide Turkey at Home
A nice look at doing turkey at home, as well as examining how hard it is to cook turkey whole, whether in sous vide or roasting it. A great defense for why sous vide turkey can turn out so well. It includes some videos so you can really see how the process works.
Sous Vide Supreme Turkey for Thanksgiving
A nice look at sous vide turkey especially for Thanksgiving time. Also addresses the sous vide vegetables you could make as well. Give you a nice time line for approaching Thanksgiving dinner.
Sous Vide Turducken
Time.com did a nice article on sous vide turducken. If you really want to go all out you can replace your Thanksgiving turkey with a turducken. This steps you through the setup and cooking of the sous vide turducken.
Sous Vide Turkey Leg
Not really for Thanksgiving, this sous vide turkey recipe from Wasabimon will help you get a perfect turkey leg for "caveman-style gnawing".
Sous Vide with Kikkoman
A nice look at doing a sous vide turkey in pieces. They used a Kikkoman soy sauce brine to help flavor it.
New to Sous Vide?
I'd like to invite you to join my FREE Sous Vide Quick Start email course. It will help you make perfect meats, master searing, and discover the sous vide times and temperatures you need to make everyday food amazing...and impress your friends and family.
Sous Vide Turkey Temperatures and Times
Overcooked, bland, and dried out turkey is very common around household kitchens. With practice it is possible to cook turkey perfectly using traditional methods but it is always a fine line between perfect and overcooked. Using sous vide always results in uniformly tender turkey that is very moist.. Below are more sous vide time and temperatures for many of the specific items.
Sous Vide Turkey Breast
I cook my turkey breasts at 141°F (60.6°C) for at least long enough to pasteurize them, about 2 to 4 hours. Any temperature between 136°F (57.8°C) and 147°F (63.9°C) is common.
All should be pasteurized by thickness
Sous Vide Turkey Drumstick
Sous vide dark meat turkey has a slight increase in temperature and cooking time. My recommendation for a normal turkey drumstick is 148ºF (64.4°C) for 4 to 6 hours. Or 165ºF (73.9°C) for shredded.
Sous Vide Turkey Leg
Sous vide dark meat turkey has a slight increase in temperature and cooking time. My recommendation for a normal turkey leg is 148ºF (64.4°C) for 4 to 6 hours. Or 165ºF (73.9°C) for shredded.
141ºF for 4 to 6 Hours (60.6ºC)
148ºF for 4 to 6 Hours (64.4ºC)
165ºF for 8 to 12 Hours (73.9ºC)
- How to sous vide turkey leg
Sous Vide Turkey Thigh
Sous vide dark meat turkey has a slight increase in temperature and cooking time. My recommendation for a normal turkey thigh is 148ºF (64.4°C) for 4 to 6 hours. Or 165ºF (73.9°C) for shredded.
141ºF for 4 to 6 Hours (60.6ºC)
148ºF for 4 to 6 Hours (64.4ºC)
- For Shredding:
165ºF for 8 to 12 Hours (73.9ºC)
- How to sous vide turkey thigh
Sous Vide Turkey Whole
Cooking a whole turkey sous vide is not recommended, due to the different ideal temperatures between white and dark meat. However, if you do attempt it, be sure to break the turkey down enough to eliminate the air pocket.
Sous Vide Turkey Wings
Turkey wings are generally an easy food to cook, and they are pretty hard to screw up. If I want some bite, then I'll do 140°F (60°C) and for fall-apart wings 165°F (73.9°C), either for at least 1-2 hours.
140°F for 2 to 4 Hours (60.0ºC)
- Tender Braise: 150°F for 2 to 4 Hours (65.6ºC)
- Firm but Tenderized: 156°F for 2 to 4 Hours (68.9ºC)
- More Fall Apart: 165°F for 2 to 4 Hours (73.9ºC)
- Really Fall Apart: 176°F for 2 to 4 Hours (80.0ºC)
- How to sous vide turkey wings