How to Cook a Small Turkey
November 21, 2018 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow I am roasting a turkey for only the second time in my life. It is a whole Swedish turkey that is only 8.26 pounds. That is the perfect size for my family, but all the recipes I have found online seem to be for turkeys that are twice as large. How do I make this edible?

I cannot brine it, I will not barbecue it, and no deep-fat frying will be happing. I am just going to roast it. I did see this AskMe from 2012 but the recipe recommended was for a 16-pound bird.

MeFites, I need you to think small. Please give me your best tips, advice, and recipes for this teeny turkey. It will be my son-in-law's very first turkey and very first Thanksgiving. Please help me make it a success!
posted by Bella Donna to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's the same principle as a big bird. 325 at 15 minutes per lb. I rub mine with butter (missed with poultry seasoning or sage), including under skin and loosely stuff with celery carrot onion. I use wine to baste. I often boil the neck and any gizzards with celery onion carrot as a stick to make gravy with. I usually cover for half cooking time, and uncovered second half.
posted by Ftsqg at 1:08 PM on November 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Spatchcock it, spatchcock it, spatchcock it. And buy a thermometer to check doneness - its' more accurate than time.
posted by nerdfish at 1:12 PM on November 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

8 pounds is a pretty small turkey or a pretty big chicken. You might try choosing the seasonings from a turkey recipe and the oven temperature and timing from a chicken recipe.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:13 PM on November 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

Do you have a meat thermometer? Telling the done-ness of a big bird is no easier than a little one. Internal temp is the surest measure.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:16 PM on November 21, 2018

Do you have a meat thermometer, and do you know how to use it? Proper poultry temperature is the same no matter what bird you're cooking, so use whatever recipe you like and just make sure you get the right temperatures. USDA recommends 180F for dark meat, so what you would want to do is put the thermometer in the thigh as near to the "hip" joint as possible without actually hitting bone and pull it out of the oven when you reach 170F. Let it sit on the counter uncovered for about 15 minutes and it will stabilize to 180F.

My favorite way to cook birds is to salt it the day before (that would be today!) - give the skin a good hit of salt, put some in the cavity, and let it rest on a rack in the fridge uncovered overnight. This will dry out the skin a little bit and help it crisp up. When you're ready to put it in the oven, brush the whole thing with oil and crack some pepper over it. Easy.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:18 PM on November 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh yeah, lower temperatures will also help keep things from overcooking. 325F is a good number for this size bird, especially if you salt it today. I've tried doing the trick of starting it in a super hot oven and reducing the temperature, but for the amount of time that the bird will be in the oven what you end up doing is crisping (or burning!) the skin very quickly and then steaming it from underneath as the meat gives up moisture, which makes it sad and flabby again.
posted by backseatpilot at 1:22 PM on November 21, 2018

Counterintuitively, I had a lot of success using the Barbara Kafka high-heat roasting method for a small turkey like that!
posted by exceptinsects at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Let go room temp for an hour before putting it in the oven. While it’s comibg to room temp, let it be slathered in a salty herb rub.

I would slow roast it at 300 and blast it on high at the end to crisp (use your meat thermoneter!) or use tge high heat method mentioned above. Yes, treat it like a large chicken. I find you get a better doneness on all meat/poulty by letting it come to room temp before cooking.
posted by jbenben at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2018

You have an excellent size. Not a problem about dry brining because simple roasting is the way to go. A modification of Ina Garten's perfect roast chicken recipe is the way to roll, if you do not want to spatchcock the bird. Anyway, what I do with your size of bird:

1) flavored butter underneath the skin with some a splash of soy sauce;
2) melted butter, and oil of choice with soy sauce brushed on the skin which is then finished with the juice of one lemon squeezed over the skin and the lemon then shoved into the cavity;
3) cavity is heavily salted and peppered before shoving garlic bulb halves; herbs of choice and cut up lemons. Be sure to drizzle in the butter soy concoction;
4) bird is roasting on top of sliced onions and carrots or any vegetables that would be fabu for your gravy;
5) bottom of roasting pan has liquids made up stock and white wine so that your gravy has a good start and the steam from the liquids tenderize the bird;

Your size of bird falls under capon size and I am throwing my links at you from Ina Garten whose recipes are BULLETPROOF which is what you want for the holidays. Also, her cocktail recipes are easy, too.

Barefoot Contessa Capon

Barefoot Roast Chicken
posted by jadepearl at 1:32 PM on November 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

People make this SO COMPLICATED. It's a big chicken and doesn't need to be more complicated than that. Rub it with butter if it makes you feel more like you're doing something special, but put it in a roasting dish, cover it in foil, and roast it at 350 for 20 minutes per pound. Remove the foil for the last 30 minutes. That's it -- no turning, deboning, basting or anything else.

You can toss par-boiled carrots and sprouts in olive oil and roast them in the pan too, if you want.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2018 [8 favorites]

The way heat conduction works, if you have an accurate thermometer, you actually want the fastest cooking method you can use. Do not trust any minutes per pound, those rules of thumb are approximate at best. If you don't have a quality probe thermometer, you'll have to go by the wiggle of the leg, and by the juices, which will run clear, not cloudy and red, when it's done.

The only reason slow roasting works well for a large turkey is that high heat overcooks the outside by the time the inside is done. With 8 lbs. you can, somewhat paradoxically, increase the heat. You will need to cook to a slightly higher temperature, because the reduced thermal mass will mean less carryover. I would go to 170F at the thickest part of the thigh. Tenting the breast with foil will help keep it moister, since it will taste better around 165F finishing temperature (whole turkey is really difficult to cook just right).

Brining is helpful but if you can't do it be sure to salt the bird well (inside and out, a full tablespoon) as soon as you can get it out of the fridge. Do make sure that it is thawed throughout, though again, with 8 lbs. it's not going to be nearly the ordeal to run it under cool water.
posted by wnissen at 2:19 PM on November 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

The latest Binging With Babish recipe may be the way to go - he doesn't deep fry it or brine it, he just roasts it over a bed of chopped root vegetables, with a few strips of bacon draped over it for the first half hour or so.

He suggests doing something kinda unusual with the stuffing - making a sort of parcel of cheesecloth-wrapped stuffing for inside the turkey, then taking it out after the first half hour and finishing it in a pan - but that seems more suited for a bigger bird, and it's his attempt to get some of the stuffing saturated with turkey juice but then having it cook to the proper temp later on, so just skip it entirely (maybe shove an onion and a handful of sage inside the cavity to hold its shape and impart a little flavor; discard that stuff before serving and carving). Everything else about this recipe is not that much different from roasting a chicken (rub herbs and salt under the skin, roast in oven, voila).

The recipe says to season the turkey and then let it sit for 24 hours, and it may be too late for a full 24 hours - but I suspect that this will not make much difference.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:22 PM on November 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I also would spatchcock it and cook like a big chicken, and if you can't spatchcock it then cook it like a large intact chicken.

I personally like dry brining (that means putting salt on it for a period of time). I don't even like turkey that much so I cook beef and chicken for the holiday weekend and I sous vide the beef and dry brine the chicken.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:24 PM on November 21, 2018

I decided this is something I could overthink, so I tried to work out a square-cube-law relation between an 8 pound turkey and a 16 pound one, but I can say that, within the extravagant margins of error allowed by cooking turkey, anything in a recipe for a 16 pound turkey calls for should, for an 8 pounder, be reduced by either 1/3rd-to-2/5ths or by half, based on this:

If it's something to do with the surface area of the turkey, reduce by 37%. Well, don't take out your calculator, just eyeball a third less, and then take away a little more. If you do use 2/5ths less, plus a little, you're also on the money. Surface area stuff includes: Butter under the skin, dry brine amount, anything applied to the surface such as salt, baking powder, herbs, bacon, rub, whathaveyou.

If it's something to do with the volume of the turkey, reduce by half exactly. Why exactly? Because you told use that's the ratio from a 16 pounder to your 8 pounder, and mass goes as volume. Volume things include: stuffing or aeromatics going into in the cavity, cook time, anything injected.

If you can think of anything to do with the length, or width, or height of the turkey, it should be reduced by roughly 21%. Again, roughly; this is alchemy, not chemistry.

The only exception that comes to mind is the time to brown the skin-- that takes the time it takes. Happy Thanksgiving!
posted by Sunburnt at 7:44 PM on November 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Use a rack so it roasts and so you get delicious pan droppings for gravy. I like turkey; I love good gravy. If you don't have a rack, use the biggest carrots you've got; they will be delicious. Baste a little with turkey or chicken stock and fat(butter, chicken fat)

Make a little broth from the giblets.

Make a roux. Equal parts flour and fat, cooked until golden or a bit darker.

When the bird is done, put it on a plate to rest. Add water or stock to the pan, put it on a burner, scrape all the bits, cook a little. Add white wine or sherry, salt, pepper, maybe herbs. Add the roux in small amounts, it will thicken over a couple minutes, so take it slow. Whisk. Strain. Gravy will be the hero of the meal.

The bones, fat, and bits make delicious stock.
posted by theora55 at 6:00 AM on November 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

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