Books on medieval cooking abound in complicated recipes directing you to sew different animals together or stuff them inside larger animals. There’s something oddly compelling about these cooking projects. It’s not just their sheer novelty, it’s to prove that such culinary feats taste great. Here’s a contemporary version made with boneless birds: a turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. Turducken is wildly popular in Louisiana, and we’ve put Cajun flavors in the foreground of our grilled version. From the outside, the turducken looks like a relatively normal roasted turkey. But when you cut into the bird, you see three different meats and various stuffings. We use a sausage-cornbread stuffing and an oyster stuffing. And we’ve added to the fun by stuffing a few hard-cooked eggs in the very center. Traditional Cajun turducken is roasted in a low oven for several hours. But with that method, the duck and chicken are essentially steamed inside the turkey. On the grill, we experimented with searing the duck and chicken to develop more flavor in the meat. It worked wonders. We also decided to drain some of the excess fat from the duck before assembling the whole thing. Turducken makes a spicy – and impressive – alternative to the traditional holiday turkey. Start the recipe at least a day ahead so you have time to bone the birds, make the stuffings, and assemble the beast. Plus, it takes about 8 hours to cook on the grill. If you prep the entire day before, assemble the turducken very early the next morning, and get it on the grill by 8 a.m., you’ll be carving the roast by 4 or 5 p.m.
Prep: About 4 hours
Simmer: 3 hours
Cook: About 1 hour
Soak wood chips: 1 hour
Grill: About 8 hours.
BBQ TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
– Heavy-duty thread and large needle, preferably curved (an upholstery needle works great)
– Heavy-duty roasting pan with roasting rack
– Heat-resistant grill mitts, preferably silicone
– 5 cups wood chunks or chips (apple and/or cherry)
– Smoker box or foil packet, if using a gas grill.
1 to 2 days ahead:
– Prick the duck skin.
– Debone and season the birds (refrigerate).
– Make the stock (refrigerate or freeze leftovers).
– Prepare the two stuffings (refrigerate).
– Layer the cornbread stuffing on the turkey (refrigerate).
12 hours ahead:
– Sear the chicken and duck.
– Assemble the turducken.
8 hours ahead:
– Grill-roast the turducken.
30 minutes ahead:
– Bake the extra stuffings.
– Make the gravy.
– If you really want to go all out, cook the eggs on the grill instead of in boiling water. To allow steam to escape, poke a hole in the large end of each egg with a needle. Put the pricked whole eggs in their shells over direct medium heat on the grill. Cook until lightly browned all over and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes, turning often. Spin an egg on a flat surface to test it. If it spins without wobbling, it’s done. If it wobbles, grill for another minute or so.
Direct heat, high (450° to 500°F), and indirect heat, medium-low (250° to 300°F)
Large 3- or 4-burner grill – middle burner(s) off
2-burner grill-1 side off
Clean, oiled grate
Direct heat, red hot, and indirect heat, thick ash
Charcoal bed to one side (about 2 dozen coals on one side)
80 replacement coals
Heavy-duty drip pan set on empty side of grill
Clean, oiled grate on medium setting.
INGREDIENTS (MAKES ABOUT 20 SERVINGS)
For the birds:
1 fresh chicken, 3 to 4 pounds
1 fresh Muscovy duckling, 5 to 6 pounds (see Tips)
1 fresh turkey, 16 to 20 pounds
1½ cups Cajun Blackening Rub
Oil for coating grill grate
For the stock:
Carcasses from boned turkey, duck, and chicken
1 large onion, quartered
1 large carrot, quartered
1 large rib celery, quartered
About 2 gallons water
8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
8 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons kosher salt
For the cornbread:
1 cup buttermilk
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) butter, melted, or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup yellow cornmeal (stone-ground is best)
1 cup all-purpose flour
For the stuffings:
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 large loaf (1 to 1½ pounds) Italian or French bread, cut into ¼ to ½-inch cubes
2 cups pecans
1½ pounds andouille or other fresh spicy pork sausage
5 onions, chopped
5 ribs celery, chopped
3 bell peppers (a mix of colors), seeded and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons dried sage
2 teaspoons dried savory
2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 dozen oysters, shucked (see Tips)
4 eggs, beaten
2 to 4 hard-cooked eggs (see Tips)
For the gravy:
1½ tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in ¾ cup cold water Kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste.
ASSEMBLING THE TURDUCKEN
1. Season the boneless birds.
2. Stuff the turkey legs and wings.
3. Put the duck on the turkey and spread with stuffing.
4. Put the chicken on the duck and spread with stuffing.
5. Center the hard-cooked eggs over the stuffing on the chicken.
6. Fold up the chicken.
7. Fold up the duck.
8. Fold up the turkey.
9. Sew up the back of the turkey.
10. Turn the turkey right-side up and truss with twine.
STRUCTURE OF THE TURDUCKEN
2. Cornbread stuffing
4. Oyster stuffing
6. Hard-cooked eggs.
– For information on types of ducklings, see the introduction to the Smoky Barbecued Duck recipe. Either a Long Island or Muscovy duck will work here, but a Muscovy is preferred because it is less fatty. If using a Long Island duck, dry out the skin.
– This recipe calls for making poultry stock, since you have the bones anyway. But you could use about 10 cups (2½ quarts) prepared chicken stock if you prefer.
– We make the two stuffings simultaneously in separate pans, since many of the same ingredients are used in both stuffings. If you have only one large sauté pan, make the two stuffings sequentially, wiping out the pan between batches.
– You’ll have enough work to do in this recipe, so ask your fishmonger to shuck the oysters for you, saving the oyster juices or “liquor” so you can moisten the stuffing with it. Or to shuck the oysters yourself, cover your hand with a thick dish towel or oven mitt to protect it, and set a medium bowl on a work surface. Put an oyster in the towel in the palm of your hand and work over the bowl to catch the oyster juices. Dig the tip of an oyster knife or a pointy can opener deeply into the hinge of the oyster shell, then pry open and pop the two halves loose. Slide the oyster knife or a dull knife such as a butter knife all the way under the oyster meat as close to the shell as possible, cutting the meat from the shell. Don’t use a sharp knife here, since it could easily cut you. If you can’t find fresh oysters in the shell, use about 1 pint raw oysters. Drain the raw oysters before adding them to the stuffing, and save the liquid for moistening the stuffing.
– Two to four hard cooked eggs will fit inside the chicken depending on the bird’s size. To hard-cook the eggs for the center of the turducken, put the eggs in a single layer in a saucepan and cover with 1 inch of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. When the water begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain and fill the pan with a few changes of cold water to stop the cooking. Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
– If you’re using a kettle grill, position the grill lid so that its vents are directly over the food but opposite the coals. That way the smoke is drawn from the coals over the food on its way out the vents.
– To easily remove the excess fat from the drippings, use a fat separator (available in most grocery stores). The fat will rise to the top and you can pour the drippings out from the bottom. Barring that, siphon off the fat with a turkey baster or ladle it off with a spoon.
1. For the birds: The day before, remove the giblets from the chicken, duck, and turkey and reserve for another use. Remove any visible pockets of fat, especially from the duck, and rinse the birds inside and out. Pat the birds dry with paper towels. Heat a kettle of water to boiling. Poke the skin of the duck deeply with a fork, especially where there are noticeable fat deposits around the legs and along the sides of the breast. Put the duck, breast-side up, in a strainer set in a sink. Slowly pour the boiling water over the duck. This process helps remove some of the excess duck fat. Pat the duck dry.
2. Debone the birds. The goal is to remove the bones without cutting through the skin. Debone the chicken and duck first to practice. Any mistakes there will be hidden inside the turkey. When deboning the turkey, debone the wings to the first joint only. Refrigerate each bird on a rimmed baking sheet before and after deboning.
3. Once they are deboned, open the birds up on their baking sheets and sprinkle about ¼ cup of the blackening rub all over the chicken, ¼ cup all over the duck, and ¼ cup over just the exposed meat of the turkey (not the skin), patting the spices in with your fingers. Cover the turkey and chicken tightly. Leave the duck uncovered and refrigerate all the birds overnight. Leaving the duck uncovered, skinside up, helps to dry out the skin.
4. For the stock, preheat the oven to 400°F. After boning the birds, put the bones in a large roasting pan along with the onion, carrot, and celery. Roast until the bones are deeply browned, about 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Transfer the bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Pour 1 cup water into the hot roasting pan and scrape the bottom to release the browned bits. Add the liquid to the stockpot along with enough water to cover the bones (about 2 gallons). Tie the parsley, thyme, and bay leaves with kitchen string, a clean twist tie, or in cheesecloth and add to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the liquid is reduced by nearly half its original volume, about 3 hours. Skim the surface occasionally. Strain, stir in the salt, and let cool. Pour into airtight containers and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. (Makes about 1 gallon total.)
5. For the cornbread: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Grease a 10-inch round cast-iron skillet or 1½-quart baking dish. Whisk the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl until blended. Scatter the baking powder over the top and whisk until blended. Mix in the cornmeal and flour, gently stirring until the batter is almost free of lumps. Pour into the skillet or dish and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely on a rack.
6. For the stuffings: Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Melt another 2 tablespoons butter in another large, deep sauté pan over medium heat (if you have only one pan, see Tips at left). When melted and hot, crumble the cornbread into one pan and put the Italian or French bread cubes in the other. Toast the bread in the pans, shaking occasionally, until lightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove to separate large bowls.
7. Return one pan to medium heat and add the pecans. Toast the pecans in the pan, shaking occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to a cutting board, let cool, and chop coarsely.
8. Return the pecan pan to medium-high heat. Cut the sausage into small cubes or remove from its casing (if necessary) and add to the pan. Cook, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until lightly browned all over and the fat begins to render, 5 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, return the other sauté pan to medium-high heat so that you can prepare both stuffings simultaneously. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in that pan, then divide the onions, celery, bell peppers, and garlic between the 2 pans. Cook until the vegetables are tender, 8 to 12 minutes. Divide the parsley, sage, savory, thyme, paprika, salt, black pepper, and cayenne between the 2 pans. Stir until heated through, then remove the pans from the heat. Stir the sausage stuffing mixture into the cornbread crumbs in the bowl. Stir the other stuffing mixture into the Italian or French bread cubes in the other bowl. Stir the oysters into the bowl with the bread cubes. Add enough of the prepared poultry stock to the oyster juices to equal 1 cup. Drizzle the liquid over the oyster stuffing, stirring it in along with 2 of the beaten eggs. Drizzle about 1 cup of the poultry stock over the cornbread-sausage stuffing, stirring it in along with the remaining 2 beaten eggs.
9. Remove the turkey from the refrigerator and open up the bird as flat as possible. Stuff the leg and wing cavities with the cornbread-sausage stuffing, pushing it in with your hands and the handle of a wooden spoon or other narrow tool. Use enough stuffing so that the legs and wings are propped up and look as if they have bones, 1 to 2 cups per cavity. Spread 2 to 3 cups of the remaining cornbread stuffing over the exposed turkey meat, patting it into an even layer about ½ to ¾ inch thick. You should have 6 to 8 cups of cornbread stuffing left over. Tightly cover the turkey and remaining stuffing and refrigerate overnight.
10. Ten to twelve hours before serving time: Heat the grill as directed for high direct heat. Remove the chicken, duck, and stuffings from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before grilling.
11. Brush the grill grate and coat it with oil. Put the boneless duck, skin-side down, on the grill directly over the heat. Cook just until the meat is seared on both sides but not cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Repeat with the boneless chicken. Remove the birds to foil-covered baking sheets.
12. To assemble the turducken, remove the stuffed turkey from the refrigerator. It should be flat, with the skin side down and the stuffing facing up. Put the seared boneless duck, skin-side down, over the stuffing on the turkey and spread the duck as flat as possible. Spread about 4 cups of oyster stuffing over the duck meat, patting it into an even layer about ½ to ¾ inch thick. You should have 6 to 8 cups of oyster stuffing left over. Cover and refrigerate the remaining stuffing.
13. Put the seared boneless chicken, skin-side down, over the stuffing on the duck and spread the chicken as flat as possible. Spread 3 to 4 cups of the remaining cornbread-sausage stuffing over the chicken meat, patting it into an even layer about ½ to ¾ inch thick. You should have 3 to 4 cups of cornbread-sausage stuffing left over; cover and refrigerate it. Peel the hard-cooked eggs under cool running water. Center the eggs on the chicken over the stuffing; the eggs should be in a horizontal row.
14. Grab one side of the chicken and stuffing and fold it tightly over the horizontal row of eggs. It should fold almost to the opposite side of the row of eggs. Repeat with the other side of the chicken, folding it tightly over the first side. Next, fold one side of the duck tightly over the chicken, holding the stuffed chicken firmly in place. Fold the other side of the duck tightly over the chicken, still holding the chicken firmly in place. Finally, fold one side of the turkey over the duck, holding the stuffed duck firmly in place. Fold the other side of the turkey over the duck, still holding the duck firmly in place. The two sides of the turkey should reach each other in the middle.
15. Sew up the back of the turkey, using a large, sturdy needle and heavy-duty thread, starting at the neck and ending at the tail. Stitch the openings as tightly as possible. Sprinkle with about 1/3 cup of the remaining blackening rub, patting it in with your fingers. Turn the turkey breast-side up, then sprinkle with all but 1 tablespoon of the remaining rub; reserve the 1 tablesppon for the gravy. Tie the ends of the drumsticks together with kitchen twine and form the turkey into a natural turkey shape; tie lengths of twine around the middle of the turkey to secure it.
16. Soak the wood chips in water for 1 hour. Heat the grill as directed for medium-low indirect heat. Drain about 1 cup of wood chips and scatter them over the coals on the grill. If using gas, drain the wood chips and put them in a smoker box or in a perforated foil packet directly over one of the heated burners. Heat the gas grill to high until you see plenty of smoke, then turn the heat to low.
17. Put the turducken breast-side up on the roasting rack in the roasting pan. Put the roasting pan on the grill away from the heat, cover the grill, and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the turducken registers about 165°F, about 7 to 8 hours. If your grill has a temperature gauge, it should stay between 250° and 300°F. If you are using charcoal, you will have to replenish the coals every hour or so. Also replenish the wood chips or chunks every hour or so. For the most even browning, rotate the pan a few times during cooking. If the turducken browns too soon, lower the heat and cover the bird with foil.
18. About 15 minutes before the turkey reaches temperature, heat the oven to 350°F. Remove the extra stuffings from the refrigerator. Moisten the cornbread stuffing with ½ to 1 cup poultry stock (more if you like very moist stuffing). Moisten the oyster stuffing with 1½ to 2 cups poultry stock. Scrape the cornbread stuffing into a 1-quart baking dish and the oyster stuffing into a 2-quart baking dish. Bake until the tops are browned and the stuffings are heated through, 15 to 30 minutes (less for the cornbread stuffing, more for the oyster stuffing).
19. When the turkey reaches doneness, use grill mitts to remove it to a carving board, and cover it with foil to keep warm. Let rest for about 30 minutes. Remove the rack from the roasting pan and spoon off or drain all but about ½ cup of fat from the drippings (see Tips).
20. For the gravy, put the roasting pan of drippings on a burner heated to medium. Add 5 cups of the poultry stock and the reserved tablespoon of blackening rub. Bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Boil for 5 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Strain into a gravy boat.
21. To carve the turducken, remove the twine. Remove the legs and wings and cut into sections. Grab one end of the thread that is stitching up the back and pull; it will all come out. Cut the turducken in half lengthwise, then slice the breast crosswise in straight slices from one side to the other; because all of the bones have been removed, you will get perfect slices surrounding layers of meat and stuffing with a core of hard-cooked eggs. Serve with the gravy and extra baked stuffings.