Safety First When Deep Frying A Turkey
A few words on safety:
1.) The cooking equipment must be set up in a clear level area away from buildings and things that can catch fire. Nothing puts a damper on the holiday season liking burning your place to the ground. And it has far reaching effects in ruining the holiday for others: an insurance adjuster is now going to be called away from their family, a few firefighters are going to have to miss their holiday meal thanks to the inferno that was your home. So please, follow the safety advice: set up in a flat clear area, away from things that burn!
2.) Have a fire extinguisher ready and make sure it is one of the ABC rated units.
3.) Do not use water to put out a grease fire. Spraying water on a grease fire will increase the risk that you will not only lose your home to the fire, but could put your family and friends in the emergency room from the grease explosion that will ensue.
4.) The cat is in the picture to remind each of you that food cooking will attract your pets which can be an added hazard when working with very hot oil, both for you and your pet. So make sure animals are secured to an area where they cannot interfere with your cooking safety.
What You Will Need To Deep Fry A Turkey
One turkey between 14-18 lbs.
4 Gallons of Vegetable or Peanut oil
One turkey fryer system, or a real big pot and a burner.
One remote thermometer
One oil thermometer
One recipes worth of your favorite stuffing to plate the turkey on.
2 Tbsp Water
Spices and herbs for the coating:
1 Tbsp orange zest
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp thyme
2 cups of corn flakes
2 cups of flour
1 cup of corn meal
2 Tbsp dark chili powder
2 Tbsp basil
2 Tbsp oregano
2 Tbsp parsley
2 Tbsp smoke paprika
One large mixing bowl
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Tbsp dried onion
2 Tbsp white pepper
2 Tbsp Salt
Setting Up The Equipement To Deep Fry A Turkey
The equipment is relatively easy to obtain these days. You'll need:
1.) A decent propane burner set up with a deep pot and a retrieving device for the turkey. Mine is the stainless steel version that Sam's Club was selling a few years back.
2.) Oil. When purchasing the system, keep in mind that a frying pot with a smaller diameter will require less oil. I have observed fryer pots that are in need of 8 gallons of oil - you will have twice in oil cost what you have in turkey costs with these larger pots. This pot (below) is set up to use 4 gallons of oil to fry an 18 pound turkey. Many people use Peanut oil but I use straight vegetable oil as it is inexpensive and produces a great end product. Peanut oil has a higher smoke point so you can over heat it and get away with it.
3.) 2 decent thermometers: one for the frying oil and one for the turkey. I use a cabled remote wireless temperature monitor. I don't like guessing about when it is done, and I don't like pulling the turkey up out of the oil and trying to stab it with a thermometer while balancing it over 4 gallons of hot oil. So I use the remote cable temp probe.
The oil thermometer needs to go into the fry pot deep enough to give accurate temperature readings for the oil. You will be adjusting burner intensity based on the oil's response.
A lot of these units come with an inner colander type basket. While it is not what I use for the turkey, I do use it as it takes up room and gives me a second chance at turkey retrieval should something go wrong during the cooking process.
So that is the basic cooking set up. Fill it up with oil and place a lid on it. Now to the kitchen to do the final preparation on the turkey.
Preparing The Turkey For The Deep Fryer
I will be first to admit that the preparation I use for deep frying a turkey is very different than most methods. Many methods call for brining the turkey beforehand, but I don't recommend this for commercial turkeys which already have some type of saline injection (brine) already added to it.
This next step is optional but recommended. Clean out, wash and rinse the turkey the day before you intend to deep fry it. Place the turkey on a rack in your refigerator for 24 hours to dry. When deep frying a turkey you want to remove as much water from the bird as possible prior to frying. Since the turkey is going to go into 4 gallons of very hot oil, water is not something you want. They way the turkey cooks is simple: the oil heats the water in the bird, the water exceeds the boiling point and changes to steam, the steam explodes with great force out of the meat of the bird and releases the water vapor in the form of bubbles in the oil which float up to the top of the oil in a boiling fashion. Basically we are steaming this bird.
There is one exception to this being a steam cook: when something runs out of water in this method it gets crispy. This is what allows us to create a nice crispy skin and coating. And that is the next step: to create a nice coating for the bird, we need it to stick to the skin, so the bird is allowed to dry after cleaning it for 24 hours. Then we will egg wash it as we apply the coating.
Simple enough, but first we have to get the coating ready. The coating starts as most coatings start: in the Cuisinart food processor, or the food processor of your choice.
Prepare The Coating For The Turkey
After the food processor is ready I start to gather up the ingredients for the coating.The coating I am making is a Cajun flair coating. In the photo below starting from the top left corner I have orange zest, cayenne pepper, thyme, 2 cups of corn flakes, and 2 cups of flour on the far right end. In the second row starting from the left is dark chili powder; a basil, oregano, and parsley mix; smoked paprika; and a cup of corn meal in the large bowl. Finishing up with the bottom row starting from the left is minced garlic, dried onion and white pepper.
Put all the ingredients listed in top the photo, except for the corn flakes, into the food processor.
After the spices and herbs are combined I will taste the mixture and add in the salt and corn flakes. I will pulse it a couple times to get it broken down but still leaving little pieces of flakes remaining.
Now our coating is ready. The coating I chose is one I use for fried chicken. You may use any coating that you like to fry with but remember this is a large bird with lots of surface area so it will require a lot of coating.
*Turkey after drying for 24 hours
After 24 hours of drying, this bird is ready for a nice coating. And because we took the time to dry the skin for one day the coating is going to stick to it nicely. Don't worry that is looks a little different. There is still plenty of water inside the bird to rehydrate it during the cooking process.
Apply the Coating To The Turkey (cavity first)
Next we begin to egg wash the inside of the bird. Start by making your egg wash with two eggs and 1/4 cup of water. Whisk together. Start by applying the egg wash to the inside cavity first. Wait to apply the egg wash the outside of the bird until you've trussed your bird (see below).
After you've applied the egg wash to the inside, then place the turkey on the lifting carrier that came with your deep frying kit. Get your carrier in place and start adding the coating (made in the Cuisinart above) only to the inside of the bird. I really like to reach inside to get the entire inside surface coated. I think the inside of the turkey deserves the same treatment as the outside.
Once the inside cavity of the bird is coated, the next step is to truss the turkey so that it holds its shape.
Trussing The Turkey
Now for a more professionally looking bird it is best to truss the bird. I cannot stand the look of a fried bird that was not trussed correctly. Tie the wings in against the bird and tie the legs in against the rest of the bird. This makes the bird cook better and protects your wings from drying out. Butcher twine is regular 100 percent cotton twine, so purchase it at the hardware store and save money.
After trussing the turkey, you are ready to apply egg wash to the outside of the bird. This will allow you to coat the entire bird and have it ready for frying.
Now begin applying your coating, ensuring it sticks to the bird. The more you roll it, the more you want to have it end up with the carrier base down and the bird up. I place the neck hole at the bottom of the carrier.
After the coating is applied, look for spots where the egg wash was missing. Then touch them up and add coating. Continue to do so until the entire outside of the bird is evenly coated.
Add Temperature Probe To Turkey
With the coating completed it is now time to add the temperature probe. I am using a remote wireless temperature monitor. I find the remote allows me to be in the kitchen working on the side dishes without constantly wondering how the bird is doing. However, that does not mean I don't watch it. To perform turkey frying in a safe way, you must check the fryer often and make sure that your pets and young children steer clear of it.
Deep Frying The Turkey
With the turkey probe in place we are now ready to start cooking the turkey. Light the burner up and monitor the oil until it reaches about 325 degrees Fahreheit. Carefully and slowly place the turkey into the oil. Care must be taken when the turkey is lowered into the oil. The steam will start to come up towards you from immediately and steam burns are no fun. So watch the speed of lowering the turkey. It is important to wait until the oil has reached the proper starting temperature. The reason we wait is because the oil is storing energy in the form of heat. The energy stored allows the oil to recover faster when the cold turkey is added to the oil. Starting the turkey at a low temperature will see it sitting in oil, not frying, and creating a glue type material out of our coating.
In the photo you can see we are still about 110 degrees Fahrenheit below the ideal temperature we need to fry.
Down the turkey goes. It will be frying rapidly almost immediately.
At this point I have 3.5 gallons of oil in the cooker. I will add another half a gallon so the turkey is covered. I start with a little less on purpose. It is easier to have too little oil and add cool oil to the pot than to have too much oil and have to remove very hot oil from the pot.
Now with our bird frying away, I need only monitor the temperature rise and keep an eye on the burner to make sure nothing goes wrong. Adjusting the burner is important. If the oil gets too hot it will cause an off-taste in the meat. Best to monitor the oil temperature and if you see it start to rise,cut back on the burner heat. As the bird loses more and more water, the oil will climb in temperature faster and faster.
When the turkey hits 168 degrees Fahrenheit, remove it from the oil and let it drain (see below).
Now when you lift it you have to wait for it to drain. I use a wooden spoon for the handle end and push it down through the neck hole to make sure the oil is draining. Once it stops draining in a stream you can set it on the carrier and let is rest a while. Although out of the oil, it is hot enough that it will continue to cook for about 20 minutes and rise another 8 degrees or so while resting. I used a 16 pound bird and it took about 27 minutes to cook.
With the bird successfully pulled out of the oil, you can shut down the burner system and place a lid over the oil. After the oil has cooled, we will strain itl through cheese cloth and store it back in the bottles.
After the bird has rested, you can plate your bird. I place my cornbread dressing around the base of the turkey to stabilize it. Turkey that is fried tends to be rounded more than roasted turkey. Having the dressing to rest against helps keep the turkey from moving around.
Finally, carve, serve and enjoy.
I hope you feel you can tackle the fried turkey. I am a roasted turkey person, but fried turkey is a real good treat. And it sure is fun to be outside while the bird is cooking.
'Til we talk again, go ahead and try it. You will find it easy to do!
Chef Bob Ballantyne
The Cowboy and The Rose Catering
Grand Junction, Colorado, USA