How to fry a turkey

Posted by James Collier on Nov 21, 2011
Filed: Cooking Lessons
Tagged: fried turkey thanksgiving

Confession: I've never roasted a turkey. I've eaten enough of it to know that even at its best, turkey out of the oven is dull (hence our dependence on gravy and cranberry sauce), so I've just never bothered. Instead, I fry mine.

I've been doing this for a few years now, and despite the rise in popularity of deep-fried turkeys, every Thanksgiving I meet someone who hasn't tried one, and I get questions about the process. I'll take you through the basics, but you fry at your own risk.

First, let's get this out of the way: Yes, this is dangerous. But if you take a few precautions, the risk is minimal, and the reward is great. Here's a few things to keep in mind:

  1. You're heating up several gallons of oil, and even a few tablespoons will react violently when water is introduced. If you're brining your bird, give it time to dry, and please--PLEASE--give the turkey a proper thaw, lest you be immortalized on YouTube.
  2. Unless you have a commercial fryer in your kitchen, this is an activity for the outdoors; the farther away from the house, the better.
  3. No matter how hard you try, you're going to make a mess. Oil will spill over, so make sure to dress accordingly, and consider where you cook (ahem, your neighbors may not appreciate the oil stain on the driveway).

Step 1: Set up.

Turkey fryers require a specialized, yet simple setup: a burner, a large aluminum pot, a hanging rack, thermometer propane and oil. You can buy kits that include the burner, pot, rack and thermometer for around $60; outside of Thanksgiving, these are great for crab and shrimp boils, or for campsite cooking with really large groups.

Make sure your burner is level and on stable ground (see notes above about location).

Start by racking the turkey and setting it in the empty pot. Fill with water to cover, remove the bird, then mark you water line. That's how much oil you'll need to cook with. Pour out the water and dry the pot; be sure to dry the turkey off before frying.

Set the pot on the burner, and fill to your water line. Turn on the burner and heat oil to 375°F. You want to cook at 350°F, but you'll lose around 25 degrees when you drop the turkey in, so it's easier to start with hotter oil.

Step 2: Prep your bird.

Fact: Fried poultry tastes good.

Some people will tell you to brine your turkey; others will tell you to inject it with spice mixtures. I like a light injection, but just a little finishing salt can go a long way. Again, fried poultry tastes good, so you don't need to do much.

There are pre-made injectable mixtures, but they're mostly oil and salt. You can make your own by mixing melted butter, olive oil and whatever spices you like. Just make sure there's no water involved (see precautions above), and make sure you inject around the whole bird (you're going to pick at every bone, so you want it to be flavorful!).

Step 3: Fry 'er up.

This is worth repeating: you're going to make a mess. Wear shoes and long pants, and wear a glove that is heat resistant (cotton glove, no; silicon glove, yes). Use the hangar that comes with the fryer kit to gently lower the bird into the oil, making sure it sits evenly on the bottom and is covered by the oil. It will boil and spit, so set 'er down gently, then get out of the way.

The formula for frying that I use is simple: 3 minutes per pound at 350°F. I've fried them as small as 15 pounds, and as large as 22 pounds, and the formula has worked every time.

When the timer dings, grab the hangar with your gloved hand and remove the bird to a baking pan; it will drip a bit, so a pan with a lip is preferred. The skin should be golden and crispy, and will smell like heaven.

Shut off your burner and transport the bird to a safe resting place. It needs at least 15 minutes to cool before carving. Season with finishing salt if desired.

Step 4: Enjoy.

The wings and drums should come off with a gentle tug. Carve as you like, but I prefer to breast the bird, and slice across the grain.

(This was a quick plating and snapshot--what you don't see is the mob that was waiting for me to get out of the way! And yes, that's a fried chicken in the middle.)

Be sure to let your oil cool thoroughly before disposing. Clean the excess off of the burner and equipment, and store in the garage for next year :-)