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You Should Sous Vide Your Thanksgiving Turkey, Here's How

For the moistest turkey you’ve ever tasted, you’ll need to give your bird a bath.

a plate of cooked turkey next to a sou vide machine

I thoroughly enjoy cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Every year I get up early, put the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on in the background (later, football) and get to work in the kitchen prepping for the big meal. I do everything on my own because I’m a glutton for punishment, and that includes cooking the turkey. The big bird is considered the star of the Thanksgiving table, because roast turkey is often dry, lacking in seasoning and just underwhelming up against flavorful dishes like candied sweet potatoes or stuffing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. A few years ago, I received an Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker for Christmas, and since then I’ve been using it to cook my turkey every Thanksgiving. I’m never going back to roasting. Sous vide turkey comes out absolutely perfect every time — it’s almost impossible to screw it up — and it’s so much moister and more flavorful than a roast bird.

Here's how to do it.

Gather your gear

Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker
$139.00 (37% off)

Obviously, the most crucial tool needed to sous vide your Thanksgiving turkey is a sous vide cooker. Anova makes the best around, thanks in part to their smart features that allow you to control and monitor your cooking from your phone. Any of their models will work just fine, but you really can't go wrong with their standard Precision Cooker.

Anova Sous Vide Container, 16L

While you can use a large pot for your sous vide, getting a dedicated sous vide container like this will definitely make your life easier since it has a lid that's designed to fit around your sous vide cooker and a rack that prevents your meat from annoyingly floating to the top of the bath.

FoodSaver Compact Vacuum Sealer Machine
$69.99 (26% off)

Like the container, a vacuum sealer is optional for your sous vide — you can use a Ziploc bag that you've manually squeezed the air out of. But, also like the container, using a vacuum sealer will make the process a lot easier, as it will remove all of the air from your bag and form a tight seal around your turkey.

Prep your breast

I would not recommend trying to sous vide an entire turkey. Although it’s allegedly possible, it’s definitely going to be more than a hassle than it’s worth. You would need a lot of room, a ton of time, and would likely make a huge mess. Don’t even try it. If you need to feed a large crew with a big bird, then you’re better off roasting. But if it’s just a few people that are coming over for Thanksgiving, then a turkey breast (you’ll find them right next to the whole turkeys at your local supermarket) will work just fine.

Don't sous vide a whole bird. For a huge crowd, roasting is a necessary evil.

You still need to season and prepare your turkey before it goes in the sous vide. First, remove the skin from your breast and set it aside to dry (you’ll need it later), then cut your breast in half lengthwise. Next, completely pat dry your turkey with a paper towel. If you opted to brine your breast the night before (an optional step that results in a saltier bird), make sure you rinse off your bird before drying. Next, you’ll need to rub the turkey all over generously with butter, then season it with salt and pepper on all sides.

Once everything is seasoned, lay the two halves next to each other, sliced sides up, with the thick side of each breast lining up next to the thin side of the other. Drop a few small dollops of butter on the sliced sides while also laying down some fresh herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme and/or grab some poultry herb mix from the grocery store and use that.

Put your two haves together like a sandwich and tie them together with plenty of kitchen twine, using a short strand every inch or so, then slide a few more herbs underneath the twine on the outside. When you’re done, your wrapped breast should look more or less like a cylinder and should be fairly even on both ends, and it should stay together on its own.

Seal it up

Once your turkey breast is in seasoned cylindrical form, it’s time to seal it up in your vacuum bag. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can use a large Ziploc bag, just make sure and try to squeeze as much air out of it as possible.

Place your tied-up, buttered and seasoned breast inside your bag, and make sure there is plenty of room at the top for the bag to seal — you need a clean seal or else water will get inside your bag and ruin your turkey.

If you do have a vacuum sealer, just be cognizant of how much liquid is in your bag. There shouldn’t be much if you properly dried your turkey and used unmelted, refrigerated butter while seasoning, but just know that any liquid that gets sucked into your vacuum sealer can potentially damage the machine.

Heat your water

sou vide machine in a pot of water on a counter

With your bird bagged, it’s time to heat your water. Technically you can do this ahead of time, but a sous vide cooker won’t take very long to heat the water to your desired temperature, so whenever you decide to do it is fine. With sous vide, you can cook at lower temperatures for longer periods, which makes for tender, juicier meat. A number of different temperatures will work, depending on your preference, but I find that 145 degrees F for 3 hours results in a wonderfully juicy and delicious bird.

Add your bird

Once the water reaches your desired temperature, it’s time to add your bagged and sealed bird. If you’re using a large pot instead of a dedicated sous vide container, make sure that you’re clipping the bag to the side of the pot — don’t just leave the bag floating — and ensure that the breast is completely submerged. You can use a chip clip or even a paper clip to accomplish this, but be careful not to pierce the bag at all.

Once your breast is under water and stable, cover the top of your pot with clear plastic wrap, so no steam can escape. Set your timer for three hours and relax while the sous vide does all the work — there’s no basting to worry about, and no danger of overcooking your bird and drying it out. Take that, ovens!

Crisp your skin

While using a sous vide cooker will result in the juiciest turkey ever, one thing it will not do is give you the crispy skin. For that, you’re going to need your oven, it still has a role to play in your Thanksgiving turkey mission.

For crispy skin, you'll still need to enlist your oven.

Around two hours into your turkey-cooking time, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Grab the skin you set aside earlier, which should be quite dry by now, and season it on both sides with salt and pepper. Stretch it out on the parchment paper, and add another piece of parchment paper over the top of it. Then, grab another baking sheet and press it on top of the first, flattening your skin between the two pieces of parchment paper.

Finally, put the whole sheet pan sandwich into your 400-degree oven and roast it for a half-an-hour. If it's not crispy enough, you can add 15 minutes more, but just be careful not to burn it, as the line between “crispy” and “burned” is rather thin.

Finish up

Once your three hours is up, remove your turkey bag from the sous vide and turn off the cooker. Let any excess water run off the bag and cut it open over the sink. You'll likely have accumulated some juices and melted butter, and you can either dump that out or save it for gravy. Remove the breast, cut off the twine and separate the two halves on a cutting board. Pick off and throw away any large herbs and slice up your breast crosswise. Serve alongside your crispy skin and prepare to be showered with compliments from your Thanksgiving guests.

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