As part of our Thanksgiving Challenge, we decided to try and figure out how to cook a turkey in our pressure cooker. It couldn’t be that hard… I mean a chicken is easy and a turkey is just an over-sized chicken, right?
It turns out this recipe was one of the hardest we’ve done so far. The result was juicy, flavorful, and very moist, but it was also tricky to execute. We ended up making two turkeys to get the recipe right.
Here’s what happened:
How to Cook a Turkey (Pressure cooker try #1)
Step 1: Buy a turkey.
We knew that our 8 quart pressure cooker would need the smallest turkey we could find. We set out to our local grocery store late one night, and happened to get lucky – there was a whole case of “L’il Butterballs” all between 9 – 11 pounds. We picked the smallest one and went home to see if it would fit.
The 9.8 pound bird did fit, barely. We put it in the refrigerator to defrost. So far so good.
We have a lot more story to tell but I am too excited to hold back our final recipe video. The story continues below.
How to cook a turkey in a pressure cooker video recipe (View all pressure cooker recipes)
Step 2: Cook the turkey.
Here is where things got tough. How long should we cook a whole turkey? The few recipes I found said 40 minutes for a 10 – 12 pound bird. Since we cooked our chicken for just over 20 minutes, and this was near triple the size of our usual chickens, it seemed right. To be honest, I was initially afraid it wouldn’t be long enough.
I followed the general chicken recipe and browned all four sides of the bird in the pressure cooker. This was not as easy as it sounded. The turkey was such a tight fit that getting a grip with cooking tongs was actually quite tricky. Eventually, with some help from Ryan, we were able to get it all done.
By the time it was browned sufficiently the oil on the bottom of the pan was too hot and had to be cooled before we could fully de-glaze the pan. And speaking of de-glazing the pan – how much water would we need? Again following the sources I found for cooking times, I added 2 cups of water. (You can actually see the 2 cup measure in the video if you look for it.)
Now it was time to cook at pressure. Putting the turkey in, making sure it was off the bottom and not blocking the pressure release valve, we brought it to high pressure, set the timer for 40 minutes, and waited.
Step 3: Open and serve.
When I opened the lid I was surprised at how much fluid there was. Well over half the turkey was in water. I read the label on the turkey and found the reason: 6% flavor and moisture injection. I guess when you roast a turkey in a dry oven you need all the additional moisture you can get. However, the released juices (it didn’t help that it was overcooked), coupled with the two cups I added, were more than enough. I ended up just using the juices in my stock.
After the initial shock of how much liquid there was, came the really hard part – getting the turkey out. I had a pair of tongs that I was planning on using to get under the backbones and lift the turkey out, but that didn’t exactly work. The turkey was overcooked. In fact, every time I tried to grab the bones, they fell out!
We carefully plopped the turkey on a platter and tried to salvage what we could. The meat was extremely flavorful, but a little tough and stringy – it was definitely over cooked! We couldn’t post this recipe for you guys without at least another attempt to get it right, so we wen’t back to step 1, buy another turkey.
How to Cook a Turkey (Pressure cooker try #2)
Step 1 (again): Buy a turkey
This wasn’t as easy the second time. It was closer to Thanksgiving and while the store had lots of turkeys not one of them was under 15 pounds! Ryan even found the dedicated turkey employee who said they ran out of the small ones and weren’t planning on ordering more. Luckily another grocery store is only a few miles away, so we went there to see if they had any small turkey’s. No dice.
We thought for a while about what to do, and remembered yet another grocery store just a few miles away and decided to try one last time. We got there late at night again, and found the turkey section. Success! They had two turkeys under 10 pounds. We picked the smallest one (9.6 lbs) and checked out. This grocery store was having a crazy sale so the turkey was less than a turkey sandwich at their sub shop would have been… insane.
We got home, and decided to let the turkey defrost naturally again.
Step 2 (repeat): Cook the Turkey.
After two days we went to cook the turkey, but it wasn’t fully defrosted in the middle and we had to finish defrosting it by submerging in cold water for about an hour. That worked and we were ready for take two of the Turkey Challenge.
This time we decided to brown the turkey in a separate pan, to make turning it easier. It was much easier, and if you do decide to do this recipe I would recommend using that method.
We knew we had to cut back the cook time substantially – but how much? We thought about it, and about how overcooked the first one was, and decided to go for 3 minutes a pound, or about 30 minutes. We also cut the water back to 1 cup because I knew the turkey would be adding its own as it cooked.
This turkey was smaller than the last one, so we thought it would be easy to fit inside the pressure cooker when we went to cook it. We thought wrong… it was smaller in weight, but longer in body. This one we really had to jam in there to fully fit. In fact, it was such a tight fit that we almost brought out our much larger pressure canner to use instead. Luckily we got it to fit with just a little bit of effort, and brought the pressure to high (15 psi) for 30 minutes plus natural release.
This time when I opened the lid there was a lot of liquid, but not as much. Also, the meat was pulled back from the edges of the bones, but not as badly. And the biggest improvement – when I grabbed the turkey with the tongs, it held! Unfortunately the joints holding the legs and wings to the body were weakened, and they had to be taken out separately, but the main body wasn’t falling apart like the first one. We called it a success and plated the meal.
Again, it tasted fantastic, full of moisture and flavor. And every part was cooked all the way through.
Moral of this story? We tried something crazy, as part of a challenge, and I’m willing to call it a success. But because of the difficulty in execution, I don’t think I’d try it again next year. I definitely would try a turkey breast, though. And because we cooked two turkeys, we got tons of homemade stock. One thing is certain – the homemade stock is awesome and the pressure cooker does a great job blasting the flavors, gelatin, and nutrients from the bones. I think it was some of the best stock I’ve made so far, even beating our usual chicken stock. That recipe is a keeper.
If you have a pressure canner, or a small turkey/turkey breast, and try pressure cooking it, please let us know how it comes out. There aren’t a lot of resources out there for pressure cooking turkeys, and we’d love to add your personal experiences to the mix for others to learn from.
Here’s what worked for us in the end. (a quick summary of our findings)
Pressure Cooker Turkey Recipe
1. Look for a small turkey and make sure it fits on top of the rack all the way inside the pressure cooker without touching the lid. (A 9.5lb bird was about the max our 8-quart pressure cooker could handle)
2. Make sure the turkey is fully defrosted. (You’ll need about 24 hours in the fridge for every four pounds)
3. Heat 2 Tbs oil in the pressure cooker or in a bigger pan and brown and season all sides of the turkey. We used kosher salt, pepper, oregano and parsley.
4. Cook for 28 minutes our ~3 minutes per pound at high (15 psi) pressure. When the time is up use the natural release method.
5. Open the lid and carefully plate the turkey. You can also broil in the over for a few minutes for a crispy browned skin.
I hope this recipe was helpful and if you have any tips or questions please let us know.
Have a great Thanksgiving!
Thanks for reading.
"I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate." ~Julia ChildWhy learn pressure cooking?
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