Slow cooker preparation isn't recommended for whole turkeys, because it takes too much time for the center of the meat to reach a safe temperature. However, a turkey breast is moist and flavorful when roasted in a slow cooker, and as an added benefit, you aren't required to spend the entire day in the kitchen. Spend the day at work or having family fun, and return home to a fully-cooked turkey. Take a shortcut to enhanced flavor by using salad dressing and seasoning mix in the slow cooker with the turkey. Always follow safe cooking methods and temperature guidelines to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
Thaw the turkey before placing it in the slow cooker. Attempting to thaw a bird in a slow cooker increases the risk of food poisoning. If you have time, thaw the turkey on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, allowing a full day for every 5 lbs. of turkey. If you don't have time for refrigerator thawing, thaw the turkey in cold water, which takes about 30 minutes for every 1 lb. of turkey. Refresh the water with new cold water every 30 minutes. Never thaw a turkey in warm water or at room temperature. Once the bird is thawed, cook it immediately or store it in your refrigerator until you're ready to cook it.
Choose the right size turkey or turkey breast for your slow cooker. Overfilling the slow cooker increases the chance that the meat won't cook evenly and thoroughly, increasing opportunities for bacteria to develop. To be safe, fill your slow cooker no more than two-thirds full. Similarly, don't under-fill the slow cooker, as a pot that's less than half full causes food to become dry and overcooked.
Time and Temperature
Cook the turkey on the high setting for the first 60 to 90 minutes so the meat reaches a safe minimum temperature of 145 F. To test the temperature, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the turkey. Once the meat reaches 145 F, the turkey can be cooked on either low or high. If you plan to be away, use the low setting to prevent the meat from drying out and sticking to the pot. As a general rule, a small, whole turkey or turkey breast cooks in about 7 to 8 hours on low, and 3 to 4 hours on high. Test for doneness with a meat thermometer. The turkey is done when the thickest part of the turkey registers 174 F.
For succulent turkey in the slow cooker, brush the bird with a mixture of melted butter and herb seasonings such as dry salad dressing and seasoning mix when you put it into the cooker. A slow cooker also works for a one-dish meal consisting of turkey breast and vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots and onions. Put the vegetables in the pot last, because they cook in less time than the meat. Stir together a can of chicken broth and a can of cream soup with dry salad dressing and dip mix to make a savory sauce. Once you turn on the slow cooker, don't be tempted to lift the lid unnecessarily. Each time you lift the lid the temperature inside the slow cooker drops by 20 to 30 degrees, and the overall cooking time will be increased.
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- University of Illinois Extension; Slow Cookers Provide Tasty Cold Weather Meals; March 2008
- University of Kentucky College of Agriculture: Putting Your Crock Pot to Work
- University of Nebraska Extension; Slow Cooker Magic; Debra E. Schroeder; March 2010
- U.S. Department of Agriculture; Slow Cookers and Food Safety; February 2009
- Pillsbury: Slow Cooker Turkey Breast
- University of Illinois Extension; Turkey for the Holidays: Thawing Safely; 2011
- Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images