Fry a Turkey, Safely

I’M NOT SOUTHERN, BUT I LOVE FRIED TURKEY. My father-in-law (and hence the wife), turned me onto this many years ago, and now we typically fry up at least 3 turkeys every fall and winter. I took the instruction that Jim gave me in this art, refined it over the years, and have put it all down in writing so that I can pass it on. Fried is better than any roasted turkey I’ve had, and we’ve brined a few and roasted them. And it is not hard to do it safely, as long as you follow some basic procedures. Several folks have asked about it this year, so I’m reposting my original LiveJournal post here.

Get the following things laid out before you start:

  • Turkey fryer (26 or 30 quart pot, depending on how big your bird is)
  • A full tank of propane
  • Enough peanut oil to almost fill the pot
  • Marinade and injector
  • Seasoned salt or other rub for the outside of the turkey
  • A fire extinguisher near where you will be frying
  • A length of 2×4, or a sturdy broomstick

The first step to prepping the turkey is to get it. You can spend the extra money on a Butterball if you like, but we have pretty good luck with a decent grade A turkey. Whatever you get, make sure that it will fit in the fryer pot that you have, with room to spare at the top. For these notes, I’m going to inject the turkey. You could also brine it, if you choose, though I’ve never done that.

Four hours, or so, before you want to eat, unwrap the turkey and remove the “surprise package”. The giblets, neck, etc. Remove the popup timer, if it has one. Trim any excess skin around the neck. If you don’t do this, it will flap and splatter oil, or sear shut. Don’t worry about washing the turkey just yet.

Take the fryer pot and put the turkey in it, on the rack provided. Fill the pot with clean tap water, until the entire turkey is submerged. If the very tips of the legs are still sticking out (the bone), that’s OK. Take the turkey out and let it drain. Use a tape measure to measure the distance between the top of the pot and the water level. Add 1.5″, and remember the number (so your number should now put the tape measure end below the surface of the water).

Take the turkey off the rack and pat it dry. You should have something flavorful to inject the turkey with. We use Cajun Injectors, usually half the turkey with Creole Butter, and the other half with Roasted Garlic. Follow the instructions on the jar to inject the marinade into the breast and legs. Try to poke as few holes in the turkey as possible, but spread it around. Put the turkey somewhere cold (on a tray in the fridge, for example). This will give the marinade a little time to soak in. You could start earlier if you want, but I usually don’t bother.

Empty and thoroughly dry out the fryer pot. About 2 hours or so (depending on the size of your turkey) before you want to eat, Set up your fryer outside, not inside, not in a garage, and not near anything flammable. I can’t stress this enough. It may be cold outside, but just wear a jacket. And whereever you put the fryer, plan on spilling a little oil, or having it splatter. You might want to put some damp newspaper under and around it to soak up the oil (and not create a fire hazard). Put the fryer pot on the burner, but don’t light the burner yet.

Make sure you’ve got peanut oil. Peanut oil has a very high temperature at which it will break down, and it will not adversely flavor the turkey. Trust me on this. Don’t try to use another oil or shortening. It might work, it might not, but peanut definitely works. Fill the pot with peanut oil to the mark from earlier (1.5″ below the water level after the turkey was removed from the pot). Your fryer should have come with a thermometer and a clip, so clip it to the side of the pot so the end of the thermometer is in the oil.

Now you can start the burner. Follow the directions for the particular fryer that you have. Once you have the burner lit, the flame should be almost completely blue. If it’s not, adjust the air shutter. Crank it up as high as you feel comfortable with. It’s probably going to take longer to heat the oil than it will to actually cook the turkey. With 6 gallons of peanut oil, it took me about an hour to heat the oil.

You want to get it up to 400 degrees. We’re not going to cook the turkey at 400, but the temperature will drop when you put the turkey in, so getting it up to 400 is good. I wouldn’t go higher, though. More importantly, now that the oil is on, keep an eye on it. I would suggest always having someone with the fryer. You don’t want the burner to go out, the temperature to go too high, or anything to catch fire.

Once the temperature is close to 400, get the turkey out of the fridge. Pat it as dry as possible with paper towels. The more water is on the turkey, the more the oil is going to boil and splatter when you put it in, so dry is good. Get your seasoned salt and sprinkle it over the entire surface of the turkey, inside and out. This is going to give the skin some flavor when it crisps, so be liberal, and rub it in pretty good. Put the turkey on the fryer rack, and take it out to the fryer.

For this part, it’s good to have two people, so you can both stand back from the fryer. The fryer rack should have a hook that goes with it (kinda like a coat hanger) that hooks onto the top of the rack for lowering it into the oil. Hook this onto the rack, and run the 2×4 or broomstick through it, so you can each hold one end of the 2×4 and stand back from the fryer. You might want to have gloves on as well, just in case it splatters. Hopefully, your oil is up to 400 now. Otherwise, wait until it is.

Do not just drop the turkey into the oil! That’s how accidents happen. Instead you want to lower the turkey into the oil very slowly so that it does not boil over or splatter excessively. Just take your time, and lower the turkey in evenly a couple inches at a time. But don’t go slower than you have to to keep the oil from splattering or overflowing. Once the turkey is completely in the oil, unhook the handle from the rack. The oil should have expanded a little when it heated up, and it should be covering the turkey completely (except possibly for the tips of the leg bones). If it’s not, add a little more oil so that it is.

Start your timer. You’re going to fry the turkey for 3.5 minutes per pound. So a 16 pound bird would cook for 56 minutes. Continue to watch it to make sure there are no problems. You also want to keep an eye on the temperature. Once the bird is in, the temp will drop. It might go down as much as 100 degrees. Keep the burner on high, and bring the temperature back up to 350. Once it hits 350, level it off.

When the time is up, shut the burner off first. Use the hook and the 2×4 to lift the turkey out of the oil. Hold it over the pot for a minute to let it drain, then take it inside and let it cool down for 10 or 15 minutes. Carve it like you would any other turkey, and enjoy. The wings will be a little crispy, but the breast and legs should be perfect. Leave the oil to cool.

After dinner, and after the oil is cold, you have a choice to make. If you’re going to fry another turkey soon, save the oil. It’s good for at least 2 turkeys, provided you filter it a little. Otherwise you can just toss it. Either way, put it back into the containers you got it out of. If you’re going to save it, filter it through a strainer to get all the turkey bits out of it. Clean everything else up and store it properly.

These are my notes, as updated from this Thanksgiving’s turkey. If you’ve got more notes or questions, please post them here. Always looking for more tips.