Why fry a turkey? Because it's delicious. And fast. Now that I've fried a turkey for Thanksgiving, I'm not sure if I could go back. Not only is it extremely tender and flavorful with perfectly crisp skin, but we were able to prepare a Thanksgiving meal for 15 in less than two hours start to finish. When cooking a traditional Thanksgiving feast there are often traffic jams for oven time, so being able to free up your oven is one of the biggest advantages to frying. Plus, it's fun!
Step 1: Safety
Safety, who needs that? Safety third! But seriously, people burn down their houses every year from doing something dumb with a turkey fryer. As long as you follow basic safety concepts regarding frying oil over an open flame, you're gonna be fine.
• Fry your turkey outside, away from anything flammable. As in, not on your wooden deck, inside your garage, in your kitchen, or anywhere that overflowing flaming oil would be catastrophic to your home. Read: concrete, dirt, gravel away from everything, on level ground. Put the propane tank as far away from the fryer as possible.
• Make sure your turkey is thawed and dry. A frozen turkey can explode, and a wet turkey will make the oil bubble to the point of overflowing when lowing in the turkey.
• Do not use too much oil. If the oil overflows, you've got potential for an oil fire. Most turkey fryers will have an oil line to save you the trouble, but when in doubt, put your turkey in the fryer, fill with water until turkey is covered, take out the turkey, and mark the water line so you know exactly how much oil to use.
• Don't leave the fryer unattended. Once the flame is on, keep an eye on the turkey and the temperature. If the oil starts smoking, turn down your heat. You want to cook at a steady 350 degrees.
• Lower turkey into the fryer slowly to avoid oil overflowing. You can turn off the burner during this process so if oil does spill it doesn't catch fire, then turn it back on once the turkey is in.
• Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Oil catches on fire if it exceeds a certain temperature. First it will smoke, so if you see the oil start to smoke turn down your heat. If there is a fire, it is an oil fire so do not use water to extinguish. If there is a fire, kill the flame and cover the pot if it's safe to do so, and if not call the fire department immediately.
Image courtesy of this site, which has further reading on safety guidelines.
Step 2: What You Need
You will need:
• Turkey fry pot and accessories
• Propane burner designed for large pots
• A turkey!
• Refined peanut oil (higher smoke point than unrefined)
• Optional: whatever rub, flavor injection, brine or special preparation ingredients you would like to flavor your turkey. See next step for suggestions.
Most turkey fryer kits will come with a basket, thermometer, hook and all the basic things you will need to fry your turkey. Some also come with the propane burner. If you don't have a large propane burner already, it is going to be best to get a kit that comes with everything. Home Depot carries a full kit that's cheap. This one is a little nicer, but doesn't include a basket, so that would need to be purchased separately.
Step 3: Prepare the Fryer
Fill your fryer with oil to the line you either marked using the water method in the safety section, or to the line they suggest on the pot which is usually pretty spot on. Hold onto your oil containers so you can save your oil. Oil keeps for a few months and can be used several times before getting icky.
Attach your propane tank, turn on the heat, and get your oil going. Some say not to cover it because of safety reasons, but as long as you keep an eye on it, this speeds up the process. You want to cook the bird at 350 degrees. Because the bird is cold and will lower the cooking temperature once you lower it in, we heated the oil closer to 400 degrees to accommodate for this, which is well below the smoking point of peanut oil (~450 degrees). This exceeds the temperature regulator on some turkey fryers, so take note that this was done by a veteran turkey fryer who knew what he was doing :) Always keep an eye out for smoking oil, as this can lead to fire.
Step 4: Prepare the Turkey
While your oil is heating up, take that time to prepare your turkey. Most importantly, you want your turkey to be completely thawed out completely before frying. If you buy it frozen, this will take a few days in the fridge, about a day per 5 pounds. An unthawed turkey can explode in the fryer.
The next step is to remove the neck and giblets inside the bird. They make great gravy, so you might want to hold onto them. You can keep the flap of neck skin, it's really delicious fried! Once all the cavities are clear and all plastic pieces have been removed, tuck the neck flap inside so you don't have a pocket of air or fluid, which can react with the oil.
Once you have a clean bird, now the options of preparation begin! Some people swear by brining for a day in a salt bath, others do a rub and stuff sage leaves under the skin, and still others inject marinade into the flesh. If you choose to inject marinade, be careful that you really get it into the skin, as again, fluid outside the bird will react with the oil.
For our turkey, we just rubbed it down with salt, pepper and garlic seasoning.
Once it was ready to go, we hung it from the hook provided by our turkey fry kit, as it was a little too big for the basket.
Step 5: Fry Your Turkey!
Now to lower in the turkey! First, make sure it is DRY. Second, turn off the burner to be safe, as this is the step where it's easy for oil to overflow. With your turkey hanging (or in a basket), lower in very slowly, allowing the moisture to fry off inch by inch as you lower it down. The oil will get bubble a lot during this process and lowering the turkey too fast can cause the oil to overflow, so take your time. Also be mindful of the position of the cavities, they can create a fountain of bubbling oil so direct the cavity away from you.
Once the turkey is in the fryer, turn the burner back on, and make sure your temperature is set to 350 degrees. The temperature will dip as soon as you drop in the bird, but should rise back up soon. Keep an eye on the bird for the duration of the frying time, and make sure the temperature is at 350 during cooking. Leave it uncovered.
You should fry your turkey for 3-4 minutes per pound. For a 15 pound turkey, about 45 minutes. If you want to get fancy, you can use the thermometer to check when it is done. Dark meat should be at an internal temperature of 175° F to 180° F and all white meat at an internal temperature of 165° F to 170° F.
Crack a beer, and relax for a bit. This is also a good time to prep all the other things you want to fry after the turkey is done: sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, brussel sprouts, you name it. Fry all the things!
Step 6: Let It Cool, and Enjoy!
Once your turkey is done, kill the flame, remove it from the oil, and let it cool for a half hour or so. Once it's cool, pull out the hook, and carve your turkey! Make sure to enjoy all the tasty bits on the hook!
Once your oil cools, put it back in your containers for the next round of frying. Frying a round of potatoes after your turkey makes the oil better for next time.
Enjoy your crispy, delicious deep fried turkey!