Like they always do this time of year, several posts and recipes have been circulating through Pinterest and Facebook describing the wondrous miracle of making a whole turkey in a slow cooker. Having an unhealthy obsession with my own slow cooker, my interest was always piqued …but turkeys aren’t cheap. Last year however, we were blessed to be gifted not one but two beautiful 14 lb turkeys just in time for Thanksgiving. As far as I was concerned it was GAME ON! Although I wasn’t about to experiment on the gorgeous homegrown turkey, I was happy to do what I do best: Shove that bird’s butt full of whole onions, garlic and herbs, smear the skin allover with a garlic-herb infused salted butter, lower the whole massive slippery mess into a disposable roasting pan from the dollar store and pop it into the oven at 325 degrees.
I’ve been roasting turkeys for so many years now, it’s become second nature for me but my methods have evolved from the days when I’s just read the instructions on the slimy plastic wrapper. Back then I was like every other terrified new dead turkey wrestler: A deer in headlights. But I consulted the incredibly helpful instructions on the Butterball Turkey Website and guess what? I survived! And I’ve improved my birds over time by adding seasonings and fresh garlic. They come out moist and full of flavor with a crispy brown skin that tastes like angels singing… or at least what I imagine singing angels taste like. For clarification: I’ve never actually eaten an angel, singing or otherwise.
Once The roasted turkey had been successfully devoured, I turned my attention to our after-Thanksgiving “bonus bird”. Time to fire up the crockpot for some bird experimentation! …Wow. That sounded much less pervy in my head.
Keep in mind that I have an unusually huge 8 quart low cooker. Typical “large” slow cookers are only 6 quarts, so if you plan to try this yourself make sure you get a bird that’ll fit.
I had several recipes for “Crockpot Turkey” saved in Pinterest (I guess the proper term is “pinned”) but I chose to use a variation of this tutorial from Babble. I prepped the turkey exactly like the roasted one though: Onions, garlic cloves and herbs in the cavity, garlic herb salted butter on the skin. Then I placed it upside down in the slow cooker (the only way it would fit with the lid closed) with an entire can of chicken broth… because GRAVY.
When the meat was tender and falling off the bone, I carefully remove the turkey from the slow cooker…and it literally fell apart. I mean, a pile of lab-specimen level cleanly stripped bones amid a nest of juicy yummy meat…and a perfectly intact sheet of skin. I was tempted go all creepy “Silence of the Lambs” on a teddy bear or something, but I exercised a little self restraint.
Still, I had never had such an easy task of deboning a turkey in my entire life. The meat was incredibly tender and juicy too. The whole process of separating it into freezer bags took only minutes. The amount of meat seemed like much more than I had gotten from the roasted bird too… probably because a good portion of meat usually still comes off the roasted turkey when I boil the carcass for soup after the fact. The slow-cooked bird didn’t have a scrap of meat left anywhere on the carcass and bones. None. Nada. Nothing.
In the end, I can see pros and cons to both methods, depending on what you plan to use the resulting meat for. Roasting is traditional and the result is attractive on the table, but it takes much more effort (lugging that beast in and out of a hot oven, basting, carving, etc) and the leftover bones can be boiled into turkey soup (or at the very least turkey stock) further stretching it’s usefulness. The slow cooker turkey took next to no work at all since it doesn’t need to be monitored or basted and the amount of meat that self-deboned actually stocked the freezer with five meals (Turkey with mash potatoes and gravy, two pans of turkey enchiladas and two turkey pot pies)… not bad! But the resulting meat definitely wasn’t pretty to look at when plated on the table and the leftover carcass was definitely *not* soup material. Sidenote: Both birds provided plenty of juices to make gravy. That part was a tie.
In conclusion: If you want convenience and loose meat to cook into multiple recipes, I highly recommend popping ol’ Turkey Lurkie into the crock. But if you like crispy skin and want a crowd pleaser that looks pretty on the table, screams “tradition” and makes a mean soup afterward, preheat the oven.