French for “under vacuum,” the sous vide cooking method involves vacuum-sealing food into a bag and placing it into a temperature-controlled water bath. It has a handful of benefits: the specific, steady water temperature and lack of air pockets around the food ensures it cooks evenly all the way through – something that’s difficult to do on a stovetop or grill. And when you’re busy puttering around the kitchen preparing other dishes, you’ll love that the sous vide lets you set it and forget it – streamlining your prep time and keeping the oven free for other dishes.
While roasted turkey can sometimes end up dry and tough, the sous vide method guarantees juicy, tender turkey breast (or a whole turkey, if you have a big enough pot) that your guests will love.
In this guide, we’re walking you through how to make a moist sous vide Thanksgiving turkey breast without sacrificing the crispy turkey skin that many people love about a classic oven-roasted turkey—all without the worry of plastic leaching into your food (and then ultimately the ocean).
Why Should You Sous Vide Turkey?
Roasting a whole turkey in the oven can be fickle and frustrating. For one thing, many oven temperatures aren’t actually very accurate and the heat isn’t always evenly distributed, making it difficult to know exactly how your turkey will turn out. And turkey itself can be tricky: white meat (like turkey breast) cooks at a lower temperature than dark meat (like turkey legs or thighs). In practice, this usually results in unappetizing, dry breast meat that’s been overcooked at the expense of ensuring the dark meat is cooked enough. Or worse, undercooked dark meat (which can be a health hazard) for the sake of a moist turkey breast. The solution to this age-old dilemma? Separating white and dark meat and using different methods for each: dark meat in the oven because it’s more forgiving when it comes to roasting, and white meat in the sous vide water bath to ensure it stays juicy, tender, and cooked evenly.
What You Need
While a proper sous vide machine or immersion circulator will make the whole process easier, it’s not necessary: you can cook turkey using a large pot of water on the stove and a digital thermometer to create a temperature-controlled water bath. No matter your equipment of choice, you’ll also need a sous vide bag. Look for vacuum seal bags that are big enough for what you're cooking, able to withstand hot water, and fully leak proof so that the water doesn’t seep into the bag and result in soggy, boiled meat. In other words? Skip the unsustainable single-use plastic bags and grab a large Stasher bag like the Stand-Up Mega Bag or a big Stasher bowl like the 8-Cup Bowl. The durable, food-grade platinum silicone is heatproof up to 425° Fahrenheit – well beyond the temperature of our water bath! And unlike other reusable bags and bowls, Stasher reusables are leak-free with a patented Pinch-Loc® seal that won’t let anything in — or out — of the bag. (Basically the sous vide method’s match made in heaven.)
You’ll also need a rimmed cookie sheet for roasting the turkey skin separately (if you prefer), and a roasting pan for dark meat, if you’re serving that too.
How to Sous Vide Turkey Breast
To get started, break down the turkey by white and dark meat if you’re cooking a whole bird. And if you’re Team Crispy Skin, you’ll want to carefully remove the skin in one piece. To do so, slide your thumb under the skin and gently pull it up while pushing it away from the breastbone and to the neck – you can then peel the skin down the turkey breast to the wings.
Next, preheat the water. If you’re using an immersion circulator, you can set the specific temperature you need (more on that in a minute!) right on the display, or on a corresponding phone app if your machine is equipped with bluetooth. If you’re using the pot and digital thermometer method, experiment with the dial on your stove top until the digital thermometer in the pot of water hits the temperature you’re looking for.
The FDA recommends that poultry be cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F to destroy salmonella, which is a heat-resistant pathogen found in raw poultry meat and eggs. However this temperature can lead to a dryer turkey breast meat – even if you’re using the sous vide method instead of roasting. Many home chefs believe that extended cooking at lower temperatures is just as safe as shorter cook time at higher temperatures. (Want to learn more? The folks at Serious Eats have a seriously informative breakdown of how turkey pasteurization works.)
Below, you’ll find the temperatures and corresponding cook times that are popular with sous vide enthusiasts so you can choose one that’s best for you and your family.
- Water bath: 138°F
- Internal temperature: 136°F
- Cook time after reaching internal temperature: 1 hour
- Total cook time: about 3 hours
For a tender, moist turkey breast that’s white in color:
- Water bath: 145°F
- Internal temperature: 143°F
- Cook time after reaching internal temperature: 16 minutes
- Total cook time: about 2.5 hours
For traditional roast texture turkey breast that’s white in color:
- Water bath: 152°F
- Internal temperature: 150°F
- Cook time after reaching internal temperature: 4 minutes
- Total cook time: about 2 hours
And for the FDA-friendly turkey breast that’s white in color:
- Water bath: 167°F
- Internal temperature: 165°F
- Cook time after reaching internal temperature: 10 seconds
- Total cook time: about 1 hour and 45 minutes
While the water preheats, season the white meat turkey pieces with salt and pepper and place them in a large Stasher bag or bowl, leaving the top unzipped. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer machine, you can use the water displacement method for removing excess air from the bag before sealing it off. The method is simple: lower the opened Stasher bag or bowl slowly into the water bath, being careful to not let any water slip inside the bag. Once the water level is as close as possible to the very top of the bag zipper, close it tightly. The water pressure squeezes the air out of the bag, allowing you to get a nice vacuum seal without fancy tools.
Once your water bath has reached your desired temperature, it’s time to start cooking. Place the Stasher bag into the water bath, making sure that the water level is above the meat. If it’s not, you can use silicone covered cooking weights inside the bag to weigh down the turkey breast, or metal clothespins attached to the bag and side of the pot to keep everything submerged.
The temperature that you sent the water at will determine the cook time, so refer to the chart above to know how long to set a timer for. (The beauty of the sous vide method, though, is that leaving your turkey in the water bath a little longer won’t overcook it, unlike leaving it in the oven for longer than intended.
When the time is up, use tongs to carefully remove Stasher bag from the hot water bath and transfer that bag (still zipped up) to a bowl of cold water. This gets the turkey breast to a temperature where you can more comfortably handle it, but it also helps cool down meat so that you can then sear it or reheat it in the oven without raising the temperature further and overcooking it. There will be turkey drippings in the Stasher bag – be sure to save these, because you can add them to gravy for extra flavor. (And if you plan to reheat the turkey in the oven, a generous splash of turkey drippings helps the turkey breast from drying out in the process.)
As the turkey cools, spread the skin in a single layer on a baking sheet and broil on high for a few minutes until crispy. Be sure to stand right next to the oven and keep the oven light on because things can burn quickly with the broiler. So if you’re tempted to walk away from the kitchen for a minute, don’t do it!
If you aren’t eating right away, then you can reheat the sous vide turkey breast by popping it back into the water bath at 145°F for about 45 minutes, or in the oven at 325°F for about a half hour.
To serve, place the crispy skin on top of the sous vide turkey breast, or served to the side. Add fresh herbs, thyme, rosemary, sage, as garnish, alongside your favorite Thanksgiving dishes.
Our Sous Vide Recipes
And that’s it! Despite its fancy sounding name, the sous vide is a straightforward and easy way to make an evenly cooked turkey exactly as you like it, especially with the help of Stasher bags. (Did you know you can even oven-roast a turkey breast in a Stasher bag?)