Deep Fried Turkey

Safety First | Turkey Deep-Fry Cookers
Selecting the Oil | Measuring the Oil | Preparing the Turkey
Preparing the Cooker | Placing the Turkey into the Cooker | Cooking the Turkey

Deep-frying, also known as deep-fat frying, is a process of immersing food in a deep pot containing hot oil, which cooks the food quickly, producing a crispy surface over a tender and moist interior. It is becoming a popular method for cooking whole turkeys. The turkey should be no heavier than 15 pounds because larger turkeys require too much time to cook, resulting in an exterior that may be burned while the interior is still undercooked. Large turkeys can be difficult to handle, which increases safety concerns when cooking with hot oil. Smaller turkeys allow for ease of handling and better results. 10 to 12 pounds is a popular weight range. A whole turkey can be cooked as is or it may be covered with a seasoned crumb coating, a dry rub, or injected with a marinade.

Safety First

Safety should be of primary importance when deep-frying a whole turkey. Extreme care is necessary to ensure safety. Because the required equipment can be cumbersome and the large quantity of hot oil necessary for cooking a whole bird can be dangerous, deep-frying a whole turkey is much less safe than deep-frying food on a smaller scale. It is important to note that Underwriters Laboratories has refused to certify any turkey deep-frying equipment because of the dangers involved; however, the process can be accomplished safely and without fear, and the results will be successful when the important points described below are followed.

  • Because of the size of the cooking equipment and the large quantity of oil required, deep-frying a whole turkey should never be attempted indoors. Pieces of turkey meat can be deep-fried safely indoors using traditional equipment such as a small pot on a stove top or a small deep-fat fryer.

  • When purchasing a deep-fryer designed for cooking whole turkeys, make sure the model has a solid base that will hold the cooking pot firmly. Models with tripod legs should be avoided because they can tip easily.

  • Make sure that the manufacturer's instructions are followed exactly to ensure safety.

  • The pot must be large enough to accommodate the turkey, but not so large that it becomes wobbly on the heating surface.

  • The deep-frying equipment should be used a safe distance from all combustible substances. Never place the cooker on a deck, near any building, or on a table. Level areas of bare ground or grassy surfaces are ideal locations for placement of the cooker.

  • If an extension cord must be used when using an electric cooker outdoors, be sure to use a cord that is as short as possible and be certain that it is rated to handle the wattage of the cooker. Place the cooker in an area where the cord will not become a tripping hazard.

  • Do not overfill the pot with oil. When the turkey is placed into the pot, the oil may spill over the sides, causing a dangerous situation. The proper quantity of oil must be used. When using a gas cooker, the burner should be turned off while inserting the turkey to eliminate the possibility of the burner igniting the oil in the event that the oil spills over the side of the pot.

  • Once the cooker is on, do not attempt to move it.

  • The cooker should not be left unattended and children and pets should NEVER be allowed near the cooking area.

  • A fire extinguisher and heavy potholders should always be within reach.

  • The temperature of the oil should be closely monitored. Once it reaches 450°F, it will heat rapidly to the flashpoint, which may cause the oil to ignite. Do not heat the oil above 375°F. If the oil begins to smoke, turn the cooker off immediately. If using a thermometer to check the temperature of the oil, be sure that it is accurate before using it.

  • Be sure the turkey is completely thawed. If it is not completely thawed when it is inserted into the hot oil, it may cause the oil to spill over because of the reaction of the hot oil to the ice crystals in the frozen bird.

  • All utensils and equipment that come into contact with the hot oil must be dried thoroughly. Moisture on the utensils will cause splattering when brought into contact with the hot oil, which can be dangerous.

  • Make sure the turkey is as dry as possible before it enters the hot oil. The turkey should be lowered into the hot oil slowly and carefully to prevent splashing or spillage.

  • A long sleeved shirt and long heavy oven mitts or gloves should be worn to protect hands and arms from the heat and splattering oil. Be sure to wear shoes to protect your feet.

  • After the cooking is completed, the oil should not be transferred to another container or disposed of until it has cooled completely. It is extremely dangerous to pour the oil from the cooking vessel until it has cooled. Several hours may be required for the large quantity of oil to cool sufficiently.

Turkey Deep-fry Cookers

The proper equipment is required to deep-fry a whole turkey and to provide safety when cooking and handling it. Turkey deep-fry cookers are available in electric and propane models.

Electric Cooker

An electric cooker can be used inside or outside, but since the large volume of hot oil necessary for cooking a whole turkey can be quite dangerous, it is more safely used outdoors. An electric cooker is often easier to use than a propane cooker. Many of the electric models are equipped with a thermostat control gauge for easy temperature control and some models include a timer. A metal basket is included as well as a lifting hook for easier handling of the turkey when inserting it in the oil and removing it when the cooking is completed. Some models feature a drain value for easy removal of the oil. Most electric deep-fry cookers have a safety feature that prevents the oil from becoming too hot.

Propane Cooker

A propane cooker is designed for outdoor use only. The cooker consists of a propane burner, a 30 to 60 quart heavy pot, propane gas tank, a basket or a turkey stand, and a lifting hook for inserting the turkey into the hot oil and for removing it. It does not have a thermostat control so a candy/deep-fry thermometer of sufficient length is necessary to monitor the temperature of the oil.

Selecting the Oil

  • Any cooking oil can be used for deep-frying as long as it does not smoke or burn at temperatures that may reach as high as 425°F.

  • Because the turkey will absorb a small quantity of oil while it cooks, it is best to use an oil that is low in saturated fat.

  • Peanut oil, corn oil, and canola oil are often used for deep-frying because they have high smoke points and are inexpensive.

Measuring the Oil

It is extremely important to use the proper quantity of oil when deep-frying a whole turkey. If too little oil is used, the turkey may not be totally covered with the oil when it is placed into the pot. If too much oil is used, the oil may overflow the sides of the pot when the turkey is inserted creating an extremely dangerous situation. Many deep-fryer models have gauges to determine the correct volume of oil to use in relation to the size of the turkey being cooked. If no gauge is included with the equipment, the following steps may be used for determining the correct volume of oil to use:

  1. Remove the neck, giblets, and any other packets from the cavity of the turkey. If the turkey has leg ties or a pop-up indicator inserted, they should also be removed.

  2. If the deep-fryer is equipped with a metal basket insert, the turkey should be placed in the basket breast side up. If a turkey stand is used, position the turkey feet up. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper placement of the turkey in the cooker.

  3. Place the turkey and basket into the cooker pot and add water until the turkey is totally immersed and there is at least 1 or 2 inches of water above the turkey.

  4. Remove the turkey from the pot and be sure all the water is emptied from the cavity of the turkey. Measure the distance from the top of the pot to the surface of the water.

  5. Remove the water from the pot and dry it thoroughly.

  6. Pour the oil into the pot up to the same level where the water had been.

Preparing the Turkey

  • It is extremely important that a previously frozen turkey is completely thawed before it is deep-fried. Check the cavity for ice crystals, which would indicate that the turkey is not fully thawed. If a partially frozen turkey is immersed in hot oil, the oil may foam over, causing a dangerous situation.

  • Trim excess fat and anything else from the cavity that is not desired.

  • Rinse the turkey and make sure the cavity if washed thoroughly.

  • After rinsing, the turkey must be dried thoroughly because any remaining water will cause the hot oil to splatter. Use paper towels to dry the surface and the cavity.

  • If desired, add flavor to the turkey with the use of a rub, breading, or flavor injection.

  • Before deep-frying the turkey, be sure to check the turkey once again for possible moisture accumulation and pat it dry if necessary.

Preparing the Cooker

  • Place the cooker in an outdoor location that is level and away from combustibles. Level areas of open lawn or bare ground are perhaps the best choices for placement; however, beware of the possibility of fire if the grassy area is tinder dry. A concrete paver may also be placed on the ground to provide a sturdy surface for the cooker. The cooker may be placed on a patio or concrete area, but it is important to remember that any oil that splatters and drips will stain the surface. Do not place the cooker on a wood deck because of the danger of fire and avoid placing it on a tabletop due to the possibility of it tipping.

  • If an extension cord must be used when using an electric cooker outdoors, be sure to use a cord that is as short as possible and be certain that it is rated to handle the wattage of the cooker. Place the cooker in an area where the cord will not become a tripping hazard.

  • Pour oil into the cooker up to the fill line or to the premeasured level. Previously used oil may be reused if it is still in good condition, but additional fresh oil may be required to fill the cooker to the proper level. Different types of oil should not be mixed because the different smoke points of the various oils may reduce the overall smoke point when they are blended.

  • When using a propane gas cooker, attach a candy/deep-fry thermometer to the side of the cooker so that the end of thermometer is at least one inch below the surface of the oil.

  • It is beneficial to line a large baking sheet or shallow pan with newspapers or a thick layer of paper towels. When the cooking is complete, the basket or stand containing the deep-fried turkey can be placed on the paper-lined baking sheet to drain the excess oil.

  • When using a propane gas cooker, the flame should be set to about half to heat the oil. This will allow the flame to be increased after the turkey is placed in the hot oil, since the temperature of the oil will drop when the turkey enters the pot. 20 or 30 minutes may be required to heat the oil to the proper temperature.

  • When using an electric cooker, set the thermostat control to 375°F. An hour may be required to heat the oil to the required temperature.

Placing the Turkey into the Cooker

  • The oil is ready when it reaches 375ºF. Place the turkey into the basket or onto the stand according to the manufacturer's instructions and slowly lower it into the cooker using the lifting hook provided with the cooker. Long oven mitts should be worn to provide protection from the hot oil. It may be necessary for two people to do the lifting. When using a propane gas cooker, the burner must be turned off while placing the turkey into the oil.

  • If the cooker does not include a basket or stand and therefore no lifting hook, a long, heavy tool, such as a clean fireplace poker, may be inserted into the cavity of the turkey and used for lifting. Care must be taken to ensure that the turkey does not slip off the tool into the hot oil, which may result in dangerous splashing.

  • The oil will bubble and splatter as the turkey is lowered into the cooker. Be mindful of the oil level while the turkey is being lowered into the pot. Do not allow the oil to overflow the cooker.

  • When the turkey has been completely immersed, detach the lifting hook from the basket or stand and place the cover on the cooker.

Cooking the Turkey

Cooking Procedure

  • The optimum cooking temperature for deep-frying the turkey is 350ºF. When the turkey is placed into the hot oil, the temperature will drop rapidly; therefore, it is important to preheat the oil to 375°F so that less time is required to restore the oil to the proper cooking temperature.

  • When the temperature of the oil has returned to a range of 325° to 350°F, the cooking process should be timed. The cooking time is figured as 3 minutes per pound plus 5 minutes. Be sure to monitor the temperature of the oil throughout the cooking process, increasing or decreasing the heat when necessary.

  • It is important that the temperature of the oil remains near 350ºF for proper cooking. Do not allow the temperature to drop below 325ºF because if the oil is cooler than this, the turkey will not cook properly and it may soak up too much oil. If the temperature of the oil is excessively high, the exterior of the turkey will burn before the interior is cooked thoroughly. Keep in mind that many oils have a flash point of 425°F, which if reached, increases the risk of fire.

  • When the turkey is fully cooked, it will float and the exterior will be nicely browned.

  • While wearing long oven mitts, attach the lifting hook to the basket handle or the loop on the turkey stand, and slowly lift the turkey from the hot oil. Allow the basket to hover over the top of the cooker so that some of the oil will drain from the turkey into the pot. It may be necessary for two people to lift the turkey and hold it over the top of the cooker while the oil drains from the turkey. Some turkey deep-fryer models include a clip attachment on the rim of the pot that allows the basket to be attached to the rim, eliminating the need for the basket to be manually held over the surface of the cooker for drainage. When using a propane gas cooker, the burner must be switched off before removing the turkey.

  • The turkey must be checked for proper doneness using a meat thermometer. The breast should reach 170°F and the thigh should reach 180°F. If the turkey is not done, return it to the hot oil and cook it for an additional 5 minutes.

  • After the turkey is removed from the cooker and the oil has been drained from the bird, place the basket or turkey stand on the baking sheet or pan that was previously lined with newspaper or paper towels so that additional oil may be drained.

  • Leave the turkey in the basket and wrap it loosely with foil. Allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. The resting period allows the juices to be reabsorbed back into the meat.

  • After the resting period, remove the turkey from the basket or turkey stand, then carve it and serve.
Note: DO NOT leave the deep-fry cooker unattended. One person should not attempt to deep-fry a whole turkey by him or herself. Two adults should be present during the entire process. One person should tend the cooker while another performs other necessary tasks. Two people should lower the turkey into the hot oil and remove it when it is fully cooked.

Cooking Tips

  • Do not add stuffing to the cavity of the turkey when deep-frying. The stuffing will not cook properly.

  • Do not salt the turkey before deep-frying. The salt will draw out moisture to the turkey's surface, which will cause splattering when the turkey is placed in the hot oil. If desired, salt the meat when it is served.

  • Remember to measure the amount of oil you will need by placing the turkey in the pot and covering with water before you marinate, bread or season the turkey, otherwise the flavoring agents will be washed off in the water.

  • Be sure to maintain the proper cooking temperature of the oil. If the oil is not hot enough, the turkey will absorb the oil and become greasy. If the oil is too hot, the surface will brown too quickly before the interior meat cooks to the proper temperature.

  • Do not overcook the turkey. If the oil maintains the proper temperature, 3 minutes per pound plus 5 minutes should be sufficient. If the turkey is cooked too long, the meat will be quite dry.

  • Preheat the oil 10° to 15°F higher than the desired cooking temperature. This will ensure that minimal time is required to restore the oil to the proper cooking temperature after the cold turkey is placed into the hot oil.

  • Wash hands and utensils that are exposed to raw turkey throughout the preparation and cooking process to prevent cross contamination.

  • Refrigerate leftover turkey promptly. Two hours is the approximate maximum time that the cooked turkey should go without refrigeration.
Note: Most types of oil used for deep-frying may be used again. The oil can be filtered to remove any impurities; however, allow the oil to cool to room temperature before attempting to remove it from the cooking vessel. Some oils may be used 3 or 4 times when cleansed and filtered between uses. Keep in mind that when cooking oil is filtered and cleansed, some of the original quantity may be lost, so it may be replenished with new oil if a specific quantity is required for the next use. Refer to Cooking Oil Care for more information on reusing oil for deep-frying.

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