In some ways, the turducken isn't as nontraditional as it sounds. Chefs have been using engastration (the technique of stuffing one kind of meat inside another) for centuries—at least since before Alexandre Grimod de La Reynière wrote L'Almanach des Gourmands in 1807. In the cookbook he describes rôti sans pareil—a roast without equal—consisting of a bustard stuffed with , including turkey, goose, pheasant, chicken, duck, guinea fowl, teal, woodcock, partridge, plover, lapwing, quail, thrush, lark, ortolan bunting, and garden warbler. Then there's the that Australian radio show staffers recently created, which uses 19 different kinds of meats all wrapped up in a pig carcass.
If you're not feeling quite so ambitious, best to start at Engastration 101: Turducken. To find out how it's done, PM talked to Mark Elia, a meat fabrication instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, who says he's made more than 300 turduckens in the past 15 years.
Step 1: Get Prepared.
When buying your birds, pay attention to proportions. Chef Elia recommends using a 3-pound chicken, a 6-pound duck, and an 18-pound turkey. "Those are the three sizes that work really well when you roll them all together," he says. A turkey that's stuffed with too much meat will stretch out or burst.
You're going to need dressing to slather between those layers; make it the day before you plan to roast your turducken. Chef Paul Prudhomme, who is sometimes credited as the inventor of the turducken, uses . to complement each layer, while stick to just one.
Step 2: Debone the Birds.
The deboning should also be done the day before roasting, and it's not terribly easy. The idea is to get the flesh off the bones in one piece. First, slice down the backbone of the turkey, through the skin and flesh. Then, using a very sharp 5-inch knife and working close to the bone, slowly and carefully remove the flesh using the tip of the knife. You'll have to dislocate and cut through the shoulder and thigh joints and remove those bones.
Be careful not to make any additional cuts in the skin, because those holes will expand during cooking and let out moisture. Repeat the process for the duck and chicken.
Pro tip: Prudhomme recommends setting aside plenty of time for this process. Food writer Amanda Hesser and paying a butcher to do it for you.
Step 3: Assemble the Layers.
When Thanksgiving Day rolls around and you're ready to cook your turducken, start by laying the limp turkey skin-down in a pan (the deboning process should leave you with skin on one side and flesh on the others). Season with salt and pepper and slather it in 8 to 9 cups of stuffing. Do the same for the duck meat, using 4 cups of stuffing. For the chicken use 3 cups.
Pro tip: "You should use enough stuffing so that when you roll it up, it looks like the bones are still there," Elia says. "You're replacing the volume of the bones you took out with stuffing." But if you add too much stuffing, the next step is going to be extra difficult, plus you'll risk bursting and stretching the meat.
Step 4: Reassemble the Birds.
Now comes the hard part. You're going to need a second pair of hands for this one, says Elia.
Roll the chicken up around the stuffing in the center of your meat pile, bringing the sides of the chicken back together so they meet in the middle. Use a skewer to hold the sides in place. Then roll the dressed duck up around the chicken ball. Secure the duck flaps with a skewer and remove the first skewer from the chicken. Do the same for the turkey layer but leave the skewer in. "You've gotta try to close that up as much as you can to keep everything together," says Elia, who uses butcher's twine to sew the halves together. "That's where you've got to be like a doctor."
Hesser also likes to use a carpet needle and twine to sew up her turducken. Start at the tail end, she writes, and pull the sides together. "Stitch the bird from side to side about an inch from each edge, pulling to tighten. Continue sewing up to the neck end, then tie off the string."
Pro tip: Before putting your Frankenstein creation into the oven, Elia recommends letting the meat reach room temperature. He lets his birds sit out for an hour and a half—because if you put it into the oven straight from the fridge, the meat is denser and takes much longer to cook.
Step 5: Put It in the Oven.
Cook your turducken with the breast side up. Baking times and temperatures vary. Elia bakes his turduckens at 225 F for 8 hours. recommend a hotter temperature (300 to 375 F) for 3 to 4 hours. As long as the center stuffing inside the chicken reaches 165 F, you should be fine. Baste it every 30 minutes or so.
After you pull it out of the oven, wait 30 minutes to an hour before you cut into it. The massive bird serves up to 30 people.
Step 6: Stuff Your Face. Repeat.
Supposedly making turduckens gets easier with practice. Once you've mastered it, advance to Engastration 201: .