Savannah Valley District

Deep-Fried Turkey

Christine Patrick, County Extension EFNEP Agent

The deep-fried turkey is a delicacy that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Some people swear it’s the most delicious turkey you’ll ever put in your mouth. Even so, deep-frying a turkey is probably the most expensive way to cook the Thanksgiving bird and potentially the most dangerous.

Indeed, there are several pieces of special equipment necessary for frying a turkey.  You’ll need a pot that can hold between 28 and 60 quarts with the accompanying basket, burner, and propane gas tank. A deep-fry thermometer, meat thermometer, timer, paper towels, and oven mitts are essential as well. You will need a fire extinguisher, too. Accidents do happen, and if a hot pot of cooking oil gets tipped over and ignites from the propane flame, you will be glad you have the fire extinguisher close at hand. This is outdoor cooking. You do not want to try this indoors or on a wooden or concrete deck or dock. Since turkey frying has become popular, there have been several people who have burned down their houses because they poorly chose their cooking location.  A level spot on dirt or grass in an open area is the best option.

Small turkeys – no larger than 12 pounds – are best for frying. Larger ones are harder to handle and more difficult to cook to the proper internal temperature without burning the skin. Plan on about a pound of turkey per person to feed your hungry crowd.

If you’re starting with a frozen turkey, begin thawing far enough ahead that the turkey will be completely thawed when you’re ready to cook. Thaw it in the refrigerator on a tray, in its wrapper, for 24 hours for every five pounds of weight. An alternative is to thaw the turkey breast down in cold water, in its wrapper, for 30 minutes per pound, changing the water every 30 minutes. Don’t thaw the bird more than two days ahead of the time you plan to cook it.

Peanut oil is the standard when frying turkey. It has a higher smoking point than most vegetable oils. How much you’ll need is calculated by immersing the turkey and the basket in the pot and filling it with water until the turkey is covered.  You may have to shove the turkey under the surface if it floats. Either use a tape measure to measure the distance from the top of the pot to the surface of the water or mark the spot with a permanent marker. This will give you a future reference for turkeys of the same size. Pour out the water and thoroughly dry the pot and the turkey with paper towels. Fill the pot with oil to the point you have marked. If you plan to cook more than one bird, check the depth of the oil periodically and add oil as needed. You may need five gallons of oil or more.

Some people swear by a dry rub to season the turkey, others like to inject flavorings and some do both. Heat the oil to 375°F. Check it with the deep-fry thermometer. This step may take an hour or more if the weather is cold, rainy, or windy. Keep the cooking temperature at a minimum of 350°F. If it drops much lower than that, the meat will begin absorbing oil.

Be careful when you lower the turkey into the oil. Go slowly and use oven mitts to protect your hands from heat, steam, and oil. Cook the bird for three minutes per pound. Remove the turkey carefully, allowing the oil to drain. With a meat thermometer, check the temperature of the thigh meat in two or three different spots. The temperature must register at least 180°F. If it does not, return the turkey to the hot oil for continued cooking, and wash the meat thermometer before using it again. Never leave the hot oil unattended. Keep children and pets away from the cooking area. This is a costly way to cook just one turkey. The oil will cost more than the bird. Most fried turkey connoisseurs make the most of this situation by offering to cook turkeys for friends.  This allows for getting the most use of the oil. If you choose to do this, make a schedule, allowing at least 45 minutes per turkey. Your friends should bring a container to hold the turkey for the trip home and make sure the container is washed first if it also held the turkey raw.

Turkey dinner plate for students at Harcombe Dining Hall.

For more information about deep-frying a turkey, visit the Home and Garden Information Center webpage at .

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