How to Fry a Turkey
for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Anytime
If you know how to fry a turkey, you know the secret to one of the moistest, tastiest, and --in some ways-- the easiest holiday turkey you'll ever eat.
And if you've never had a deep fried turkey for a holiday meal, you're missing out.
Fried turkey originated in the Southern United States from where it's been slowly growing in popularity around the U.S. But unless you've seen it done, the first time you hear about deep fried turkey, you probably wonder how --and why-- to deep fry a turkey. After all, it's not a chicken leg or breast. Something that size must have special requirements, right? Also, what does fried turkey taste like? Is it greasy? Dry?
All about fried turkey. Well, a deep fried turkey tastes more or less like heaven. A fried turkey is very moist, deeply flavorful, crispy-skinned, and is not oily at all when prepared properly. It's utterly fabulous.
That said, knowing how to fry a turkey does require some different equipment than your standard kitchen fare.
Supplies for Deep Frying a Turkey
There is some basic equipment that you'll need if you're considering deep frying a turkey for the first time. Much of it is stuff that you're not going to have lying around the house. At the bottom of this section, you'll find examples of a few of the supplies needed for deep frying a turkey, including:
- A large frying pot (40-50 quarts)
- A frying basket, hook, and hardware with which to lower the turkey into the oil
- A gas burner for heating the oil and keeping it at a steady temperature
- A thermometer to gage the heat of the oil throughout cooking
- A meat thermometer to make sure the turkey is cooked through
- Oil for frying (see some tips for types of oil and amount below)
- A meat injector (for adding flavor to the meat deep under the surface)
- Pot holders
- Eye and hand coverings
- A good grilling apron
- A fire extinguisher (just in case safety first)
- A turkey (you can deep fry a turkey of up to 15 pounds)
Once you assemble all your equipment and seasonings you want to find a safe outdoor location. The experts who really know how to fry a turkey suggest a spot that's level and covered with dirt, sand or grass. You want to stay away from any areas that may catch on fire or get stained by splashing oil.
NEVER fry a turkey indoors or near any building-- especially one (like a built-in garage) attached to another structure.
Preparing a Turkey for the Deep Fryer
To prepare your turkey, you'll want to begin with a thorough washing with cold water both inside and out. Let the turkey dry completely (you don't want any water on it at all!), leaving it to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Thaw it WELL. Be sure your turkey is completely thawed before even thinking about deep frying it. Even if it's just a bit frozen, the liquid that comes out while it thaws in the pot is seriously dangerous, and could easily start a fire. If you start with a frozen turkey, you won't be learning how to fry a turkey-- you'll be learning how to start a very nasty grease fire. So thaw your turkey properly.
Flavorings and Recipes for Deep Fried Turkey
Using a Turkey Spice Rub.
During this time you can add dry spices, like a Cajun rub
, to the inside and outside of the turkey if you wish. If you're learning how to fry a turkey for the first time, I generally feel it's best to stick with a turkey spice rub, as it requires less delicacy than injecting a marinade (below). But you can also do both!
Using a Fried Turkey Marinade Injection. Some people like to inject marinade into the turkey. This provides both flavor and moisture. You can buy a commercial marinade or make a turkey injection yourself.
The only limitation in designing your own marinade is that it cannot include any chunky items (it has to fit through the syringe without clogging). So if you want to use onions or garlic, be sure to blend your turkey deep fryer marinade in the blender first.
You'll find some great recipes for deep fried turkey rubs and Cajun fried turkey marinades and injections here:
Injecting the bird should happen at least 30 minutes before you fry it. Move the syringe /you'll need a special
deep fried turkey injector) well into the legs, thighs and breast of the turkey, deeply into the meat. Be careful, however, not to put marinade right under the turkey skin-- as it's a liquid, this would boil and splash when you fry it. Check out this page for in-depth instructions on how to inject a deep fried turkey with marinade.
Prepping the Turkey
This is one of those important points on how to fry a turkey that too many people miss out on. And these two quick steps can make the difference between a great turkey and a greasy one.
Widen the neck opening. Before deep frying a turkey (I'll do this the day before, generally) get a pair of kitchen scissors and be sure that the area around the neck cavity is a wide hole, and not overgrown with skin. This will help the oil to drain cleanly away from the inside of the bird when it's done.
Slice the joint. And another turkey deep fryer preparation tip you might not see in other places: With a sharp knife, make a 1" slice in the skin of your turkey right at joint between the leg and the thigh. This is another thing that will help the oil to drain away cleanly, avoiding a greasy deep fried turkey. A good secret on how to fry a turkey like an expert!
It's Fry Time! How to Fry a Turkey
Know all about how to fry a turkey and got all the prep stuff done? Now onto the fun stuff-- the frying!
All About Turkey Fryer Oil
Figuring the amount of oil. When you're about ready to start deep frying your turkey, your oil will go into the frying pot (you need enough to cover the bird completely by about an inch). How can you figure that amount out? By putting the turkey in the pot and filling it with water to the appropriate level. Now measure your water level and dry the frying pot completely. You now know how much oil you'll need.
NOTE: if the oil reaches the "fill" line built into your turkey fryer, you do not have a big enough fryer for the turkey you planned to cook. Safety always comes first!
How to fry a turkey in the right amount of oil is a bit tricky! In general, for the follow amounts you'll need:
- 26-Qt........2.75 Gallons
- 30-Qt........3 Gallons
- 34-Qt........4 Gallons
What type of oil can I use to deep fry turkey? Want to know what type of oil can you use to deep fry turkey? The answer is... more than you think. Whatever oil you choose, it needs to have a high flash point (the point at which it catches fire) to work, such as vegetable oil or cotton seed oil. But by far the best oil to use in a turkey deep fryer is peanut oil. It's more expensive, yes, but it's healthier, clearer, the best-cooking, and the most flavorful. You can also re-use it.
Heating the Oil. Place the oil on the burner, adjusting it to a low blue flame. Heat the oil to 325-350 degrees F (this will take about a half hour). Be sure to keep an eye on it all the time so it doesn't over heat.
Cooking the Turkey
Here's where you'll learn how to fry a turkey itself! Not just the prep work. Using a turkey hook or a basket, slowly lower the turkey into the cooker. Be sure to wear hand and eye covering for protection. And whatever you do, do not plop the turkey down into the oil! That's how to fry a turkey and
start a fire! Instead, lower the turkey down into your hot oil very
Cooking the turkey. Remove the hook (if used). Adding the turkey will bring down the temperature of the oil. After the bird is in there cooking, increase the heat a bit so that the oil temperature is again brought up to 325-350 degrees F. Be sure to keep an eye on it while it heats (this will take 3-8 minutes), and don't let it get too hot-- turn the heat back down when the oil reaches 325-350.
How Long to Deep Fry a Turkey? Cook the turkey about 3 1/2 minutes per pound-- that means about 42 minutes for a small 12-pound turkey, and about 52 minutes for a 15-pounder. Leave the turkey in the fryer an extra 3-5 minutes if you want extra, extra crispy skin.
You can check for doneness by using a meat thermometer, which should reach 170 degrees.
Note: Unless you'd rather know how to start a fire than how to fry a turkey, keep an eye on the oil thermometer while the turkey is cooking. After it's more than 450 degrees F, the oil starts heating up even more quickly, and can very quickly come to its flashpoint and catch fire. So don't leave your bird to cook by itself!
Removing and Carving Your Turkey
Removing the bird from the oil.
Use the basket or hook to slowly remove the turkey from the cooking oil. Place the turkey on a rack over a pan covered in absorbent paper so that any excess oil can drip off of it. If you've learned how to fry a turkey with the proper preparation (as described above) the oil should just flow right through.
Resting and Carving.When drained, remove your deep fried turkey to a platter and let rest. As with a roasted turkey, it's best to give a deep fried turkey a rest time of about 30 minutes to get the moistest meat possible. Then carve, devour, and enjoy!
8 Hints on How to Fry a Turkey with Success
1. Measure. Remember to measure the amount of oil required before you season or marinate your turkey.
2. Safety first! Keep children and pets away from the deep fryer.
3. Do extras. Consider deep frying more than one bird once you're set up-- you can always freeze the second for a future meal. After all, learning how to fry a turkey is a lot of trouble-- take advantage of all your effort!
4. Consider allergies. If anyone has peanut allergies, substitute canola or vegetable oil for the peanut oil.
5. Don't give up. If you accidentally burn your turkey all is not lost. Check under the skin you may find that, though the outside is burned, the meat is just fine.
6. Cool it off. Cool the oil completely before storage.
7. Re-use the oil. Peanut oil is expensive, so re-use, re-use, re-use. It can generally be re-heated and re-used about 3 times before it deteriorates.
8. Cleaning up. Be sure to wash all surfaces and tools that come in contact with the turkey thoroughly afterwards
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