So, You Want to Make Fried Turkey? Here's What You Need to Know

·10 min read

Equip yourself with a little knowledge and prep and you'll be serving the juiciest turkey this Thanksgiving.

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The Thanksgiving thinking cap is on. Menu planning is simmering, and the desire for classics is strong with a side of cravings for new recipes to try. Perhaps there's a glimmer of adventure and an urge to try something different. In comes fried turkey. You've heard rave reviews of how succulent the meat is and how crispy the skin gets. You've also heard of the endeavor as a cautionary tale.

There is no other way to put this: fried turkey is a project, but when done right (and carefully) it is one worth taking on. Fried turkey is a divine gift on Thanksgiving. The meat is juicy and tender, while the skin is unbelievably crispy. The result is one that the oven alone simply cannot replicate. It does take work and setting up, yet once you empower yourself with the knowledge, tools, and tips, it will be far from intimidating. It'll be thrilling.

Fried turkey's rise to fame started creeping up in the early 2000s despite the undertaking posing a fire risk. However, it's said that prior to then, in the 1970s to 1980s, Cajun chefs were publishing recipes, delivering cooking demonstrations, and deep-frying turkeys on television. There were mixed reviews, but it wasn't long before this Southern take on turkey made its rounds and even Martha Stewart gave fried turkey a shot. Fried turkey quickly went from a Southern icon to an all-American Thanksgiving delicacy.

Intrigued to put it on your table this Thanksgiving? Be prepared to purchase a handful of essentials. A lot of oil is required, we're talking up to 5 gallons of peanut oil. You will also need a turkey fryer, propane tank, a long oil thermometer, and protective gear.

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The size of the turkey is also important. Avoid buying a turkey over 12 pounds. A bird between 8 to 10 pounds is ideal for frying. And don't forget you've got plenty of oil to fry multiple birds on the day. Prep the next bird while you've got one frying. Turkey should always be completely thawed before frying, patted dry as thoroughly as possible (inside and out), and giblets and neck removed. The turkey can be wet- or dry-brined ahead of time. If using a wet brine, stick to the thoroughly-drying-the-bird-before-cooking rule.

Frying a turkey outdoors is the most common, but there are two other ways to reach fried turkey heaven that might feel a bit less adventurous. There are indoor fryers, which do not require a propane tank and can just be plugged in, requiring less setup, and is, therefore, more convenient. Look for brands that offer the auto shut-off feature for oil that gets too hot and comes with a built-in thermostat to regulate the temperature. There are also oil-less turkey fryers, which in the land of air fryers is a familiar concept. Hot air circulates to cook the turkey and the result yields crispy skin and tender meat, but not to the level of an oil-fried turkey. However, oil-less fryers still require a propane tank, and cooking time is longer. Due to the propane tank, oil-less fryers must still be used outdoors and outdoors only. The perks are less clean up and not having to figure out how to dispose of all that oil.

Fried Turkey Recipe

Follow this step-by-step recipe and the important cooking tips below for how to make fried turkey.

You will need:

  • Protective gear: pants, long-sleeve shirt, apron, closed-toe shoes, long oven mitts or gloves, and goggles

  • Propane tank

  • Turkey fryer with rack

  • Extra-long candy/deep-fry thermometer for oil

  • Instant-read thermometer for turkey

For an outdoor propane turkey fryer:

  • 1 turkey, 8 to 12 pounds, thawed with giblets and neck removed, patted dry

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 4 gallons peanut oil

  1. Place turkey in empty fryer pot according to manufacturer's instructions, with turkey legs pointing down. Add water, measuring as you go or marking the water level on the outside of pot, until the turkey is just submerged. This will indicate how much oil you need. Make sure there are between 3 to 5 inches from this marking to the top of the pot to keep oil from boiling over. Remove turkey; dry thoroughly with paper towels including the cavity (this is very important). Discard water. Dry the fryer pot thoroughly.

  2. Set up turkey fryer on level ground according to manufacturer's instructions. Attach an extra-long candy/deep-fry thermometer to the inside of the fryer pot. Fill with an equivalent amount of oil. Preheat oil to 350°F according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  3. Generously season turkey inside and out with salt and pepper. Place turkey, breast side up and legs pointing down, on rack with hook (this tool aids in adding the turkey into the oil and removing it after it's cooked).

  4. Turn off the gas completely. Slowly lower the turkey into hot oil using the rack/lift hook handle. (Take about 1 minute to do this to minimize oil spills.) Once the turkey is submerged completely, reignite the fryer and maintain the oil temperature at 350°F.

  5. Fry until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155°F, about 30 minutes for an 8-pound turkey and up to 40 to 42 minutes for a 12-pound turkey, or 3 to 4 minutes per pound. The temperature will rise as the bird rests, you're looking for a safe internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 180°F in the thickest part of the thigh. Carefully lift turkey from the oil using rack/lift hook handle, allowing excess oil to drip off. Transfer to a baking sheet or cutting board and allow the turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes, loosely covered in foil. Remove turkey from rack and carve.

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For an indoor electric turkey fryer:

  • 3 gallons peanut oil

  • 1 turkey, 8 to 12 pounds, thawed with giblets and neck removed, patted dry

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Add oil to the fryer, but do not exceed the maximum fill line. Preheat oil in the fryer to 350° F according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  2. Generously season turkey inside and out with salt and pepper.

  3. Place the basket in the fryer for 30 seconds. Remove basket from oil, place turkey in basket, and slowly lower the turkey into the fryer. Fry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  4. Fry until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast registers 155°F, about 30 minutes for an 8-pound turkey and up to 40 to 42 minutes for a 12-pound turkey, or 3 to 4 minutes per pound. The temperature will rise as the bird rests, you're looking for a safe internal temperature of 165°F in the breast and 180°F in the thickest part of the thigh. Carefully lift the turkey from the oil, allowing excess oil to drip off. Transfer to a baking sheet or cutting board and allow the turkey to rest for at least 20 minutes, loosely covered in foil, before carving.

Fried Turkey Cooking Tips

Keep these pointers close for a successful and safe journey to the best fried turkey. Most of these tips apply to frying turkey outdoors. However, if you're using an electric fryer made for indoors, there is still hot oil to be mindful of, so take these tips into consideration.

Thoroughly Thaw the Turkey

First and foremost, make sure the turkey is completely thawed. If you've got the time, thaw the turkey in the refrigerator. A good rule of thumb: it takes a frozen turkey one day for every 4 pounds to thaw in a refrigerator set to 40°F or below. If Turkey Day is around the corner and you ran out of time, use the cold water-thawing method, and place the turkey in cool water and allow about 30 minutes per pound for it to thaw, changing the water every 30 minutes. Use this handy chart for how long to thaw a turkey.

Use a Deep-Frying Thermometer.

While the turkey is thawing, locate your long-pronged candy/deep-frying thermometer. (It's a small investment worth making if you don't already have one). The temperature of the oil is crucial for fried turkey, and just about any other frying venture. A thermometer is a must for frying turkey. You will also need an instant-read thermometer to ensure the turkey is cooked thoroughly.

Remove Excess Turkey Parts

Once thawed, remove any excess fat and of course the giblets and neck too. Do not forget the innards packet inside the turkey. Then thoroughly dry the turkey with paper towels, inside and out, to avoid splatters and flare-ups.

Read the Instructions

Frying turkey can be a dangerous game. To prevent inury, always read and follow all the manufacturer's instructions and warnings included with the deep fryer. Even if you've done this before, a refresher never hurts.

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Don't Stuff the Turkey

If you're one that loves stuffing (who doesn't?), keep it separate. Don't stuff the turkey when deep-frying. Make the stuffing on its own instead, and better yet, go wild and try two different stuffing recipes. This is also not the time to stuff the cavity with aromatics like lemon and herbs, leave that for a classic oven-roasted turkey. The same goes for marinating. Brining is fair game; just be sure to dry the turkey well.

Be Careful Outdoors

For outdoor fryers, prep an outdoor area (aka large backyard, not on or near a wooden deck) on level ground, away from the house and anything that can catch fire, at least 10 feet from any structure for good measure. Rain or snow in sight? Skip the frying. Do not attempt to do this indoors. It requires a lot more oil and it's a big bird. Put on pants, a long-sleeved shirt, an apron, wear shoes and use long oven mitts to be extra safe. Goggles are never a bad idea either.

Switch the Burner Off at the Right Time

Right before adding the turkey into the fryer, turn off the burner. Once the bird is submerged completely in the oil, turn up the heat and keep an eye on the temperature of the oil.

Keep an Eye Out for Smoke

Turn off the fryer if the oil is smoking. Most oils can catch fire over 400°F.

Dispose of the Cooking Oil Carefully

There should be at least 2 feet between the tank and the burner of a propane turkey fryer. When the party is over, let the oil cool overnight before disposing of it. (And not down the drain!).

Have a Fire Extinguisher Ready

Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. You already have one in your kitchen, right…? So bring it outside. Better safe than sorry. Do not use flour or water to fight an oil fire.

Pay Attention!

Frying a turkey is not like roasting a turkey. It requires constant attention. Do not leave it unattended under any circumstance.

Keep Kids and Pets Far Away

Last but certainly not least, no kids or pets should be near the fryer at any point.