It’s become a tradition in many families – instead of roasting the Thanksgiving turkey, they fry it up in a vat of oil.
Some say the idea of frying the holiday bird came from Justin Wilson, the Louisiana chef who made everything Cajun popular a few decades ago.
According to an article in Vogue, in 1996, Martha Stewart Living published a photograph of a deep-fried turkey for its November issue.
The New York Times included a piece about deep-fried turkey a year later.
While people who have included frying a turkey as part of their holiday celebration swear by the moist taste, frying 15 pounds of bird is not without its risks.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to cooking the bird without burning down your house.
1. Pick the bird. With frying turkeys, small is generally better. Go for birds around 10-12 pounds. If you have a big crowd of turkey lovers coming for dinner, fry two of them.
2. Prepare the bird. There is an important step in frying a turkey that you don’t necessarily take when you roast one. It is important, really important, that the turkey is completely thawed (no ice on it at all) and that it is dried off when you lower it into the oil. Just remember, oil and water are not a good mix.
3. Don’t forget to season. After the bird is thawed, season it liberally with salt, pepper and any other seasonings your guests would like. Some people use “turkey injectors” to shoot seasoning under the turkey skin.
4. Don’t forget the cavity. And while you are in the cavity, make sure you get the giblets out of there. For those new to turkeys, it’s that bag that is stuff into a frozen turkey that contains the neck, the heart, liver and other parts that were once inside the bird in a different fashion. You can do all of this the day before Thanksgiving and put the bird in the refrigerator until it is show time.
5. OK, your bird is ready. It’s time to set up the frying gear. First, and most importantly, you will be doing the frying outside, not in or near a garage or a carport. Turkey frying isn’t a family activity. Make sure the kids and the pets are inside while you fry. That’s very important.
6. Now comes the setup for the fryer. What you generally get when you buy a turkey fryer is a metal pot, something that looks like a coat hanger, a burner, a thermometer and a gas regulator. The other thing you need is oil. You want an oil that can stand up to high heat. Peanut oil or cottonseed oil is a good choice.
7. How much oil do you need? That’s a good question. Here’s an easy way to figure it out. The day before you fry, take the bird, still in its packaging, and lower it into the pot. Cover the turkey with water. Make a note of how much water was needed to cover the turkey. That’s how much oil you will need. (Note: You want to leave at least 3-5 inches for the top of the pot clear for safety’s sake.)
8. Now, find a level spot to put the burner. Fill the pot with the amount of oil you measured by using the water the day before. Turn the burner on and heat the oil. The oil should be at 340-350 degrees before you lower the turkey into it.
9. Putting it in. Take the hanger-like device and stick it in the turkey. The legs should be facing up, the breast down.
Slowly lower the turkey into the oil. Use long oven mitts while you do this. Once the turkey is in the oil, take out the coat-hanger device and let the turkey sit.
10. How long do you cook it? Here’s a ballpark estimate: allow 3 1/2 minutes for every pound. So, for a 12-pound bird, it should take about 42 minutes.
11. Getting it out. Once the bird is cooked, put the hanger-like device back into the bird. Remember to wear the long oven mitts. Carefully lift the turkey out of the oil. Allow it to drain a bit, and then place it on a platter. Check the temperature of the bird. It should be between 167 and 180 degrees. If the temperature is OK, leave the bird alone for a while. If it’s not hot enough or is undercooked in spots, you can put the turkey back into the oil.
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