I hope you are planning to be with someone you love this week, even if you are by yourself. There are many reasons a holiday celebration can be small, and if yours is, I have the perfect small Thanksgiving dinner solution for you. It’s perfect for a small Thanksgiving dinner for one to four people. It’s also ideal for people who can’t manage the weight of a whole turkey. Vegetarians can finally make the sides the star of the show, while the turkey takes a minor role for guests. And, of course, it’s ideal for those who just don’t like turkey. It’s ok, you’re allowed to say it.
My small Thanksgiving dinner solution involves my beloved slow-cooker and a frozen turkey breast. If you’ve been here a while, you’ve heard me sing praises to this old-fashioned-but-trendy-again appliance, also known as a CrockPot (although that’s the brand name, in the same way that Kleenex is the brand we’ve all come to use as generic tissues).
I have cooked many versions of a whole turkey for the holidays…including the ToFurkey. That one did not go down well with the MIL.
If you are going to cook a whole turkey, I highly recommend these turkey-sized oven bags (affiliate link), as you’ll get the same moist results as I get in the slow cooker, below. I like these bags because cleanup is pretty easy, too. But if you’ve got a slow cooker and need a small turkey option, you won’t need these bags.
Small Thanksgiving Dinner- Slow Cooker Turkey
If you have even a medium-sized slow cooker, you should have no problem. My Westinghouse slow cooker is a 7 quart capacity and fits one turkey breast just fine. I could probably do two turkey breasts at a time if I needed to. This CrockPot is very similar to mine (affiliate link), and I adore its built-in cord wraps.
Step 1. Slow Cooker Turkey Ingredients
Keep it simple. You really only need one ingredient…the turkey breast, since the slow cooker will do most of the work for you. My turkey breast from Aldi is three pounds, but you can find them just about everywhere these days. It’s perfect for a small celebration of 1-4 people.
I get all fancy by adding some onion soup mix at the start of cooking. With a turkey breast, I’ll only sprinkle about half of the seasoning envelope on the turkey breast so it’s flavored but not overwhelmed.
Step 2. Thaw Frozen Turkey Breast
With slow cooking, I often go right from frozen chicken breasts to recipe, but I don’t recommend trying to cook a turkey breast from frozen. Thaw your frozen turkey breast in the refrigerator for at least two days. If it’s not thawed, you can put it in a bowl of cold water on the counter for a couple of hours to thaw it faster.
Bonus: no more poking your hands into you-know-where to pull out you-know-what from a full bird. Ew.
Step 3. Cook Turkey in Slow Cooker
Slow cookers are set-it-and-forget-it marvels. There are just three things you need to know:
- The two traditional settings on your slow cooker are all you need:
- LOW will cook a whole pot of food in between 6 and 8 hours, including your turkey breast. I would not recommend going with this option for the big day, as you might not have enough time.
- HIGH will cook a pot of food in between 4 and 6 hours, depending on what you are cooking.
- WARM doesn’t cook. Whether your slow cooker flips to warm on its own or you have to flip a switch, warm is for your convenience, but it doesn’t cook your meal.
- Ignore all the other settings. If your slow cooker browns, braises, or plays vinyl records, just ignore those settings. Keep it simple, sweetie.
- Never, ever, EVER lift the lid once you start cooking. That’s why most slow cookers have a glass lid. You can fawn over your meal. You can admire. You can sniff. You can even gloat. But DON’T lift and stir. You just don’t need to, and you’ll increase the cooking time about 20 minutes every time you lift the lid. Not only that, but you’ll let out some of those precious juices that you want to stay in your Thanksgiving turkey breast. Remember, turkey doesn’t have to be dry. If you’ve ever wanted to try cooking a turkey by sous vide method, this is similar, but without the fancy gadgets. You are keeping all the juices in the same pot, which is essentially what a slow cooker does.
- It’s nearly impossible to burn a slow cooker meal, so stop worrying.
Place your thawed turkey breast in the slow cooker, add up to a half cup of water just to cover the bottom of the slow-cooker, sprinkle the turkey all over with half a pouch of onion soup, pop on high, and enjoy the rest of your morning.
If you do the math, you are still going to have to start early in the morning (by 7 am) to cook on high and have it ready by noon without fretting. If you are shooting for a late lunch or dinner meal, you have more time, but I’d still go with the high setting. You can always flip it to warm when it’s done.
Step 4. Enjoy the Best Small Thanksgiving Dinner Turkey Ever
Yes, your slow cooker turkey breast will be yummy.
Yes, it will be juicy.
Yes, you will still probably have a leftovers. The rule of thumb is 1/2 pound of bird per guest.
Yes, you will even have gravy. You’ll notice that the soup and bird juices make a nice sauce in the bottom of the slow cooker. You can whisk this with about a teaspoon of flour and a little broth or water to make a decent gravy. Or in this case, there is gravy starter included with the turkey breast. Just add the juices from the bottom of the slow cooker and warm the mix.
My favorite part is the cleanup, which is beyond easy when you cook your Thanksgiving turkey in a slow cooker. You don’t have all those extra skin, bones, and mystery parts to awkwardly carry to the trash and hope that the neighborhood raccoons don’t find it before trash day.
You should smell when it’s done. Butterball says it’s done when the breast reaches 170 degrees F with a meat thermometer, but I’ll be honest…I don’t usually check. You can tell when it’s done because it smells like it’s done.
The best part about cooking your turkey in a slow cooker might be that it’s so easy, you’ll want to do it again soon, and not just once a year. This is a very economical and tasty meal that we have again during the Christmas season and even later in the winter. It’s like a warm hug, the very opposite of overwhelming.
More Holiday Dishes for your Slow Cooker
In the meantime, you’ve freed up space in your oven for yummy sides and casseroles.
If you need even more space, double up with two crockpots, and have baked potatoes or baked sweet potatoes going in your second slow cooker. Here’s how to cook moist, easy baked potatoes in a slow cooker.
When it’s all over, if you still have a bit of turkey left, mix up some easy turkey mini pies the next day. They look very impressive, but the puff pastry does all the heavy lifting for you.
Are you having a small Thanksgiving dinner this year?
Have you ever cooked your holiday turkey in a slow cooker? Would you try it?
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