Thanksgiving hacks: Bionic turkey

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Excerpted from Dave Arnold’s blog, “Cooking Issues.”

The “bionic turkey” experiment: Cook the bird from the inside-out.  Bone the bird, replace the leg bones with aluminum tubes, stuff the carcass with aluminum foil (heats quickly, maintains structure), and pump hot oil through the tubes to cook the inside of the thigh quickly.

How to make a “bionic turkey”

Cooking the bionic chicken: Take the fully boned chicken, stuff the cavity with aluminum foil, and put aluminum sprinkler-tubes where the leg bones used to be. Pump 65 degree oil through the legs for 20 minutes then turn down the oil to 64 and immerse chicken for 40 more minutes.

1.De-bone the bird:  We used a technique that avoids cutting the skin:  Starting at the butt end of the bird you carefully remove the bones by slowly turning the bird inside out.  Then you carefully remove the leg bones;  the wing bones are left in.

2. Prepare tubing: Cut pieces of aluminum tubing to the same length as the leg and thigh bones.  We cut slits all along the tubes so they would act like sprinklers.  We made the knee joint by joining the tubes with rubber tubing.  We attached these bionic leg bones to the pump output of an immersion circulator.

Bionic Turkey: two pieces of aluminum tubing are cut to the same length as the leg and thigh bones. Cuts are made in in the tubes so they act like sprinklers. They are joined at the “knee” with a length of rubber tubing.

3. Stuff the bird: We stuffed the inside of the chicken with aluminum foil and threaded the aluminum tubes into the legs.  Then we trussed the bird — no one would suspect a thing.  We put the bird on a cooling rack over a lexan full of oil heated to 65 C with an immersion circulator.  We hooked up a second circulator and used it to pump hot oil through the leg tubes.  The extra oil poured out of the bird and back into the lexan.  After 20 minutes we lowered the temperature to 64C and dropped the bird into the oil. 40 minutes later we pulled it.

4. Admire results: The bird held its shape even when we removed the foil.  It looked like a whole, untouched bird. The meat was perfect all the way through.

5. Finish the bird: Ladling hot oil over the skin for several minutes worked great. Simple.

The results

Here’s the conclusion to my turkey saga (read the rest herehere, and here):

To recap, I made a boneless bionic turkey with aluminum sprinkler-pipe leg bones and cooked it in duck fat and butter using a two-step process.  I chilled it and brought it to my in-laws’ house three hours north of the FCI.  All I had to do on Thanksgiving day was warm up the bird and crisp the skin.

Kitchen space was scarce, so I did everything on the grill outside.

Preheating. I removed the grates from the grill and put a hotel pan with oil directly on the burners to heat up. I put the bird on a rack above the hotel pan and partially closed and tented the grill to pre-warm the bird.

I took the bird out of the fridge, removed most of the aluminum foil from its cavity, and let it come up to room temperature for an hour.  I turned the grill into a turkey-warmer/pour-over fryer by removing the cooking grates and putting a hotel pan with two gallons of oil directly on the burners.  On top of the hotel pan I put a rack to hold the turkey.  I put the turkey on the rack and closed the grill (as much as I could) to allow the turkey to warm up while the oil was heating.  I couldn’t close the lid without mangling the turkey, so I propped the grill open and tented the lid with aluminum foil.  The area where the turkey was sitting floated around 275 F –a good warming temperature.

Fat ladling time-lapse. 2 minutes.

When the oil was piping hot (around 375 F) I started ladling the fat, two-fisted, all over the top of the bird.  It browned even faster than I thought it would.  The whole bird was crisped up in about 2 minutes.  Bonus: there were no spewing geysers of oil, no huge flames, no Thanksgiving-ruining clouds of choking smoke.

Closeup of fat ladling.

So far, so good.

Finished bird.

Once inside, I removed the bionic leg bones and the rest of the foil.  The bird didn’t collapse. Another win.

Bird on the table with bionic legs removed. Looks normal.

The moment of truth:

White meat. Perfect.
Dark meat. Perfect.

I was happy with the results.  The family enjoyed the bird.  Super moist but not watery.  Tender.  The taste of the herbs, duck fat and butter came through.  Next year, I might increase the temperature a half a degree to make the breast meat look a little more conventional.  There were also a couple of blood vessels that didn’t lose their red color.  That didn’t bother me too much.

Folks around the dinner table kept asking me if it had been “worth it.”

“Did you like it?” I asked.


Then I guess it was worth it.