In the two years previous (1998-1999), an X-treme BBQ, held outside regardless of the weather on Super Bowl Sunday, has proved to be wildly popular among graduate students in the Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The highlights of X-treme BBQ I included lots of steak, and cooking bacon-wrapped steak, chicken, pork, and whatever else we could get our hands on. At X-treme BBQ II, Chris Boozer smoked a turkey inside a BBQ grill.
For X-treme BBQ III, it was realized that the event had to be taken up another notch. It was decided by the members of the BBQ Executive committee to commit to creating a turducken, a Frankensteinian creature few people had heard of, and no one had any experience creating.
Despite this, the committee decided to meet the challenge head-on. Invites went out by email and via an invitation website for the January 30, 2000 event. About 40 people showed up to witness the first successful (and salmonella-free!) Colorado Turducken, which turned out to be delicious. The third annual Super Bowl Sunday X-treme BBQ was an unqualified success
Since the turducken would be a memorable objet de fete, why not turn it into an objet d'art as well? Ideas ran the gamut from sticking a couple of trout out of the sides, to creating an arachnid appearance with snow crab legs. In the end, we opted for something simple:
The finished turducken was dressed with a vest of spare ribs, a bacon bow tie, and a bacon belt with a working eggplant belt buckle.
What is a Turducken?
A turducken consists of a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. Here is Paul Prudhomme's recipe. We actually based our recipe on Prudhomme's original (and unillustrated) recipe that differs from this current version in some minor ways.
The turducken was a hefty beast indeed. We didn't have a bathroom scale to weigh it (and probably wouldn't want to even if we did), but we estimate the final concoction to be above 30 lbs. before cooking. The bone-on weights for the three fowls were 30 lbs. for the turkey, 8 lbs. for the duck, and 4 lbs. for the chicken.
Although the feast would be on Sunday, planning was begun more than a week before, with the first step in the process (preparing stock) done four days before, on Wednesday. More than half a dozen people were involved in the various stages of the recipe. The birds were deboned and assembled into the massive amalgam over a five hour period on Saturday. The completed turducken went into the oven, set to 190 F (88 C), at 9pm Saturday night, and was taken out on noon on Sunday. Because of a delay in preparing the gravy, the ceremonial First Slice did not occur until about 2:15pm.
Other Foods (Mostly Meat):
We exhorted our guests not to bring anything else to cook if they were meat-eaters, but to provide side dishes (like vegetables!) to share. Unfortunately the single non-turducken related side that appeared that day was a forlorn looking bean/corn dish that sat alone and unwanted for much of the afternoon. It appeared that the meat eaters were present in force and they weren't to be satisfied by anything less than cooked animal flesh.
Luckily we also prepared back-up steak and spare ribs, in addition to the mighty turducken. The appetizer meat, divvied up into large chunks, kept the crowd at bay while the main course was waited on.
Turducken/BBQ Executive Committee:
- Ka Chun Yu, Barbecue Executive Officer
- Chris Boozer, Master Chef and Administrator
- Jason Tumlinson, Chief Cooking Officer and MC
- Aaron Lewis, Miscellaneous Meat Detail
- Kamran Sahami, Turkey Chief, Festooner, and Official Photographer
- Amanda Sickafoose, Auxiliary Chef
- Matt Beasley, Auxiliary Chef
- Beth White, Gravy Director
- Erin Chylinski, Kitchen Supervisor
- Marc Derosa, Good Will Grand Pooh Bah
For those who are strong-of-heart and have ironclad stomachs to boot, proceed onward to the Illustrated Turducken Recipe!
Step 1: Starting with Paul Prudhomme's Recipe
Since the stuffing making is rather ho-hum, we've used the original recipe (for the most part) with few comments and pictures. Most of the pictures involve the (de-)boning of the birds, and the assemblage of the whole turducken, since those are processes that people are most unfamiliar with.
Introduction (Part II)
Budget your time carefully! The turducken takes 12-13 hours to cook, and you must let it cool for at least 1 hour before carving. First make sure the temperature of your oven can be accurately determined. If you're not sure, just purchase an oven thermometer instead of relying on the oven's automatic temperature control. (Alternatively you can get your oven professionally adjusted so that it is accurate. Note that oven temperature controls can drift over time.) Since the turducken is cooked at a very low temperature, you can leave it in several hours longer than suggested. Depending on its final mass, the turducken can remain hot for hours afterwards.
We believe an improper oven temperature was probably the downfall of the Austin Chronicle's turducken attempt. They cooked for 12+ hours without it really being done. We recommend checking your oven temperature with an oven thermometer to determine where it should be set for it to hold a steady 190 F (88 C) temperature. Remember that many ovens don't even have a mark on the dial for temperatures below 200 F (93 C). At such low temperatures, an oven mis-set by as little as 10 F (6 C) means the difference between cooking the turducken and warming it. (Many ovens can be off by as much as 30-40 F [17-22 C] !)
Although we didn't have an oven thermometer handy, we did have thermocouple which could be hooked up on the outside so the oven temperature could be monitored without opening the oven door.
There was a good chance our turducken was at the proper doneness temperature at 12 hours, since the bird was a nice golden brown at that point. However since we didn't have a meat thermometer handy for another 3 hours, we didn't take it out until the 15 hour mark. By then, the internal temperature was a rock solid 185F (85C), enough to kill any lurking bacteria. Leaving it in for that long didn't make it any less juicy.
Get lots of friends or family to help make the dressings (stuffings). When the dressings are finished, refrigerate them so they will be cold when you apply them to the meat. When boning the meat, be sure to reserve the bones and necks for stock. You can bone and prepare the turducken the day before cooking, and keep it refrigerated until you are ready to put it in the oven. The gravy can be made after you've pulled the turducken out of the oven.
Getting lots of friends and family is the right idea. Shopping for all the ingredients turned out to be a chore in itself. Note that a 25 lb. turkey will take about a week to defrost in the refrigerator.
Also note that the original Prudhomme recipe was confusing about what came first. The dressing recipes require stock. So unless you have extra giblets lying around, you must have the turkey defrosted so you can harvest parts for stock before you do anything else! Otherwise you could save the turkey, duck, and chicken bones for future stock, but not for stock to be used in the turducken recipe.
The dressings (stuffings) for the turducken are as follows: 7 cups of andouille dressing, 4 cups cornbread dressing, 3 cups oyster dressing. Additional dressing can be served at the table, so it's useful to make more than the above amounts.
We had a 30 lb. turkey, about a 20% increase over the recommended size. We increased our other two birds accordingly to 8 lbs. for the duck, and 4 lbs. for the chicken. To cover the extra area, we made twice as much dressing for the turkey and the duck, but kept the chicken dressing the same.
Start de-boning the turkey, which is easier to work with because of its size. Afterwards proceed with the duck and chicken.
Here's one place where we don't agree with Paul. We recommend cutting your teeth (so to speak) by de-boning the chicken and the duck first. They are certainly smaller than the turkey, but you can be less forgiving on yourself for mistakes since they are buried inside the finished turducken. You don't want to make any mistakes at all on the turkey (which will be on the cosmetically important outside), especially when cutting the breast bone away from the skin. One wrong turn of the knife and you will have an unsightly hole, which if you don't patch up, could dry out the turducken.