People usually cook a turkey in the oven. But if you don't have a working oven — or if your oven is loaded up with sweet potatoes, stuffing and countless other Thanksgiving side dishes — then you may prefer to cook your bird on the stovetop.
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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," King Phojanakong, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Make sure the turkey is in a leak-proof plastic bag.
- 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.
- Change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is fully thawed.
- Cook the turkey immediately after it's thawed.
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:
- Remove the wrapping and place the turkey (whole or pieces) in a microwave-safe dish.
- Use your microwave's defrost function, and follow the manufacturer's instructions. Aim for 6 minutes per pound.
- 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.
- Once the turkey is thawed, you'll need to cook it immediately.
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. Before 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 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.
How to Sauté Turkey
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.
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
Step 1: Pat the turkey dry with a paper towel.
Step 2: Season the meat. You can use salt and pepper or the herbs of your choice.
Step 3: Heat butter or oil in a sauté pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Step 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.
Step 5: Use a food thermometer to check the temperature. The turkey is cooked when the internal temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Poach a Turkey
"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.
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)
Step 1 (optional): Add herbs or chopped vegetables to the pot if you're using them.
Step 2: Add the turkey to the large skillet or pot.
Step 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.
Step 4: Bring the liquid to a boil.
Step 5: Lower the temperature to a simmer.
Step 6: Cover the pot.
Step 7: Poach until the internal temperature of the turkey reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a food thermometer to check the temperature.
Step 8: Remove the turkey from the liquid.
How to Steam a Turkey
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.
Things You'll Need
Turkey breast, thawed
Steaming basket, rack or metal strainer
Stock or wine (optional)
Fresh herbs (optional)
Step 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.
Step 2 (optional): Add vegetables and herbs to the liquid if you desire.
Step 3: Place a steaming basket, rack or strainer in the stockpot. Put the turkey in the basket.
Step 4: Bring the liquid to a boil over medium heat.
Step 5: Lower the temperature to a very low simmer. Cover the pot.
Step 6: Steam the turkey. It's fully cooked when the meat's temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
How to Pressure Cook a Turkey
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."
Things You'll Need
Turkey breast or turkey cut in parts, thawed
Step 1 (optional): If you're using spices, combine them and pat them on the turkey breast or parts, per Butterball.
Step 2 (optional): Place chopped vegetables in the pressure cooker.
Step 3: Place the turkey on top of the vegetables.
Step 4: Add liquid according to the instructions from the pressure cooker manufacturer.
Step 5: Fasten the pressure cooker.
Step 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.
Keep the lid on until the pressure is lowered and the pot is cool, per the USDA.
How to Braise a Turkey in a Dutch Oven
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.
Things You'll Need
Turkey, thawed, and cut into parts (breasts, thighs, legs and wings)
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
Step 1: Pat the turkey pieces dry with paper towels.
Step 2: Season the turkey with salt and pepper.
Step 3: Place the pot over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil to the bottom and heat until it shimmers, Cook says.
Step 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.
Step 5: Cook the thighs until you get a rich caramel-brown color on the skin, Cook says. Flip the thigh and repeat.
Step 6: Once the thighs are nicely browned, remove them from the pan and place them on a large plate or sheet pan.
Step 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.
Step 8: Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic cloves to the pan.
Step 9: Stir occasionally to prevent burning, cooking until the vegetables are caramelized.
Step 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.
Step 11: Add the browned turkey pots back to the pan. Pour in any juices that might have been released while they sat.
Step 12: Pour in enough broth or stock to cover the turkey.
Step 13 (optional): Add herbs and bay leaf if you're using them.
Step 14: Bring the liquid to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cover the pot tightly with the lid.
Step 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.
Step 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.
Step 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.
- USDA: "How to Safely Thaw a Turkey"
- USDA: "Turkey Basics: Safe Thawing"
- USDA: "Tips and Resources for a Bacteria-Free Thanksgiving"
- USDA: "Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart"
- USDA: "Thanksgiving Leftovers for Safe Keeping, Weekend Grazing"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Healthy Kitchen Hacks: Quick-Cooking Poultry"
- Butterball: "Turkey Breast Under Pressure"
- USDA: "Turkey: Alternate Routes to the Table"