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Slow Cooker Turkey (with Gravy)

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Slow cooker turkey – a fool-proof recipe for cooking a tender, juicy turkey for the holiday season. And you can even make the skin crispy!

carved crockpot turkey on a vintage platter with clementine pieces and rosemary sprigs.

This slow cooker turkey recipe is the easiest, safest way of getting a moist, succulent turkey for Thanksgiving dinner or Christmas. Like all crockpot or slow cooker recipes, this one is also simple and requires you to work less than you would when traditionally cooking an entire turkey.

Cooking a whole turkey in the crockpot first and then broiling it for a short time ensures a perfect turkey with juicy meat and delicious crispy skin.

And I have two other recipes for cooking an absolutely amazing whole turkey: Dutch Oven Turkey and Red Wine Turkey. Or make Slow Cooker Turkey Legs (with Gravy).

Recipe ingredients

listed ingredients for cooking turkey with mandarins and apples.
  • A whole turkey of appropriate size. You won’t be able to cook a giant turkey in the slow cooker, it has to fit inside, and you have to be able to close the lid properly.
    • One weighing 8-9 lbs/ 3.5 – 4 kg should be fine. The one I had weighed 8.4 lbs/ 3.8 kg, and I had to tilt it slightly on one side to be able to fit the lid tightly on the slow cooker.
    • This is enough turkey to feed 6 to 8 people (small gatherings), and you will probably still have some leftovers.
  • Spices for the dry brine: Fine sea salt or Kosher salt, dried thyme and rosemary, sweet paprika, garlic powder, and ground black pepper.
  • For the stuffing: Two clementines, mandarins, or two small oranges, and two small apples.
  • For the butter mixture: Unsalted butter (soft), salt, pepper, garlic powder, nutmeg, and dried rosemary. If you use salted butter, adjust the amount of salt accordingly.
  • For the gravy: Cornstarch, cold water, and 1-2 teaspoons soy sauce (optional).

Tip: Consider the size of your slow cooker or crockpot when you buy the turkey.

How to cook a whole turkey in the slow cooker?

How long does it take to thaw a whole turkey?

  • Allow it plenty of time to thaw. A bird of this size will need 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

Tip: I always rub it with the dry rub when it’s partially thawed, after about 1 ½ days in the fridge.

How to dry rub it?

  • After thawing it for 1 ½ days, the outer surface is already soft, and you will be able to remove the giblets inside the bird. Remove the neck as well if it’s still there. Keep both giblets and neck for making stock (don’t freeze them again).
  • Mix all the spices in a small bowl (1).
bowl with spice mixture for dry brining a whole turkey.
  • Pat the bird dry with paper towels, and rub it with the spice mixture, inside and outside and under the wings (2).
  • Wrap it well in plastic foil; you will need 3-4 large pieces (3).
  • Place the bird in a roasting tin and refrigerate it for another 24 to 48 hours until completely thawed.
collage of two pictures of dry brining an entire turkey and wrapping it in plastic foil.

How to prepare the turkey for slow cooking?

  • Remove it from the fridge about 2 hours before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. Unwrap it immediately to enable it to dry a bit if too wet.

Tip: I strongly recommend dry brining the turkey; the spice mixture imparts great flavor and helps tenderize the meat.

Butter:

  • Mix the soft butter with the spices.
  • Rub inside the cavity with about one teaspoon of the butter mixture.
  • Set aside another two heaped teaspoons of butter (for broiling later).
  • Carefully loosen the breast skin by sliding your fingers under it and gently lifting it. Spread about ¾ of the remaining butter under the skin (5).
  • Use the rest to brush the bird on the upper side as well. The butter needs to be very, very soft for this purpose.
  • There is no need to butter the underside.
hand lifting skin from whole turkey breast to fill butter underneath.

Stuff:

  • Wash and dry the clementines (oranges) and the apples. Quarter them.
  • Stuff as many of them as they fit inside the bird’s cavity.
  • Bind the legs of the turkey with kitchen string.

How long does it take to slow cook it?

  • Place the bird into the slow cooker (6) and place the remaining clementine and apple pieces around it. It’s probably not possible to put them on the bottom of the slow cooker, as they lift the bird too much, and you won’t be able to close the lid.
  • There is no need to add liquid, the bird will release its own juices, and they will be enough. You can add some fresh herbs like rosemary or thyme if you like.
  • Fit the lid on top tightly. If it doesn’t fit well, tilt the bird slightly on the side to make sure you can close the lid properly.
  • Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours (7).
turkey before and after cooking in a slow cooker.

How to make the skin crispy?

  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Transfer: Insert tongs on either side of the slow cooker turkey, lift it very carefully and place it in a roasting tin or on a baking sheet.
  • Brush it with the flavored butter you set aside previously. The bird is so hot that the butter will melt quickly; it doesn’t even have to be really soft now.
  • Broil it until golden and crispy, keeping an eye on it at all times; the skin might burn if you don’t pay attention (9).
  • There is no need to broil on the underside, the skin will remain rather floppy there, but there’s not much you can do about it.

Tip for perfect broiling: Broil it breast up for a few minutes. Once it’s golden, tilt the bird slightly on one side, broil it for a few minutes, then tilt it lightly on the other side and broil for another few minutes. This procedure will allow it to get evenly nice and golden on all sides.

slow cooked whole turkey after broiling in a roasting pan.

How to make the gravy?

  • Make the gravy during the time the bird needs to rest before carving.
  • Remove the fruit from the slow cooker and pour the juices into a measuring jug (10).
  • Remove as much of the fat as possible using a large spoon.
  • Fill the jug with turkey or chicken stock (or water if that’s all you have) to get two cups (500 ml) of liquid.
  • Pour the liquid into a small saucepan, place it on the hob, and bring it to a boil.
  • In the meantime, mix the cornstarch with a few tablespoons of cold water. Whisk the slurry into the simmering gravy. Whisk continuously for about one minute until the sauce is slightly thicker (11).
  • Adjust the taste with salt and pepper if necessary; it might not be.

Tip: Add 1-2 teaspoons of soy sauce for a darker-colored gravy.

collage of two pictures of gravy in a measuring jug and then in a small saucepan on a cutting board.

How to carve the crockpot turkey?

  • Let the crockpot turkey rest for about 30 minutes before carving.
  • Use a large sharp chef’s knife.
  • Place a few paper towels on the working surface and a large cutting board on top. The towel will help stabilize the board and catch the juices that might run from the cutting board, thus making cleaning a bit easier.
  • Legs: Cut the thighs of the bird at the joint. Separate the drumsticks from the thighs by cutting at the joint between them.
  • Breast: Carve down the bone of each breast to remove them from the bones. Slice the breasts thickly.
  • Wings: Separate the wings from the rest of the carcass by cutting at the joint.
  • Rests: Pick all larger meat pieces still hanging on the bones.
half a vintage plate with carved turkey pieces and rosemary.

Recipe FAQ

Do I have to wash the turkey?

No, it’s completely unnecessary. According to USDA, washing poultry will only spread bacteria in your sink and on the working surface. Any bacteria on it will only be killed during the cooking process.

Do I have to dry-brine it?

Not necessarily, but I recommend it. Brining it for a longer time will allow the salt and the rest of the spices to permeate the meat, making it more flavorful and tender.
If you decide not to brine it, rub it well with salt and pepper before buttering it.

Shouldn’t I wet-brine the turkey?

I did it once and decided is not worth the trouble. It starts with finding a large enough container and trying to fit it in the fridge.
And I’ve never managed to cook a dry turkey even without wet brining. Make sure you buy a good quality turkey, and you can skip this annoying step.
But again: I really do recommend dry brining.

How should I check if the slow cooker turkey is done?

The probability that the food is not cooked through after such a long cooking time is relatively small. However, to be sure, check with a meat thermometer; the turkey’s internal temperature should be 165°F/ 74°C (Amazon affiliate link).

What to do with the giblets, neck, and carcass?

Use them to make stock. Check out the Turkey Bone Broth Recipe.
The liver is not appropriate for making stock. Fry it in the pan for a few minutes on each side, season it and enjoy it as it is. See How to Cook Turkey Liver for more instructions on cooking liver.

How to store and reheat leftovers?

Store the crockpot turkey meat in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
Store the gravy in a separate container.
Freeze the meat in freezer bags or airtight containers for up to 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator.
Freeze the gravy in a separate container.
Reheat the meat in the oven at 350°F/ 180°F in a baking dish loosely covered with foil. Larger pieces will need 20-30 minutes. If the meat is off the bone or shredded, check after about 10 minutes already.
Reheat the gravy in a small pan on the stovetop, adding a splash of stock or broth to loosen it if too thick. Stir frequently to prevent it from catching at the bottom of the pan.

What to do with leftovers?

Check out our Favorite Leftover Turkey Recipes.

How to serve?

Serve the slow cooker turkey any Thanksgiving or Christmas side dishes, you would usually serve on such occasions. How about making Cranberry Sauce, Cornbread in the Cast Iron Skillet, Truffle Mashed Potatoes, and Caramelized Brussels Sprouts?

You can also serve the slow cooker turkey with Garlic Parmesan Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Celeriac (Celery Root Puree), Creamy Carrot and Swede Mash, or Cast-Iron Skillet Potatoes.

Make some Sweetheart Cabbage, Buttered Vegetables, Buttered Peas, or Green Bean Casserole without Soup.

close up golden broiled turkey with a clementine sticking in the cavity.

More turkey recipes

Do you like this recipe?

Please leave a good rating in the recipe card below. Stay in touch through social media: Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. Don’t forget to tag me #whereismyspoon when you try a recipe!
half a vintage plate with carved turkey pieces and rosemary.

Slow Cooker Turkey (with Gravy)

Slow cooker turkey – a no-fuss, no-stress recipe for cooking a tender, juicy turkey for the holiday season. And you can even make the skin crispy!
5 from 1 vote
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Course: Main Course, Poultry
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 7 hours
Servings: 6 -8
Calories: 807kcal
Author: Adina

Equipment

  • Slow Cooker/ Crockpot
  • Roasting tin
  • Small saucepan

Ingredients 

  • 1 whole turkey 8-9 lbs/ 3.5 – 4 kg, Note 1

Dry brine:

  • 2 tablespoons fine sea salt Note 2
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Butter mixture:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter 75 g/ 2-5 oz very soft
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • a few grindings of nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

Stuffing:

  • 2 small apples
  • 2 small clementines mandarins or oranges

Gravy:

  • 2 cups cooking liquid + chicken stock Note 3
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1-2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2-3 teaspoons soy sauce optional, Note 4

Instructions

  • Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator; it will take 2-3 days. I always dry brine it when it is partially thawed, after 1 ½ day in the fridge.

Dry rub:

  • Remove the giblets and the neck (Note 5).
  • Pat the bird dry inside and outside with kitchen towels. There is no need to wash it.
  • Mix salt, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary, paprika, and pepper in a small bowl.
  • Rub the turkey inside, outside, and under the wings.
  • Wrap it: Cut 3 large pieces of plastic wrap. Use them to wrap the bird completely. Place in a roasting tin (or another fitting container) and refrigerate for 24 and up to 48 hours.

Butter the turkey:

  • Remove the turkey from the fridge about 2 hours before cooking it to allow it to come to room temperature. Unwrap it immediately to allow it to dry a bit if too wet.
  • Butter mixture: Mix the very soft butter, nutmeg, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Set aside 2 heaped teaspoons of butter (for broiling later).
  • Rub the cavity with about 1 teaspoon of the butter mixture.
  • Loosen the breast skin by sliding your fingers under it and gently lifting it. Work carefully; you should not tear the skin. Spread about ¾ of the remaining butter under the skin.
  • Use the rest to brush the bird on the upper side as well. The butter needs to be very, very soft for this purpose. Don’t butter the bird on the underside.

Stuff it:

  • Wash, dry, and quarter the citrus fruit and the apples.
  • Stuff as many of them as they fit inside the bird’s cavity.
  • Bind the legs of the turkey with kitchen string.

Slow-cook the turkey:

  • Place the prepared turkey into the slow cooker. Place the remaining clementine and apple pieces around it.
  • Fit the lid on top tightly. If it doesn’t fit well, tilt the bird slightly on the side to make sure you can close the lid properly.
  • Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

Crisp the skin:

  • Preheat the broiler. Place a roasting tin or baking sheet near the crockpot.
  • Transfer: Lift the turkey carefully by inserting tongs on either side of it. Place it in a roasting tin or on a baking sheet.
  • Brush it with the reserved butter. The bird is so hot that the butter will melt quickly on the bird’s surface.
  • Broil the turkey until golden and crispy, keeping an eye on it at all times; the skin might quickly burn (Note 6 – Tip).

Make gravy:

  • Make the gravy during the turkey’s resting time.
  • Remove the clementines and apples from the slow cooker and pour the juices into a measuring jug. Remove as much of the fat as possible using a large spoon.
  • Fill the jug with turkey or chicken stock to get two cups (500 ml) of liquid.
  • Pour the liquid into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil.
  • Mix the cornstarch with 1-2 tablespoons of cold water, enough to have a thick yet pourable paste. Whisk the slurry into the simmering gravy. Whisk continuously for about one minute until the sauce is slightly thicker. Adjust the taste with salt and pepper if necessary; it might not be.
  • Optionally, add a little soy sauce for a darker-colored gravy.

Notes

  1. Consider the size of your slow cooker when you purchase the turkey.
  2. Gravy: Fill the cooking liquid into a measuring jug. Remove the fat, then fill the jug with chicken or turkey stock to have 2 cups (500 ml) of liquid for the gravy.
  3. The soy sauce is optional; use it if you want the gravy to have a darker color. Remember, soy sauce is salty, so adjust the salt accordingly.
  4. Use the carcass, the neck, and the giblets to make stock. Check out the Turkey Bone Broth Recipe. Fry the liver separately; it’s not appropriate for making stock. Don’t freeze these parts again (unless you’ve cooked them).
  5. Tips for broiling: Broil it breast up for a few minutes. Once it’s golden, tilt the bird slightly on one side, broil it for a few minutes, then tilt it lightly on the other side and broil for another few minutes. This procedure will allow it to get evenly lovely and golden on all sides. Use the clementine and apple pieces to help the bird stay on one side. There is no need to broil on the underside, the skin will remain rather floppy there, but that’s the way it is.

Nutrition

Calories: 807kcal | Carbohydrates: 16g | Protein: 100g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 7g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 354mg | Sodium: 3193mg | Potassium: 1212mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 776IU | Vitamin C: 15mg | Calcium: 73mg | Iron: 5mg
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