I'll admit that when I heard you could buy preassembled turduckens -- that's a turkey stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a duck -- I was cautiously optimistic but I simply had to try it for myself. Cooking a whole turkey by itself is tough to get right and I've come up short plenty of times in my efforts, but the turducken has a built-in guard against dry, tough turkey meat in the form of fatty duck.
You can find turduckens from a few retailers online. The ones I found on Goldbelly were preassembled (with a layer of cornbread stuffing to boot), mostly made by butchers in Louisiana, many of which claim to have invented the thing. They looked great in their internet glam shots and had good reviews. Pound-for-pound they're more expensive than a standalone bird but each one is jam-packed full of meat since they're deboned with no carcass or cavity. Even a "small" turducken ($170) feeds an estimated 12 people -- probably more.
I cooked my first turducken for a Thanksgiving gathering last year. It was astonishingly easy to execute and the birds turned out so moist and flavorful that I fully intend to turducken again this year. Here's how it went.
My turducken showed up neatly packaged and completely frozen.David Watsky/CNET
Turduckens are whole turkeys that have been deboned and stuffed with a whole chicken that has itself been stuffed with a deboned duck. The massive meat roll is roasted as one would a normal turkey, then sliced and served. One of the ideas is that the famously fat-rich duck helps keep the famously lean turkey from drying out.
Turduckens landed in our lives mostly thanks to ex-NFL-coach-turned-announcer John Madden who would bust one out on live TV in his many Thanksgiving appearances. As the origin story goes, a turducken was sent up to Madden in the press box by a local New Orleans meat shop called Gourmet Butcher Block during a New Orleans Saints broadcast. Madden tried it, loved it and so incorporated it into his on-air turkey day tradition from then on.
I remember seeing these trios of poultry stuffed inside one another like Russian nesting dolls on TV but always assumed the turducken was more of a stunt; a bit like a food meme before we even knew what memes were. I further assumed that, even if turduckens were any good, they were probably more trouble than they were worth to make, what with all the deboning, flattening, stuffing and seasoning.
Not so with these ready-to-roast versions.
The 12-pound turducken takes about 12 hours to defrost on the counter, and longer if you're planning to do it in the fridge.David Watsky/CNET
First, you'll need to defrost the birds, which can take as much as three days in the fridge and more like six hours in a sink or bath of cold water.
Cooking a turducken is rather simple but it does take time. The instructions directed me to cook the turducken at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 4 hours covered and another hour uncovered to crisp the skin. I used a roasting rack with a pan underneath to catch drippings. I also used my Meater thermometer to track the internal temp, which must get to 165 degrees for poultry to be safely eaten.
My turducken wasn't anywhere near 165 degrees after the prescribed five hours. In fact, it didn't hit that internal temp for another 90 minutes. Luckily, we had plenty of wine and appetizers to hold us over, but it's something to keep in mind if your turkey day runs on a tight schedule.
If you order one, I would definitely weigh it (mine was a full pound heavier than it was advertised to be) and throw it in an hour or so earlier than you would normally, keeping a close eye on the temp. As a happy accident, the extra time in the oven helped get the skin to a perfect crispy brown, and there were lots of drippings in the pan for making gravy. I cheated a little and drizzled some melted butter over the skin about an hour before it came out of the oven, but I suspect it would have been plenty crispy on its own.
I cheated and drizzled some melted butter over the skin about an hour before it came out of the oven.David Watsky/CNET
Pretty much everyone agreed it was about the tastiest Thanksgiving turkey experience we'd ever had. The fat from the duck permeated the entire roast, and all three meats were incredibly moist, tender and pumping with flavor. It was akin to eating pernil (roasted pork shoulder) or some other slow-cooked barbecue in the way everything sort of shredded and fell apart. When I sliced it, all three types of meat melted off the side and piled together with the duck fat, stuffing and seasoning blending to create a sauce.
The turducken meat had a consistency more like pulled pork than a traditional roast turkey.David Watsky/CNET
The particular turducken I ordered had a layer of Cajun cornbread stuffing and a bit of Cajun spice on the skin, too, so it had some kick; enough to notice but not overpowering. And nothing a bite of creamy mashed potatoes or sweet cranberry sauce couldn't neutralize.
You could certainly make a turducken from scratch but deboning an entire whole turkey, a chicken and a duck will take a good while and you've got to nail the sizes to ensure they'll all fit snugly inside each other. My recommendation is to snag one from Goldbelly that's preassembled but not yet cooked.
I opted for Hebert' turducken with cajun cornbread stuffing . There are other options on Goldbelly, too, including a 17-pounder from Gourmet Butcher Block . The cheapest Turducken on Goldbelly is $170 -- still pretty pricey -- but will feed as many as 15 people in my experience. Most turduckens are still in stock and can be shipped to arrive before Thanksgiving (for free if you order soon). Just make sure you allow six or seven hours for the turducken to defrost in a sink of cold water or a few days to defrost in the fridge.