Turducken Fever

Inside the Turducken cult: The real history of how a damn Frankenstein bird took over the holidays

Inside the Turducken cult: The real history of a Frankenstein bird

Hebert's Specialty Meats handmade Turducken with deboned turkey, duck and chicken and  stuffed with dressing between each layer of the birds
Hebert's Specialty Meats' handmade turducken with deboned turkey, duck and chicken with dressing between each layer of the birds. Hebert's Specialty Meats/Facebook

“It’s like the perfect storm of your top three edible birds!” cries Dean Winchester after chomping down on a Pepperjack Turducken Slammer. If you’re a fan of Supernatural and you’ve seen this episode you may not be too keen to try a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey — even if it is in a tasty sandwich form.

But let’s set the record straight: In the real world there has never been a case of turduckens causing self-cannibalism.

On the other hand, according to Allrecipes.com a single turducken contains 1,639 calories, 107.2 grams of fat, 577 milligrams of cholesterol, 539 milligrams of sodium and 156.9 grams of protein. So it may cause some other issues.

But if you’re pigging out at Thanksgiving anyway, why not try this delicious dish from Cajun country?

 "During the holidays we sell around 3,500 to 4,000 of them. Most are frozen, we can only turn out about five hundred fresh next week and they’re already pre-sold.” 

And if you don’t have an assistant, several hours, or days, mad deboning skills and about, oh, $100 of ingredients on hand, just hit one of the three local Hebert’s Specialty Meats shops around Houston where you can get a turkducken ready to pop in the oven. But you best hurry up.

“We sell them year round,” owner Chris Catlett says. “But during the holidays we sell around 3,500 to 4,000 of them. Most are frozen, we can only turn out about five hundred fresh next week and they’re already pre-sold.”

Hebert’s (pronounced A-bears) ships turduckens, and the rest of its Cajun specialties, around the country. The original shop in Louisiana claims to be the first store to make the birds commercially.

“Paul Prudhomme usually takes credit for it,” Catlett says. “He published a recipe for it in a cookbook, but in the early 1980s a farmer came into the Hebert’s in Louisiana with these three birds and asked if we could put them all together and we did.”

Turducken History

In the late 1980s, NFL anaylst John Madden started giving turduckens away to the winning team playing in the Thanksgiving Day games he broadcast. Catlett says people started going nuts for turducken after that.

 At Herbert’s you can choose from cornbread, pork, crawfish, dirty rice or shrimp stuffing. It’s like building your own Franken-bird for the holidays. 

But the tradition of stuffing birds and animals inside other birds and animals probably dates back to the Romans, those wacky folks known for lavish feasts. In 1807 Grimod de La Renière created the rôti sans parei made with 17 different birds for a royal feast in France. And there are recipes for cockentrice — a really freaky looking beast made by sewing together a capon and a pig stuffed with pork liver, nuts and fruits — dating from the Middle Ages.

But it’s the modern day Cajun turducken that is so popular in America. And it’s the one that uses several different kinds of stuffing layered between the birds. At Hebert’s you can choose from cornbread, pork, crawfish, dirty rice or shrimp stuffing. It’s like building your own Franken-bird for the holidays.

“We always make one at our house for the holidays,” Catlett says. “But my family doesn’t like duck so we make a turporken. That’s a chicken stuffed inside a pork loin inside a turkey with two kinds of stuffing.”

The possibilities are actually endless. Catlett once made a special order for a customer with five birds, starting with a hard boiled egg inside four larger and larger birds.

But there’s one request he won’t honor.

“Some people have asked me about selling pre-cooked turduckens,” he says. “I’m like, 'Can you turn on an oven?' I’ve already done all the work for you, all you have to do is pop it in the oven, and enjoy all those wonderful smells as it cooks.”

Roasting is the best way, Catlett says, to cook it. Five hours in a 475-degree oven — four hours covered and the last hour uncovered so the turkey skin browns and crisps. Catlett believes smoking and barbecuing are also good choices, but not deep-frying.

“When you deep-fry a turkey it cooks from the inside and the outside,” he explains. "But with a turducken there’s no cavity, because it’s all stuffed and sewn up.”