The sous vide of the suburbs: Cooking Thanksgiving in the dishwasher

Ben Raymond is an MS student at North Carolina State Universit yand self-proclaimed beer aficionado, focusing on food safety through social media, barf banter, and creating new foods.

Raymond writes:

As I wait impatiently for my girlfriend to come back from work in Boston, I’m hoping the freezing rain and sleet will hold off until later tonight. We have a three-hour drive this afternoon to Vermont, to visit my family for Thanksgiving.dishwasher

Ben Chapman forwarded me a piece from the L.A. Times blog (thanks Michele -ben) on cooking a Thanksgiving dinner in the dishwasher (because I’ve become the dishwasher-cooking-food-safety guru of our group).

If you can’t seem to keep your Thanksgiving turkey moist in the oven, you may want to try your dishwasher. Yes, people have been using the kitchen washing machine to cook proteins and fish since the 1970s, but famed chef David Burke insists you can also use it to cook the star of your Thanksgiving meal.

But before you start shoving your entire turkey in the dishwasher, Burke’s recipe calls for two boneless turkey breasts, not the entire bird. The meat and herbs are packed tightly in plastic wrap then sealed in Tupperware containers before hitting the top shelf of the dishwasher for three cycles or about 3 hours and 25 minutes.

This cooking technique is getting some play in the social mediaverse as a way to make moist, tender chicken, fish, or even beef –sort of a sous vide for the suburbs (without the thermal immersion circulator).

Earlier this fall I did a quick and dirty test of this technique in my own dishwasher. With some nifty water-proof stainless data-loggers, I’ve run few cycles in the dishwasher to see if you can safely cook various proteins. Is it a safe method? The data I’ve generated points to, unsurprisingly, sort of.

Salmon cooks nicely and reaches a safe (and tender) time and temperature combination as suggested 145° F.  Even poultry may be cooked safely in the dishwasher (at least in my home, no promises for any other setup), but only if you have expensive tools to monitor the cooking process. The data shows the proteins were held at temperatures below 165° F, but still hot enough and for sufficient time to effectively be cooked (as per FSIS’ appendix A. As a home cook, armed with a tip sensitive digital thermometer, the meat is unlikely to ever register the recommended 165° F internal temperature.

image-copyThere’s lots of variability though. Other dishwashers may be hotter than mine, or not (we have very hot water in my house, over 145° F from the tap).

All of this effort the chicken I cooked in my dishwasher was gross. It never got hot enough for the proteins to really cook and move past the rubberyish texture of raw of chicken. I like my steaks medium rare, but poultry? No thanks.  In my house we will be sticking with our traditional, yet boring, oven to roast our Thanksgiving bird.

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About Ben Chapman

Dr. Ben Chapman is an associate professor and food safety extension specialist at North Carolina State University. As a teenager, a Saturday afternoon viewing of the classic cable movie, Outbreak, sparked his interest in pathogens and public health. With the goal of less foodborne illness, his group designs, implements, and evaluates food safety strategies, messages, and media from farm-to-fork. Through reality-based research, Chapman investigates behaviors and creates interventions aimed at amateur and professional food handlers, managers, and organizational decision-makers; the gate keepers of safe food. Ben co-hosts a biweekly podcast called Food Safety Talk and tries to further engage folks online through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and, maybe not surprisingly, Pinterest. Follow on Twitter @benjaminchapman.
  • MJ

    I’d never heard of this until yesterday, reading a 20 year old novel, and now here it is today. In the novel, the salmon turns out horribly. But even if it was spectacular, I have the same question (just in bold font in my head now): why? Why? Because people cannot master the art of cooking food properly via other manners of heat? Because of the novelty? I just don’t get it.

  • Deb Maes

    Years ago at a NEAFCS meeting, one Extension Home Economist mentioned that she had received a phone call asking if “instead of changing the water every 30 minutes when I thaw my turkey, can I just put the turkey in the toilet boil and flush every 30 minutes?” Then another colleagues had a client show her the plastic wrap sling she has made over her toilet bowl so that the defrosting turkey drippings didn’t go onto the counter but instead dropped into the bowl. Now we have dishwasher cooked turkey. What will be next?

  • Randy Lyons

    I had to really think about this one as it baffles me on many fronts. I can understand looking at the process from a scientific point of view (especially if people are actually doing this), but why would it be discussed here and why would the article open the door to its use? The Jensen Farms incident identified that one of the possible causes was the use of equipment not designed for the purpose it was being used for.The facts are that a dishwasher is not designed for this purpose. Temperature cannot be controlled in a home dishwasher. Let’s be honest, if someone is silly enough to cook food this way, I seriously doubt that they will be smart enough to go out and buy waterproof thermometers that can be used in the machine. Have these people not heard of a steamer pot. These pots used to be a standard part of any pot set. Would do the same thing. A steamer (any style) would do the same thing. Easy to check temperature too. One of the consistent concerns raised for sous-vide, crock-pots, alto sham ovens and other slow cooking devices is the speed in which the product is brought up an appropriate temperature. These tests showed that the product never reached the desired temperature of 165 but “still long enough” (?) as per FSIS Appendix A. Is it reasonable to think a home cook would have this? I doubt if most professional cooks could tell you what that is or how to decipher the charts. Just like raw oysters, tartar, raw fish sushi and other high risk foods, any recommendation for this style of cooking should come with a warning that it is a high risk process and whoever is the cook, is legally responsible for any fallout should it not turn out the way you had hoped.

  • Somehow the thought of cooking anything in a dishwasher seems gross to me. And yes, the question ‘why, why’ is running around my head too!