How to Deep-Fry a Turkey

November 24, 2010
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One of the great traditions in our home is deep-fried turkey for the special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and block parties. Here are instructions for how to deep-fry a turkey that will impress your family and friends to no end while they watch football games on television and think you are a hero. Proper cooking temperature and time to cook a turkey are included in the text, or watch the instructional video below if you prefer visuals to text instructions.

I have deep-fried turkeys up to 18 pounds which basically ignores the instructions. The instructions I have say up to 14 pounds, but why underplay a good thing? In fact, larger turkeys will use less oil because they displace the oil to a larger degree in the pan.

When I saw friends making deep fried turkeys I decided to try it myself for the first time about ten years ago. Kits for the operation are sold at the large home stories like Home Depot and Walmart. They come with everything you need except for the oil and propane tank which you buy separately. What you need is a large 5 gallon soup pot, deeper than it is wide. A lid will help the oil heat faster but it is not used for cooking. You will also need a thermometer with a deep stick capable of holding without scalding your hand, which is why it is preferable that it mount on the side of the pan. And you need a heating source. The kits at the store will come with a metal platform which you place the pan on and an attachment for a propane tank, exactly like the one used for outdoor heaters or gas barbecue grills.

Peanut oil works best for deep-frying turkeys and just about anything else. You can buy a 5-gallon box of oil at the big stores like Cost Co or Home Depot. You will use 3 gallons, more or less depending on the weight of your turkey. You can use regular vegetable oil as well.

Have a hose nearby in case the oil bubbles over and burns on the ground. If that happens do not panic! I learned this lesson the first time it happened when I sprayed the ground madly. Well this is oil and water mixing together which means I just spread the fire around the ground and made a small problem worse. So use the hose with caution if you need it. I soak the ground now with water before I start the operation and clear any leaves away.

Select a place for deep-frying the turkey that is away from the crowd. I use the side yard in the house. Some do it on cement but I prefer dirt because I hate the temporary discoloration that a little spilled oil will do to the patio. Because you are such a hero, children are drawn to the pot of hot oil like magnets. Deep-frying a turkey is just so way cool and smells awesome. Always supervise the operation by staying nearby and create a blockade if you can with benches or chairs so that the little ones will not run it over like madmen.

The deep-fry instructions that came with my kit announced the obvious. Because the oil is hot and dangerous, do not consume alcohol which you are managing the cooking. That only makes sense that you don’t want to be drunk off your ass while you are handling hot oil.

Preparing the Turkey
No stuffing can go inside a deep fried turkey so that is a drawback. All the goes in the pot is that beautiful pristine turkey. You can inject them with juices which I’ve done from time to time. If you want to inject marinade or other flavorings, use the syringe provided in the kit. The guys will think you are cool to inject beer but that doesn’t really taste like anything. Just say you did it. Injecting dark sauces or red wine will discolor the turkey so don’t do that. I’ve also pushed garlic cloves and fresh basil into the breast which is totally yummy and presents well on the table.

Cooking the Turkey Using a Deep-Fryer, Temperature and Time
With a propane tank that is filled, you are now ready to go. Hook the propane tank to the heating structure and light it. Place the pan on top and add an amount of peanut oil appropriate to the turkey’s size. The kits should have markings inside the pan which indicate how much peanut oil to add. If they do not, place the turkey in the pan before you begin heating, and then poor in enough oil to cover the turkey with a few inches to spare, and then remove the turkey again.

Now attach the thermometer to the pan and closely watch the temperature rise. It will rise slowly at first but toward the end will go up rapidly. Adjust the gas knob to decrease the propane if it starts to get too hot. Cooling it back down takes forever so don’t let it get too hot! It might take 30 minutes to heat the oil but watch it closely.

The proper temperature for cooking a turkey, deep-fried, is 325 degrees to 350 degrees so manage the oil in that range. When you put the turkey in cold the temperature will dip for a while before rising again.

Deep fried turkeys take 3 minutes per pound to cook. Think about it. The cooking time is only 45 minutes for a 15 pound turkey which would take hours to cook in the oven or barbecue!! How to barbecue a turkey is a story for another day but that is also easy and fast.

You can test the turkey temperature internally with a traditional meat thermometer. The internal temperature of a turkey should be about 170 degrees in the breast.

Disposing of the oil
While the oil is still hot, this is your chance for a bonus. Thinly slice some potatoes or yams. You can even use a cheese grater. Throw them in the vat of oil while it is cooling and wait a couple of minutes. Potato chips that the kids will love and further your status as a deep-frying expert. Or you can throw a couple of chickens in there for next week which will cook in a matter of minutes.

Peanut oil can be re-used once or twice more according to the instructions provided, but to do that you need a way to store the oil safely. It will need to cool for a considerable amount of time, something that I let happen overnight. Put the lid on while it cools to keep falling leaves, and curious noses out of it like the family cat. To re-use it, you will want to filter the oil with cheesecloth to get the little bits out of it. Then store it back in the original container.

Feel like an expert yet? You are, trust me. Deep-frying a turkey is easy stuff. The main thing is the safety issue so just be careful and have fun! And just in case you are not feeling confident watch the video below.

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