Heirloom Recipes

Why You Should Make a Turducken (Even if You Don't Want to Eat it by the End)

November 11, 2015

Thanksgiving of 2005 was my happiest and most memorable ever. We made a Turducken. It was terrible.

I was 23, working out of a cubicle, running numbers on car lease portfolios and thinking about second careers—when I heard tell of a recipe that, for some unholy reason, called for stuffing a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey. (I would later realize this could be directly attributed to my future boss, who had reported on turducken for the New York Times three years earlier, thereby making "engastration" a part of our national dialogue.)

I became obsessed with cooking this thing at our next Thanksgiving, and making my family help. They were amused, and agreed that we could skip a year with the usual turkey and cornbread stuffing and giblet gravy. And then we realized what was involved.

This x100 is what Turducken prep will look like. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Have you ever thought through not just the physical logistics of making a turducken, but the calendaring? If you count backward from dinnertime on Thursday, your turducken will need to cook at 225° F for 8 hours. Before that, you will need to have manually deboned, stacked, rolled, and sewed back together three birds such that they look like the original turkey, but fatter, lumpier. The deboning takes a good couple hours for two amateurs, requires sharp knives, probing fingers, and a hammer, and will get fragments of meat and bone and skin on more surfaces of your kitchen than you will be prepared for.

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Before that, you will have to have already made and cooled the three different stuffings, which will have required baking cornbread, staling and crumbling 14 cups of breadcrumbs, dicing 12 cups of onions, 9 of celery, and 8 of green bell peppers, making stock, and other sundry prep. And before that, there's the sourcing: the grocery shopping for the birds, the andouille, the meat needle.

Day before Turducken Day, 2005. Chips for sustenance. Photo by Billy Miglore

I knew I couldn't just show up on the big day, so I spent one of my five allotted vacation days for the year to come home and pull my weight in the Turducken operation. We cooked for two straight days, then invited all our closest friends and their dogs over for the big event.

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Top Comment:
“Okay, my dad mentioned the Turducken a few months ago (he had just heard about it and was asking if I knew what it was). And now I've decided I have to try to make it with him one year! Loved this post, Kristen.”
— Ileana M.

Finally, it was done and we carved into it, and it had worked! The innermost bird wasn't raw! It sort of held together! It looked like a turkey, but you could slice it like a meatloaf!

My dad and I figuring out how to debone birds, 2005. (Hey, you were wearing purple track suits then, too.) Photo by Billy Miglore

And the taste? One indistinct mush of Cajun spice and starch and bird, with no crispy skin or crunchy corner piece of stuffing to liven up the experience. Everyone sort of wished there were regular turkey. Instead, there was a lot of this other thing.

But we'd had the most fun that year, laughing, butchering, drinking, dancing, and not fighting. We've bragged about the feat to all our friends, referenced it in family emails for a decade, threatened to make it when traveling overseas.

So why does a not-very-good turducken that eats up time and resources and is much, much less than the sum of its parts make for the best Thanksgiving?

With a brand-new project, you are very much in it together, and if it turns out badly, it's no one's fault. It's the recipe's! (This is why I've always been more comfortable entertaining when I'm "recipe testing." I recommend this.) You aren't playing into the classic politics and gamifying of family tradition—I'm making the mashed potatoes my way this year. He is the one who overcooked the turkey and she botched Grandmother's hallowed stuffing recipe. You threw away the potato cooking water again.

Just like pulling all-nighters together in college or running a Tough Mudder or working at a food/lifestyle/ecommerce company during the holidays, Turducken can bond people in ways that no low-stakes, low-effort activity can. Do I remember regular, old Thanksgiving 2004 or 2006 or 2010? Nope.

Photo by Billy Miglore

I'd wager that the tint and salience of those memories is even better when you fail together, for the sake of the story, the writing of family history, the camaraderie—if not for the sake of the meal. It's the stories of shared hardship and charming disasters and flaws that unite us—the misguided haircuts and faux-pas housewarming gifts, the smoke alarms and shattered casserole dishes.

But Turducken wasn't just about collegial growth, it was personal. Turducken is how I discovered that butchering isn't icky, it's soothing—before I went to culinary school or worked in a restaurant kitchen, or even cooked anything that had bones or skin on my own. It's how I discovered that I loved getting lost in a cooking project and dissecting its story, and it's how I realized how much I like writing about food. During a lull in the process, I cracked a beer and wrote a lengthy MySpace wall post about it—ostensibly the first thing I published on the internet about food.

We'll always remember the cherpumples and the squashduckens, no matter how they taste. The taste is not the point. This year, I'm hoping I can talk the family into this.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cookcooks
  • Catherine Lamb
    Catherine Lamb
  • SarahBunny
  • Ileana Morales Valentine
    Ileana Morales Valentine
  • Ali Slagle
    Ali Slagle
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


cookcooks November 2, 2022
I have made one three times all by myself. You are correct, it is an AMAZING amount of work. I thought it was delicious with the Sweet Potato Eggplant Gravy. I will never make it again the work is a killer.
People always say they "made a turducken", but they are speaking of the store-bought ones that (just turkey, one stuffing) they merely popped in the oven. I am happy to hear of someone that has actually made a real one besides me.
Catherine L. November 16, 2015
Love everything about this post.
SarahBunny November 15, 2015
Yes, yes, yes to using entertaining as a platform to test recipes and techniques! Extra points for the outrageous (turducken) or exotic. I pull out the rudimentary recipes and techniques I learned on a Moroccan trip for my guests all the time. I'm sure the results would make a real dada cringe. My friends and family love the novelty, though, and I have fun getting crazy with the fusion of food traditions.
Ileana M. November 13, 2015
Okay, my dad mentioned the Turducken a few months ago (he had just heard about it and was asking if I knew what it was). And now I've decided I have to try to make it with him one year! Loved this post, Kristen.
Kristen M. November 13, 2015
This makes me so happy!
Ali S. November 11, 2015
Link us with the Myspace post.
Kristen M. November 11, 2015
I looked—I don't think MySpace has "walls" anymore :( I can tell you it probably had a lot of early millenial jargon.
Catherine L. November 16, 2015
I second Ali's demand. I want jargon.
krokadil November 11, 2015
This was a really sweet story - thanks so much for sharing! Well-meaning failsplosions make the best memories!
Kristen M. November 11, 2015
Favorite new word: failsplosions.