7 Ways to Cook a Turkey Without an Oven, According to Chefs

You can't cook a whole turkey on a pan on the stove, but you can turn to these oven-free methods instead.
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There are plent of reasons to cook a turkey without an oven, whether you just don't have one that works or you want to change things up this holiday season. Luckily, there are a few ways to do it.

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"If you're cooking just turkey parts or don't need a whole turkey, the stovetop may be the way to go," says King Phojanakong, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education.

If you're using the stovetop, a good general rule is to cook the turkey with a lot of broth, recommends Brandon Cook, executive chef, culinary research and development at The Cheesecake Factory. The liquid will "be super fortified with turkey greatness" leading to incredible gravy, Cook says.

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There are other benefits too: "You will also be cooking with moist heat so you're lowering your chances of having a dry bird," he adds.

Once you decide to use the stovetop to cook a turkey, you've got options — you can poach, braise, sauté, steam or pressure cook the bird. Here's how to cook a turkey without an oven by taking advantage of your stove.

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How to Defrost Turkey

It's best to defrost turkey before cooking it. There are three safe ways to thaw poultry, according to the USDA — none of them involve leaving the bird out on the counter, which is dangerous and can lead to foodborne bacteria growing and multiplying, according to the USDA.

1. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator.‌ This is the most recommended option from the USDA. The bigger your piece of meat (or whole turkey), the longer this will take.

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Every 4 to 5 pounds of turkey will take around 24 hours to thaw, according to the USDA.

2. Thaw the turkey in cold water.‌ This is a slightly speedier tactic than thawing the turkey in the refrigerator but requires more hands-on attention. It takes around 30 minutes per pound to thaw a turkey, according to the USDA. Follow these steps:

  1. Make sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag.
  2. Put the turkey in its bag in cold water (make sure it's fully submerged). You can use the kitchen sink or a plastic container.
  3. Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is fully thawed.
  4. Cook the turkey immediately after it's thawed.

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3. Thaw the turkey in the microwave.‌ This will take roughly 6 minutes per pound, although it can vary from one microwave to another, per the USDA. Follow these steps:

  1. Remove the wrapping and place the turkey (whole or pieces) in a microwave-safe dish.
  2. Use your microwave's defrost function, and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Aim for 6 minutes per pound.
  3. Rotate and flip the turkey pieces or whole turkey throughout the process. If it starts to cook, let it rest for around 5 minutes before putting it back in the microwave.
  4. Once the turkey is thawed, you'll need to cook it immediately.

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Food Safety

Thawing the bird safely is one important factor when it comes to food safety. Here are other considerations to keep in mind, particularly if you're cooking turkey on the stovetop.

  • Cut the turkey into pieces.‌ If you're cooking a turkey on the stovetop, break it down, Phojanakong says. The reason why: "Mainly to promote even cooking," he says. Food safety is another reason to break down the bird into smaller pieces; you'll want to make sure that the meat isn't at a too-low temperature, which can lead to bacteria flourishing. You can ask your butcher to cut up the turkey or simply purchase a turkey breast, turkey thighs or wings at the grocery store.
  • Wash up.‌ Wash your hands before and after touching the turkey, and wash utensils, cutting boards and anything else that touches raw poultry.
  • Don't wash meat.‌ Doing so isn't necessary, and can lead to bacteria splashing around your kitchen, per the USDA.
  • Have a thermometer on hand.‌ A food thermometer is the only way to tell if a turkey is fully cooked — appearance, smell and taste aren't reliable, safe ways to check on doneness. All poultry, including turkey, should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, according to USDA guidelines.
  • Store and reheat leftovers safely.‌ All turkey leftovers should be refrigerated within 2 hours. Do not refrigerate large pieces of turkey — instead, you'll want to slice the breast, per the USDA. Place leftovers in small, shallow containers.
  • Make sure you have the right equipment.‌ Depending on the method you're using, you might need some equipment. You'll need to make sure your pan is big enough to fit the turkey parts you're cooking if you're sauteing or braising, for example. You may need to split up the turkey into two pans. If you opt to use a pressure cooker, you'll need to make sure you have one available.

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1. How to Sauté Turkey

Things You'll Need

  • Turkey parts, such as tenderloins or turkey cutlets; cubed turkey breast, thawed

  • Sauté pan or nonstick skillet

  • Butter or oil, or a mix

  • Seasonings

  • Food thermometer

This might not be the right method for a big holiday meal. "Sautéing is for quick cooking," Cook says, and you'll need to have small pieces of turkey. That doesn't necessarily make for a beautiful centerpiece.

But sautéing with small pieces of turkey can be a tasty option. "This would be a great method for cooking turkey parts," Phojanakong says.

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  1. Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.
  2. Season the meat. You can use salt and pepper or the herbs of your choice.
  3. Heat butter or oil in a sauté pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  4. Add the turkey (cutlets, cubed turkey breast or tenderloins). Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes until the meat is lightly browned on all sides.
  5. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature. The turkey is cooked when the internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. How to Deep Fry a Turkey

Things You'll Need

  • Whole turkey or separated parts

  • Turkey brine

  • Deep fryer or large stock pot and frying basket

  • Cooking oil, such as vegetable oil or peanut oil

  • Meat thermometer

  • Cutting board

  • Aluminum foil

Another less conventional way to cook a whole turkey is deep-frying it. You'll need a deep fryer or a stock pot large enough to fit your whole bird, or, of course, you can separate the turkey pieces before cooking. Brine your turkey overnight before frying it for more flavor.

  1. For a 12 pound turkey, bring 2 1/2 gallons of cooking oil to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit on the stove in your stockpot (adjust the oil per your turkey size).
  2. Remove the turkey from the brine and pat dry.
  3. Place the turkey in the frying basket breast side up and submerge it slowly into the oil.
  4. Fry the turkey for 36 minutes for a 12-pound turkey, or 3 minutes per pound.
  5. Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer periodically, and remove the turkey when it reaches 165 F.
  6. Place the turkey on a cutting board and tent some foil over it to keep it moist. Allow it to rest for 30 minutes before carving.

3. How to Poach a Turkey

Things You'll Need

  • Turkey breast or parts, thawed

  • Large skillet or pot

  • Poaching liquid (wine, milk or stock)

  • Onion, chopped (optional)

  • Celery, chopped (optional)

  • Carrot, chopped (optional)

  • Garlic cloves (optional)

  • Herbs, such as thyme, rosemary or sage (optional)

  • Food thermometer

"This technique is delicate and slow," Cook says. The end result will be tender turkey, but some people may find the soft texture somewhat unappealing, he adds.

  1. Add herbs or chopped vegetables to the pot if you're using them.
  2. Add the turkey to the large skillet or pot.
  3. Cover it with the liquid of your choice. "You can use turkey or chicken broth/stock (enough to submerge the turkey)," Cook says — add a splash of white wine for flavor if you'd like, he says.
  4. Bring the liquid to a boil.
  5. Lower the temperature to a simmer.
  6. Cover the pot.
  7. Poach until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature.
  8. Remove the turkey from the liquid.

4. How to Steam a Turkey

Things You'll Need

  • Turkey breast, thawed

  • Stockpot

  • Steaming basket, rack or metal strainer

  • Water

  • Stock or wine (optional)

  • Onion (optional)

  • Carrot (optional)

  • Celery (optional)

  • Fresh herbs (optional)

  • Food thermometer

Steaming a turkey "will yield a similar end result to poaching," Cook says. You'll need to have a basket or rack so that the turkey parts are not directly in the water, Phojanakong says.

  1. Add about an inch of water to your stockpot, per instructions from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you'd prefer, the liquid can be a one-to-one mix of water and stock or water and wine.
  2. Add vegetables and herbs to the liquid if you desire.
  3. Place a steaming basket, rack or strainer in the stockpot. Put the turkey in the basket.
  4. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat.
  5. Lower the temperature to a very low simmer. Cover the pot.
  6. Steam the turkey. It's fully cooked when the meat's temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. How to Smoke a Turkey on the Grill

Things You'll Need

  • Turkey, legs tied and plastic doneness indicator removed

  • Kettle grill

  • Long tongs

  • Disposable aluminum pan

  • Untreated charcoal briquettes

  • Wood chunks or chips

  • Vinegar, for basting

  • Basting brush

  • Aluminum foil

If you prefer not to use the stove, you can smoke a turkey on a kettle grill or in a backyard smoker. Doing it on the grill might seem tricky, but if you do it right, the end result will surely be worth it.

Smoking a turkey on a grill is all about controlling the cooking temperature, which can be tricky. Some grills are made with a temperature sensor and display on the lid, but if yours doesn't have one, it might be worth buying a probe thermometer to ensure accurate cooking temperatures.

To smoke a turkey on the grill, make sure to use wood chunks, which will create the smoke, and untreated charcoal briquettes rather than lump charcoal, as it burns longer.

You can choose to brine your turkey before smoking it for a juicier result. Let your turkey air-dry in the fridge overnight before cooking it, or pat it dry with a paper towel.

To smoke a turkey on the grill, follow these instructions:

  1. Soak your wood chips in water.
  2. Open the bottom vent of your grill and clean it out completely. You'll keep the bottom vent open while smoking your turkey and periodically open and close the top vent to ensure proper airflow.
  3. Create a cool zone for the turkey by filling a disposable aluminum pan with 1 inch of water and placing it off to one side of the grill. The pan should be below the turkey to catch any drippings, and the water will help yield a moist bird.
  4. Light the briquettes and when you see flames, use tongs to push them over to the same side as the aluminum pan, covering about 1/3 of the bottom of the grill. Bank the coals into a slope with the highest side against the wall of the grill.
  5. Place the soaked wood onto the coals.
  6. Place the lid on the grill and allow it to reach 450 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, then close the top vent. Close the top vent, which lowers the temperature, until it reaches 300 to 350 F. Adjust the top vent, opening and closing, to hold the temperature in that range for 5 minutes.
  7. Remove the lid and position the turkey, breast up, on the grill above the pan of water. No part of the turkey should be directly over the coals. If your turkey is too big, position it sideways on the grill and rotate it occasionally during cooking.
  8. Place the lid back on the grill. The temperature will drop, but dont open the top vent. Check the temperature in another hour, and if it's still dropping, add more coals then open the top vent.
  9. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes with vinegar. Make sure that it's browning evenly on all sides, or rotate it.
  10. Your turkey is done smoking when the internal temperature reaches 165 F. The cooking time will vary based on the size of your bird, so check every 45 minutes.
  11. Transfer the fininshed turkey to a cutting board, doing your best to lift from underneath and not touch the outer skin too much. Tent a piece of foil around it and let it rest for 30 minutes to allow the juices to settle before carving.

6. How to Pressure Cook a Turkey

Things You'll Need

  • Turkey breast or turkey cut in parts, thawed

  • Pressure cooker

  • Onions (optional)

  • Carrots (optional)

  • Celery (optional)

  • Spices (optional)

  • Water

Using a pressure cooker to cook a turkey can be tricky, and you'll need to be familiar with your particular machine's operating instructions.

"This is probably the fastest method," Cook says. "Many of the pressure cookers would have instructions and potentially timing if you wanted to try this approach:"

  1. If you're using spices, combine them and pat them on the turkey breast or parts, per Butterball.
  2. If you're using them, [lace chopped vegetables in the pressure cooker.
  3. Place the turkey on top of the vegetables.
  4. Add liquid according to the instructions from the pressure cooker manufacturer.
  5. Fasten the pressure cooker.
  6. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the cooking time, per the USDA. Keep in mind that timing changes if you're at a high altitude.

Warning

Keep the lid on until the pressure is lowered and the pot is cool, per the USDA.

7. How to Braise a Turkey in a Dutch Oven

Things You'll Need

  • Turkey, thawed, and cut into parts (breasts, thighs, legs and wings)

  • Paper towels

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • 3-4 tbsp. vegetable oil

  • A large thick-bottomed pot or Dutch oven with a tight lid

  • Sheet pan or large plate

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced

  • 2 carrots, diced

  • 3 stalks of celery, diced

  • 1-3 garlic cloves

  • 1 cup wine

  • Chicken stock or broth

  • Herbs and bay leaf

  • Food thermometer

  • Carving board

Cooking a turkey in a large, covered pot with a small amount of liquid in the bottom is called braising. Braising produces moist, flavorful meat and a rich sauce that can be turned into gravy. It's also a relatively quick method for cooking turkey.

With this method, you'll develop a fond (aka those brown, flavorful bits that stick to the bottom of the pan), which can lead to an amazing gravy, Cook says.

  1. Pat the turkey pieces dry with paper towels.
  2. Season the turkey with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the pot over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil to the bottom and heat until it shimmers, Cook says.
  4. Place the thighs in the pan, skin-side down. Be careful, as the oil can spatter, Cook says. Adjust the heat as needed — you'll likely want it to be around medium heat. "You should hear a good sizzle but you do not want it to burn," Cook says.
  5. Cook the thighs until you get a rich caramel-brown color on the skin, Cook says. Flip the thigh and repeat.
  6. Once the thighs are nicely browned, remove them from the pan and place them on a large plate or sheet pan.
  7. Repeat these steps for the legs and wings, cooking until they are brown then placing them on the sheet pan. Repeat again with the turkey breast.
  8. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic cloves to the pan.
  9. Stir occasionally to prevent burning, cooking until the vegetables are caramelized.
  10. Deglaze the pan with a cup of wine. Stir the pan carefully so you can "get that great fond off the bottom of the pot," Cook says.
  11. Add the browned turkey pots back to the pan. Pour in any juices that might have been released while they sat.
  12. Pour in enough broth or stock to cover the turkey.
  13. Add herbs and bay leaf if you're using them.
  14. Bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover the pot tightly with the lid.
  15. Simmer the turkey gently. Check the liquid level every 20 to 30 minutes. If it's boiling, turn down the heat. If it drops below an inch, add more liquid.
  16. Cook the turkey until the turkey is done. Use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of each piece — it should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue cooking if the temperature is low.
  17. Remove the turkey and place it on a sheet pan. Let it rest for 20 minutes, then carve. Or, place it in the oven to keep the turkey warm, while you use the liquid in the pan to make gravy.

Other Options

If you don't have an oven to cook your turkey and prefer not to do it on the stove or the grill, there are other avenues to explore. Many retailers sell pre-cooked whole turkeys that simply need to be reheated (a simpler process for the grill than smoking a turkey from scratch).

There are also alternatives to turkey for your main Thanksgiving dish: Try another delicious turkey recipe, like a stuffed turkey roast or roulade. If you don't have an oven available at all, opt for another protein altogether and cook up some air fryer chicken thighs or slow cooker lasagna.

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