My first deep-fried turkey experience was due to my best friend from high school. Tom Finney was a confirmed 100% Cajun, a wizard with backyard cooking and very proud of his heritage. My introduction to Cajun deep-fried turkey was an eye-opening event. “Byen mersi, Tom” (thank you very much, Tom).
Pioneer Dad had been raised with the Middle American notion that turkey was only baked in the oven and carefully tended by women for most of the afternoon. Certainly not cooked in the back yard surrounded by a circle of Cajun men with drinks over an open fire.
However, that deep fried turkey tasted amazingly juicy with crispy skin. Deep-frying is an interesting alternative to outdoor barbecues, neighborhood parties as well as holiday feasts. Its delicious, not greasy and it’s easy to get started with either outdoor or indoor turkey fryers.
This tradition started in the Cajun country of Louisiana, during the 1940s. This technique has now risen in popularity across the entire USA.
1. For deep-frying Tom suggests the following:
Fryer or a 26 or 40-quart capacity heavy pot with a frying basket or hook
Propane gas tank and burner
Frying thermometer, candy thermometer or meat thermometer
Several gallons of corn, peanut or canola oil
Oils with a high smoke point will work best for deep-frying.
It’s prudent to keep a fire extinguisher and plenty of heavy-duty potholders handy.
2. Big bird vs. small bird
Size matters when deep-frying. Smaller turkeys, from 8-pounds to 10-pounds or turkey parts such as; breast, wings, drumsticks and thighs are best choices for frying. A 12-pound to 15-pound turkey is the maximum size bird that can be successfully deep-fried.
Lowering and lifting a large turkey into a pot of boiling oil is one concern combined with the fact that larger birds simply take longer to cook. The extra cooking time may result in over exposure of the oil to the bird’s skin, which could then become over cooked.
If a turkey, over 15-pounds, has already been purchased, there are workarounds to get the bird deep-fried. First, detach the dark meat, leg and thigh portions, from the breast and fry the two turkey parts separately.
Fry the leg and thigh sections first in oil that has been preheated 375 degrees in an outdoor propane fryer or 400 degrees in an indoor electric fryer. Then, cook the leg and thigh sections to an internal temperature of 175°F to 180°F. Remove the dark-meat sections from the oil and reheat. Then fry the turkey breast to an internal temperature of 165°F to 170°F. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal meat temperature.
3. Avoiding disaster
The US Fire Administration reports that deep-frying turkey accidents cause nearly 4,300 fires each year and are the cause of 15 deaths annually. Proper planning and common sense will prevent becoming one of the statistics.
Most cooking oils are flammable. It is much safer to fry a turkey outdoors, in a clear area, with no overhead obstructions. Avoid any garage or patio with wood or flammable roofs. Place the turkey fryer, outdoors, on a level dirt or grassy area. Also avoid deep-frying on wood decks, which are susceptible to catching fire. Avoid concrete surfaces, which could become oil covered. Always keep a fire extinguisher within easy reach.
4. How much oil is safe?
To measure the amount of oil needed to deep-fry a turkey; first place the turkey in fryer or fryer basket, add water to cover the top of the turkey by several inches. Remove the turkey and the water line will indicate how much oil will be needed to fry the turkey. Scribe this line with a black waterproof marker. Adding too much oil is usually the cause of most fires.
The deep fryer or pot should not be more than 3/4 full, with the turkey in the fryer, or the oil could overflow when the turkey is added. Most deep fryers will require between 3-1/2 to 5-gallons of oil.
5. Preparation for frying
Remove the turkey from the wrapper and save the label. The label indicates the weight of the turkey and the weight will determine the total frying time. Thaw the turkey completely. Remove the neck and giblets from inside the bird. Also remove any pop-up timers and any wire or plastic trusses from the bird. Then wash the bird inside and out, and allow the bird to completely drain.
Begin heating the oil.
6. Recipes for the best tasting turkey
Tom’s Cajun style rub:
1/3-cup kosher salt
3-Tbs. onion powder
3-Tbs. black pepper
3-Tbs. white pepper
2-Tsp. bay leaves, ground
1-Tbs. cayenne pepper
2-tsp. filé powder
3-Tbs. garlic powder
1-1/2 Tbs. paprika
A simple dry rub:
¼-cup black pepper
¼-cup garlic powder
Mix all ingredients together for the rub. The rub can be stored in an airtight container overnight.
To apply either rub, gently loosen the membrane under the turkey skin. Apply the rub under the skin of the bird and all around inside the cavity.
This can be done as much as 36 hours in advance. Allow at least 12 hours to give the flavors of rub time to penetrate the meat while it’s kept in the refrigerator.
7. Propane vs. electric fryers
Deep fryers differ greatly in their operation between propane and electric.
Propane deep fryers should only be used outdoors. They typically are slightly larger in capacity; accommodating from 30 to 40 quarts of oil and requiring an additional propane tank. Heat the oil to 375 degrees for frying. Cook times for propane fryers will be 3 to 4 minutes per pound for turkeys. Or, 4 to 5 minutes per pound for turkey breasts, thighs and legs.
Electric deep fryers can only be used safely indoors if kept well away from overhead cabinets. They typically are slightly smaller in capacity; accommodating from 22 to 28 quarts of oil and feature built-in temperature controls and timers. Heat the oil to 400 degrees for frying. Cook times for electric fryers will be 3 minutes per pound plus 5 minutes for a turkey. Or, 7 minutes per pound for turkey breasts, thighs and legs.
8. Safety tips for deep-frying
Do not stuff a turkey that is to be deep-fried. That can cause a lowering of internal temperature and food safety issues.
Carefully measure the amount of oil needed before placing the bird in the fryer. Review and read section 3 above.
Immediately wash hands, utensils, equipment and any surfaces that have come in contact with raw turkey to avoid cross contamination.
Fried turkeys cook quickly. It only takes 3 to 4 minutes per pound. Overcooking is one of the most common mistakes in deep-frying.
Consume cooked turkey immediately and store leftovers in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking.
Never leave hot oil unattended whether inside or outside.
Don’t allow children or pets near the frying area.
Oil should cool completely before disposal or storage.