Can You Steam a Turkey? Absolutely! Here’s How to Do It Like a Pro

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I receive a deluge of emails and Facebook messages this time of year from people wondering how to cook their Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey in a steam oven.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of some of the many ways you can cook turkey in a steam oven, but I really want to share my favorite way for roasting turkey in a steam oven, which makes the bird really juicy and tender throughout. To top it all off, my turkey has a deep brown maple glaze on the skin that gives the meat a little sweetness and depth that comes from using butter alone.

Before we start out today, I have to confess: I don’t actually roast a whole turkey very often. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is that it gets really hot here during the holiday season. And when I say hot, I mean sweltering.

Many of our Christmases have been spent in temperatures of 40°C (104°F) or higher, so the thought of a large bird sitting in the oven and adding to the already steamy house’s daylong heat is overwhelming. Typically, we have one or two hot centerpiece dishes along with festive salads, glazed and chilled ham, and seafood for our mostly cold meal. Some years it’s a perfectly roasted chicken, and other years it’s a stuffed and rolled turkey breast roast—both of which cook much faster than a large turkey. My Christmas steam oven cookbook has a recipe for a stuffed turkey breast that you can try.

Though I know that for many of you in the Northern Hemisphere, a whole magnificently roasted bird* on the table is a true Thanksgiving and Christmas staple, I do enjoy the spectacle of it. So this recipe is for you.

*Since we are celebrating the joy of delicious whole roasted turkeys, allow me to share with you an experience I had in my early twenties: a five-bird roast (think of it as turducken on steroids, plus a quail and a spatchcock thrown in for good measure). It was the worst experience of my cooking life. On the morning of our large Christmas party, I went to the fancy butcher to pick up the pre-ordered roast, only to find it was frozen solid instead of fresh as I had anticipated. All 10kg (22lb) of it. Then, I spent the entire day carefully tending to an icy mass of several stuffed birds in the laundry sink—the only area where I could fit the device to run water over the enormous frozen orb in the hopes of defrosting it sufficiently to put in the oven (food safety police, turn away now). After a few hours, I began cooking it, and after a few more hours, it was properly carved when it came out of the oven. I had a few too many cocktails while it roasted, so I’m not sure if it was delicious after the horror it had caused. However, all of our (also very inebriated) guests were ecstatic, and we still chuckle about it every December. By which I mean that while I cry in private out of embarrassment and shame over my botched beautiful showpiece roast, everyone else laughs. Ha.

· Moroccan couscous salad (make it without the lamb if you just want a side dish)

Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a kitchen newbie, the prospect of cooking a whole turkey can be daunting. But fear not, fellow foodies! Steaming your turkey is a fantastic way to achieve juicy, flavorful results without the stress of traditional roasting.

Why Steam Your Turkey?

Steaming offers several advantages over other cooking methods:

  • Moist and Tender Meat: The gentle heat of steam ensures that your turkey stays incredibly moist and tender, eliminating the risk of dry, overcooked meat.
  • Flavorful Skin: Steaming helps retain the natural juices and flavors of the turkey, resulting in a delicious and flavorful skin.
  • Healthier Option: Steaming requires minimal added fat, making it a healthier cooking method compared to roasting or frying.
  • Faster Cooking Time: Steaming can significantly reduce your cooking time compared to traditional roasting, especially in a steam oven.

Steaming a Turkey: Two Methods

There are two main methods for steaming a turkey:

Method 1: Steaming in a Pot

  1. Prepare the Turkey: Remove the giblets and neck from the turkey. Pat the skin dry with paper towels.
  2. Season the Turkey: Rub the turkey with salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings.
  3. Prepare the Pot: Fill a large pot with a few inches of water. Place a steamer basket or rack inside the pot.
  4. Add the Turkey: Place the turkey on the steamer basket, ensuring it’s not submerged in the water.
  5. Steam the Turkey: Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cover the pot and steam the turkey for approximately 30 minutes per pound.
  6. Check for Doneness: Use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F.
  7. Rest the Turkey: Remove the turkey from the pot and let it rest for 15-20 minutes before carving and serving.

Method 2: Steaming in a Steam Oven

  1. Prepare the Turkey: Follow steps 1 and 2 from the previous method.
  2. Preheat the Oven: Set your steam oven to 185°F (85°C).
  3. Place the Turkey: Place the turkey on a wire rack or perforated tray in the oven.
  4. Steam the Turkey: Steam the turkey for 40 minutes.
  5. Finish with Roast: Increase the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C) and switch to convection or regular oven mode.
  6. Brush with Glaze: Brush the turkey with a glaze of your choice (optional).
  7. Continue Roasting: Roast the turkey for an additional 1.5-2 hours, basting with glaze every 15 minutes.
  8. Check for Doneness: Use a meat thermometer to ensure the internal temperature of the thickest part of the thigh reaches 165°F.
  9. Rest the Turkey: Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes before carving and serving.

Tips for Steaming a Turkey

  • Use a fresh, high-quality turkey for the best flavor and texture.
  • Season the turkey generously with salt and pepper to enhance its natural flavors.
  • Consider adding herbs, spices, or aromatics to the water for additional flavor.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pot or steamer basket, as this can affect even cooking.
  • Check the water level during steaming and add more if necessary.
  • Let the turkey rest before carving to allow the juices to redistribute, resulting in a more tender and juicy bird.

Steaming your turkey is a fantastic way to achieve a delicious, moist, and flavorful bird. Whether you use a traditional pot or a steam oven, follow these tips and enjoy the benefits of this simple yet effective cooking method.

Three things you need to know about roasting a whole turkey (especially in your steam oven)

A few important things to keep in mind when roasting a turkey are ones I want to remind you of, or maybe explain to you for the first time if you’re new to this.

1. Turkey is not chicken.

It’s crucial to understand that when they arrive in your kitchen ready to be cooked, they may appear to be different sizes of the same bird. Don’t be fooled, though.

Turkey meat is denser and more fibrous than chicken. It’s notoriously hard to get right in terms of moisture retention, especially the white meat. This means that when roasting a whole bird, the white meat usually cooks well before it gets dark. This gets more pronounced the larger your bird is.

You can overcome the moisture and uneven cooking issues in several ways. One is simply to cook a smaller turkey (we’ll talk about that below). You can cover or stuff the breast with something fatty (bacon or butter are classics). Maybe you could joint the bird and cook each part separately—it would still taste good, but it wouldn’t look as good on the table.) Or you can butterfly the turkey and lay it flat in the oven, which makes cooking more even.

2. Turkey in a steam oven cooks MUCH faster than in a conventional oven.

If you’ve used a steam oven for any amount of time, you know that it can reduce the cooking time of your food by 30 to 50%.

For traditional roast poultry, the general guideline is 20 minutes for every half kilo (or pound), plus an additional 20 minutes to ensure everything is done. When it comes to the steam oven, you can completely disregard the timing: I’ve used combination steam to cook a 5 kg (11 lb) turkey in just over an hour. Allowing for 40 minutes resting before carving, that’s half the time I would otherwise need.

Because we’re going to steam the turkey first and then roast it without steam to finish, the recipe I’m giving you today doesn’t save as much time as if you just used a combi steam setting. However, you’ll still save roughly one-third of the time compared to the traditional method, which is great if you’re cooking the entire holiday meal and oven space is limited.

3. Temperature is everything.

I cannot stress this enough. Instead of depending on a precise cooking time, you should check the bird’s internal temperature to ensure the tastiest and most juicy meat. This is not unique to turkey, by the way. Cooking any meat to temperature eliminates all the guesswork and gives a much more reliable result.

Oven models differ significantly in terms of cooking times, and there are differences between them in terms of humidity, temperature accuracy, and oven size (the amount of hot air and steam that circulates around the turkey during cooking determines how long it takes).

However you’re cooking it, you want the thickest part of your turkey, between the breast and thigh, to cook to a temperature of 73-76⁰C (163-169⁰F). As the meat rests, the temperature should rise to 82-85⁰C (180-185⁰F), which is perfectly cooked. If you don’t have a digital probe thermometer, you can pick one up pretty cheaply online or from any good kitchen supplies store. Splash out for a better one if you’re planning to use it for more than just meat. I would not be without mine, using it for yoghurt making every week, the occasional sous vide experiment and various candies and desserts when time allows.

My favourite way to roast turkey in a steam oven

I’ve tried straight up combi steam, a combination of combi steam and conventional heat, and all sorts of ways to baste, flavour or enhance a whole turkey. Most were pretty successful, but the honour for the best and one of the simplest ways to cook a steam oven turkey goes to a steamed and roasted turkey, which Jacques Pepin shared in the New York Times several years ago.

In Pepin’s method, the turkey is steamed in a large pot before being placed in the oven, but if you own a steam oven, you can cook the turkey in the same pan the entire time without needing to transfer it. In reality, the bird is being very gently steamed to cook it about halfway through without losing any of the moisture that is so important. Then you’re finishing it with a conventional (dry) heat to cook through and brown and crisp the skin. You don’t lose out if your oven is a steam-only model instead of a combi steam model; simply transfer the cooked bird to your standard oven for the remaining cooking time.

For finishing, I like to use a glaze made of maple, Dijon mustard, and smoky paprika. It leaves the skin looking gorgeously glossy and has a perfect balance of sweet and savory flavors.

How to steam a whole turkey


How long can you steam turkey?

Put the turkey in the pot and add 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat so it is simmering, and steam for about 30 minutes.

Can you steam leftover turkey?

How do you reheat turkey without drying it out? The best way to make succulent, delicious leftover turkey is to create some steam and let the turkey warm up gently in the oven. This low and slow method is also great for feeding a crowd, because you can heat up many slices at once.

How do you reheat a turkey without drying it out?

Simply heat your oven to 300 degrees, put the carved meat in a baking dish, and add some chicken broth or turkey stock to the pan. The meat will absorb some of the liquid as it heats, making it nice and juicy. Cover the pan tightly with foil and place it in the oven until the meat is hot, 20 to 30 minutes.

What is the most common method for cooking a turkey?

The Classic Method: Roasted If it’s your first time cooking a turkey or if you’re aiming for foolproof rather than novel, you’ve got to go with the roasted turkey. This is your classic, basted bird stuffed with a bouquet of delectable aromatics or nothing at all, depending on your preferences.

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