Updated: Nov 4
In my role as a culinary educator in the appliance industry, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to cook in a selection of remarkable ovens, and a hot topic in every class I taught was how to cook a turkey.
Working with so many people over the years I learned that everyone had different needs. Some wanted to cook the entire traditional feast, others just a turkey breast, some people needed to be able to cook extra turkey pieces and others just needed to reheat a feast they had purchased. It was my quest to help people needing to cook extra turkey pieces that prompted me to experiment with the Low-Temperature method.
What Is Low-Temperature Cooking?
Low-temperature cooking is a method of cooking tender cuts of meat at temperatures between 160 - 200 degrees (70 - 93C) until the target internal temperature is reached. The meat is then finished at a high temperature on the grill, in the oven or in a pan.
During the cooking the heat gently penetrates the meat and because the temperature remains low there is no moisture loss and the meat cooks evenly. Once the meat is “finished” with high heat the crust or skin browns and crisps resulting in perfectly cooked meat with fabulous flavor and texture.
How to Determine the Timing
Because the cooking time depends on the cooking temperature, target internal cooked temperature and the weight of the meat, an oven meat probe is a valuable tool to monitor the cooking. However, if your oven is not equipped with a meat probe, checking the internal temperature of the meat with an instant read thermometer after 30 - 40 minutes will give you a good indication of the progress.
What is the Ideal Internal Temperature to Aim For Turkey Pieces?
It’s important to remember while the meat will be cooked at a low temperature for a long time it will continue cooking during the final high heat phase. For best results in the Low-Temperature cooking phase always aim for a slightly lower temperature than the final finished target temperature. That way the meat will not be overcooked during the final cooking phase.
We aim for an internal temperature of 165 degrees (74℃) when roasting a whole turkey. During the resting time the temperature raises to 185 degrees (85℃) which is perfect for carving. Aiming for an internal temperature of 160 (71℃) in the low temperature phase will allow you to bring the turkey to 165 (74℃) degrees during the high heat phase.
How To Coordinate Low Temperature Cooking with Higher Temperature Cooking
Determining how to cook the turkey at a low temperature will depend on how many ovens you have and how many side dishes you need to cook in the ovens. There are several options.
Cook the turkey pieces at low temperature and finish with the high heat cooking the day before, or the morning of the feast cool and refrigerate. Slice and reheat.
Reheating sliced turkey can be done with great success in a Steam oven or covered in a Convection oven.
Cook the turkey pieces at a low temperature the day of the feast or the day before and finish them on the outdoor grill or in the oven when the side dishes have been removed.
Tips for Seasoning and Cooking the Turkey
We learned many years ago that giving the turkey a dry rub with Kosher salt and your preferred seasoning the day before cooking yields the best results.
Turkey pieces cooked at a low temperature can be cooked directly on a rimmed baking pan. Some juices will accumulate in the pan especially if you cook the turkey in a Steam oven. Those juices have lot’s of flavor and should be captured and added to your stock for gravy.
Prior to the high heat cooking phase, rub the turkey with a little oil or softened butter to aid with the browning and crisping.
What Causes Red Bone?
If you notice there is redness around the joints of the turkey pieces, don’t be alarmed. If the meat is cooked, i.e. not fleshy, then you are perfectly safe. If the meat has a slightly rosy tinge it will disappear during the reheating process.
Red bone occurs because there is more moisture retention when cooking in Convection especially at lower temperatures. Traditional Bake or Roast (radiant heat) is a very drying heat that pulls the moisture out of the turkey leaving the bones with a bleached appearance as well as drying out the meat.
If you see some turkey pieces at the market in the weeks before Thanksgiving, I encourage you to give this method of cooking turkey pieces a try. After all you can use the bones to make stock for gravy or to add to casseroles, and you will be amazed at the ease of cooking and how delicious the turkey is.
If you plan on cooking a Heritage turkey this Thanksgiving, please check out my next post, How to Roast a Heritage Turkey in Convection. I took a leap of faith and went against the traditional method, so I could share the results with you.
Larissa, Your Convection Enthusiast