Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we’re sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today’s question: How do you deep-fry a turkey? How long do you deep-fry a turkey? How much oil do you need to deep-fry a turkey? And, finally: Should you deep-fry a turkey? Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.
Come Thanksgiving, our annual celebration is to set up the deep fryer and invite our friends and their birds over to deep-fry turkeys, one after another. The last few years we’ve deep-fried eight turkeys for Thanksgiving. We could do more in the same pot of oil, but we run out of daylight and enthusiasm. This way we get friends over for a couple of hours, and then send ’em home.
So let’s deep-fry a turkey today! And as long as we’re at it, let’s deep-fry a half dozen or more. If you’ve always wanted to know how to deep fry a turkey, including the tools and equipment you need, how to set up a fry station, and what mistakes to avoid, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s what you need to get started:
How Long to Deep-Fry a Turkey
When you think of a Thanksgiving turkey, what comes to mind? A golden-brown glazed turkey set on a platter surrounded by pomegranates and oranges, bay leaves and rosemary sprigs? Probably! But there are different ways to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving other than a traditional oven roast. Frying a turkey locks in the moisture so that the flesh is tender and the skin is perfectly crispy—and it’s a lot less greasy than you might imagine, since the turkey doesn’t end up absorbing that much oil If you decide that this year will be the year when you try your hand at deep-frying a turkey, there’s a few things to know. First, the cooking time is wildly different than if you were roasting a turkey. Turkey cooked in the oven generally takes about 12 to 15 minutes per pound. To deep fry a turkey, immerse the bird in 350°F degree oil for 3 1/2 minutes per pound.
What You’ll Need to Deep-Fry a Turkey
In addition to the turkey, you’ll need a turkey fryer pot, a propane-fired burner, and the stand the burner sits in. I use a 30-quart “Bijou Classic.” There are plenty of online sources for turkey pots and burners. I don’t have history with other pots or burners, but this one has been chugging along for 15 years and probably 100 turkeys, a couple of lamb roasts, a handful of Twinkies, and other miscellanea that have gotten thrown into the pot over time. (The Twinkies, by the way, were pretty damn good.) Needless to say, it works.
Remember: This method for deep-frying turkey is designed for the great outdoors. Not in a garage or under a carport, not under the dry pine tree, not close to the house. This turkey-fry business has splattering oil and is messy. Find a spot away from things that’ll catch fire.
Cover the ground in tarps, old carpets, cardboard, or whatever else may absorb the oil that comes splattering out. There’s a significant 5-foot radius of splatter and you should have a 8-foot radius covered to protect concrete from acquiring permanent oil.
Warning Stories (Be Careful!)
Deep-frying turkey does not come without its risks. There are plenty of horror stories about extra-crispy turkeys gone wrong. My neighbors set theirs up one year atop their glass-topped outdoor table. The oil splattered on the glass, the glass shattered, the 4 1/2 gallons of oil and turkey ended up on the ground amidst the shattered glass.
Another friend, not clear on the concept, put her still-frozen turkey in the pot of hot oil on top of her stove inside her house. It was your basic turkey bomb. If you want real entertainment, go to YouTube and enter in “Deep Frying T…”—you’ll get about that far and have “Deep Frying Turkey Explosions” as an option. Lots of good pointers on what not to do.
“That’s how my family has traditionally done turkey for Thanksgiving,” says Food52 CEO and Co-founder Amanda Hesser. “My brother once set his woods on fire frying a turkey.”
“I stopped a good friend from killing all of us at a misfit Thanksgiving,” says Customer Care Specialist Kaleigh Embree. “He had responsibly gotten a thawed bird and patted it all dry on the outside, but totally forgot the VERY watery innards packet inside. I asked him if he had remembered to remove it as he was lifting it with a buddy to lower into the oil.
“Turkey was delicious, though.”
Setting Up Your Fry Station
It goes without saying, but if you’re going to deep-fry a turkey, keep a fire extinguisher on hand. And save your festive Thanksgiving attire for post-frying. Pay no attention to the pictures—wear long pants, long sleeves, shoes, and use a long oven mitt.
In addition to the turkey pot and the burner, you’ll need a 5-gallon propane tank and a long-stemmed thermometer. If you’re going to deep-fry a bunch of turkeys, you’d better have two or three propane tanks on hand. Set the propane tank as far away from the burner as the connections will allow.
The 30-quart Bijou Classic is good for turkeys up to 14 pounds. The 32-quart pot is good for turkeys up to 24 pounds. (Not sure how two additional quarts allows for 10 more pounds of turkey, but I’ll take Bijou’s word for it.)
How Much Oil & What Kind to Use
The Water Trick: The first year, I placed a 14-pound turkey in the pot and filled with water until the water was 2 inches above the turkey. I pulled the turkey out and marked the level of the water on the outside of the pot with a magic marker. That’s the amount of oil I put in. Although I’ve read that oil heated to 350°F expands 10 percent, I still fill to the original line.
I’ve only ever used peanut oil. I read that other oils will do, but I don’t know. This isn’t the time to use your favorite artisanal olive oil. Any sort of neutral oil sold in a big batch is best. I buy peanut oil in the 35-pound containers for about $45 at Costco. Thirty-five pounds of oil equals 4.63 gallons of oil. To get to my magic marker on the pot, I use 4 1/4 gallons of oil. It takes 30 minutes or so, depending on outdoor temperature, to bring the oil to 375°F. (Run the oil hotter than 350 because when the cool bird is dropped in, the temp will drop 50°).
Getting the Bird Ready
I buy the Trader Joe’s kosher bird. It’s brined and never frozen, but Trader Joe’s had no birds at this time of year. It was difficult to find fresh turkeys out of T-Day season. So we went to Shelton’s Turkeys in Pomona (100 miles away) to fetch our six turkeys for our Food52-Boil-a-Bird-in-Oil day.
Just because you’re going to deep-fry a turkey doesn’t mean that you should skimp on the brine. Choose between a wet or dry brine for Thanksgiving turkey; not only will this make a deep-fried turkey even more flavorful, but brined birds cook a little faster, too. For each turkey, I made a brine with a gallon of vegetable broth, a gallon of ice water, a cup of sea salt, and one tablespoon each of sage, rosemary, thyme, and black pepper. After removing the giblets and neck, any plastic or metal parts holding the legs together or a pop-out thermometer, the turkey was sealed in an oven bag with the brine and kept on ice overnight.
The next day, the brine was drained and the turkey was patted dry inside and out. Again, getting the turkey dry is critical. (Imagine drops of water in a pan of bacon frying.) Which is why the turkey was rolled in a plastic bag of flour and pepper and placed on the spindle awaiting its turn in the oil bath. Take twine and tie the legs and wings to the body, as well.
The turkey is brought to the pot and s-l-o-w-l-y lowered into the bubbling oil. No matter how slowly the turkeys are lowered, there are always oil spills. Each of the Food52 turkeys weighed an average of 13 1/2 pounds. 13 1/2 pounds x 3.5 minutes per pound = 47 minutes. Time enough to visit, have a sip of beer, and adjust the temperature on the pot.
While that bird is cooking, the next bird is getting readied.
The Right Internal Temperature
If you’re deep-frying turkey for the first time, satisfy yourself that the internal temp of the bird is 165°F in the breast and 180°F in the fat part of the thigh.
You’ll discover the skin is to die for, the meat moist, succulent, and does not taste the least bit oily. There is a 5 percent increase in calories over oven-baked…but really? This is Thanksgiving.
In Case You Chicken Out…
“My dad fries a turkey every year. He loves his turkey fryer,” says Executive Editor Joanna Sciarrino. “But then my mom roasts one, too—we always have two turkeys on Thanksgiving. I’m not totally convinced of my dad’s method. It’s faster to fry and saves oven space, but the skin is not as crispy as the roasted bird, if I’m being honest…”
And if the worst happens, there is always a bounty of side dishes like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cornbread stuffing, roasted Brussels sprouts, and more to keep you and your guests well-fed until dessert.
Have you ever tried to deep fry a turkey for Thanksgiving before? How did it go? Share your experience in the comments below!