The Virtual Gourmand - Column No. 6a: Deep-fry That Sucker!

Every year on the CW Forums, I am asked numerous questions about the preparations for Thanksgiving feasts. This year, I have decided that instead of answering a flood of individual requests on essentially the same subjects, I'll instead use the Virtual Gourmand to document how to deep-fry a turkey, how to brine and roast a turkey and a number of perennial favorite side dishes and desserts that often grace my holiday table.

Yes, we're going to deep-fry that sucker!

Every year, more and more people decide that they want to try deep-frying their holiday bird. They either want to shorten the cooking time or want the juiciness a fried bird brings to the table. However, many of them have no concept of what they are doing, or - even worse - commit a CWI (Cooking While Intoxicated). The purpose of this article is to show you the basics of how to deep-fry a turkey without results like this or this ruining your holiday.

Needed equipment:

(In the interests of full disclosure, I have no financial interest in any of the companies or products linked to below. They are, however, products I use in my own home from companies that I have successfully done business with).

Turkey frying rig. This is the pot, burner, rack and oil thermometer.
*  Propane tank
Meat injector (many marinades come packaged with an injecting tool)
*  3 to 6 gallons of peanut oil
*  8-10 pound turkey or a turkey breast...completely thawed and at room temperature
*  China marker or Sharpie marker

Let's be frank here. This isn't the most efficient (or inexpensive - the oil is going to likely run you about $50 by itself) way of cooking a single bird. Once you've gotten the oil up to temp, you might as well fry more than one. With that in mind, you might want to round up a few friends, relatives or neighbors that might be interested in a fried bird and do all of them in a batch. Make sure you tell them that their birds must be thawed in advance, or they aren't going to be fried. Even a partially-thawed bird is an extremely dangerous item in your fryer, as the excess moisture from ice crystals is going to make the oil crazy and crazy oil is deadly oil. Many areas have begun to prohibit deep-frying turkeys altogether because of the extra strain it puts on firefighters at holiday times. You might want to check with your local firefighters to see if you live in one of these areas. Additionally, some municipalities are collecting the used oil to convert into bio-diesel to use as fuel. This is an environmentally-conscious way of disposing of the oil and I would recommend it to anyone who has the option of doing so.

Select an area to place your fryer that is level, uncovered, and far enough away from any structure that it will not catch fire if the pot tips or boils over.
Fill the pot with water until it just covers the largest bird you are going to fry.
Remove the bird and mark the waterline with a china marker or Sharpie. This is the line you will fill the pot with oil to.
Plunge the needle all the way to the bone and inject a third of the marinade. Pull back a third of the way and inject the second third of marinade. Back out another third of the way and empty the syringe."
Be generous with the amount of spices you rub on the bird. Rub it both into the skin and into the cavity.
Fill the dry pot with peanut oil up to the line you drew earlier.
Thread the rack through the center of the bird and bring it to the pot. Wear the silicone glove when lowering or raising the bird into the oil to prevent splashes from burning
It is normal for some oil to spurt out of the pot during the frying process. As long as it isn't overflowing, you should be OK.
The finished bird. Crispy and flavorful on the outside, tender, flavorful and juicy on the inside.

The very first thing you will need is a proper location to set up the fryer. Select a flat area of ground that is safely (twenty feet or more) away from any structure, overhang or anything else that is flammable. Think about where the oil might spread should the fryer be knocked over - it does happen. That oil will ignite immediately and can be quite difficult to extinguish. The last thing you want is third-degree burns, being homeless and having to rely on either hospital food or the fare offered at a local homeless shelter for Thanksgiving dinner. Never, ever set up a frying rig on a deck, in a garage, or under an overhang. You could do it on a concrete patio, but there are going to be oil splashes and oil will stain concrete. Additionally, concrete won't absorb any oil, so if you do spill your load, it is going to spread farther and move more quickly than if you were on ground. Make sure that your propane cylinder hose connections both at the cylinder and the burner are tight and that there isn't any frayed or damaged hose. Bring your pot over to where your garden hose is located. Take the largest raw, packaged bird you are going to cook in your rig and place it in the pot. Now, turn on your garden hose and fill the pot with water until the bird is 1 to 2 inches under water. It will tend to float, so as it begins to, push it down against the bottom of the pot. When you've achieved the proper level, shut off the water and remove the bird. Take your china marker or sharpie and mark a line on the inside of the pot just above the waterline. Dump the water and dry the pan (without rubbing the line off). The line you drew is the fill line for your oil. You can be shy of it by a bit (partly because you over-filled it with water to compensate for the oil's bubbling in the frying process) because your line will always be just above where the waterline was. Don't ever fill the pot above this line. You can be up to 2" lower than the line (so if you haven't purchased enough oil, don't go running out to the store to get more), but never above it. This will prevent you from over-filling the pot with oil and remove the risk of the oil boiling over the side of the pot and starting a fire. If your waterline is within 5 inches of the top of the pot you either need a larger pot or a smaller bird.

Back in the kitchen, remove the turkey from its packaging. I much prefer to use fresh turkey for this, as I don't have any worries of it being partially frozen. Remove the wing tips and the tail, as they might snag on your frying rig. There are several brands of injectable marinades that work quite well on the market. Tony Chacherie's makes a good one (I like the Creole Butter variety), as does Cajun Injector. Or, you could always mix up a batch of injectable marinade yourself. Injectors are easily available and dirt-cheap. I keep a few of them around for any number of reasons (they're exceptionally useful for re-filling printer ink cartridges, but that's a whole other article). Many brands of injectible marnades include an injector as part of the overall package.

Injectable Marinade

Mix together:

3 T. melted butter
1/3 C. maple syrup
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
2/3 C. chicken stock
3 T. lemon juice
1 T. garlic powder
2 t. onion powder
" t. salt
1 t. finely ground black pepper
1 t. Tabasco (or other hot sauce), or to taste (optional)

With poultry, we have to worry about cross-contamination, so the best way to get the liquid from the bowl into the bird without contaminating the batch of mixture is to fill a juice glass with the marinade and then use the syringe to draw liquid from the glass and then inject into the bird. You'll want to plunge the needle in all the way to the bone and then draw it out and inject three times at three different depths with each puncture. Do at least three in each side of the breast, twice in each thigh and at least one in each leg. You want the bird well-seasoned, but not dripping with marinade. Excess liquid is going to make your oil crazy and you know what that means.

Now you need a spice rub for the outside of the bird. Use your favorite Cajun/Creole seasoning in ample amounts or mix up your own. Mix together:

" C. Kosher Salt
3 t. Onion Powder
3 t. Black Pepper
3 t. White Pepper
3 t. Garlic Powder
2 t. Paprika
2 t. Basil (dried)
2 t. Thyme
1 t. Cayenne Pepper

Rub a generous amount on the outside of the bird and on the inside of the cavity. Mount the bird on your rack and set aside to allow the mixture to season the bird inside and out.

Returning outside to the frying rig, fill the pot with peanut oil to the fill line you drew earlier. Turn on the propane cylinder, turn the burner on to low and ignite the gas. Turn the burner up about halfway and position your oil temp thermometer on the pot so it is completely submerged in the oil and anchored to the side. When the oil reaches 350 degrees, fetch the turkey from indoors. Bring the bird to the fryer and when the oil temperature reaches close to 375 degrees, GENTLY lower the bird into the oil. Be sure to wear the silicone glove on the hand you are using to lower the bird, as it is heat-resistant to 500 degrees - removing any chance of steam burn, oil splashes, or any outside stimulus that would motivate you to drop the bird quickly. The resulting splash could ruin your holiday--literally. The temperature will drop quite a bit at first. You want to crank up your burner now to compensate for this, but you can dial it back when the needle gets back to around 350 degrees. Ideally, you don't want the oil temp to drop below 325 degrees. You're starting out with hotter oil than you need and increasing the heat beneath the pot after you drop the bird to aid you in reaching this goal.

The primary reason fried food becomes greasy-tasting is that the cook didn't let the oil get hot enough, stay hot enough, or recover to frying temperature between batches. In order to keep the oil from being absorbed into the food, the oil has to be hot enough to keep the moisture inside the food at the boiling point of water or higher (ideally at 325 or above). That steam pushes out against the pressure of the oil and keeps the oil out of the food while cooking it thoroughly. It is this oil-steam relationship that allows the bird to remain juicy without becoming greasy.

The standard rule of thumb is 3 minutes per pound plus 5 minutes. Set a timer and stay close to the pot. It is normal for there to be some oil that will bubble out of the pot or even be squirted out of the body cavity, which is where the most vigorous bubbling will be. It is OK for some oil to do this. The fryer rig is designed to keep that oil from igniting. If there is a torrent of oil, though, you're in trouble. When the timer goes off, remove the bird from the oil, drain it on a stack of newspapers, and allow it to rest for 20 minutes (tented under aluminum foil to keep it warm) before carving. Crisp on the outside, juicy and flavorful on the inside. Everything people want in a holiday bird.

Hormel has about the best step-by-step illustrated guide to carving a turkey I've seen. Not too many years ago, knowing how to carve meat was a skill that no well-rounded adult male would be without. As we have become a more modern society with more and more processed foods, this has (sadly) fallen by the wayside.

So round up your friends and neighbors, get that frying rig fired up and fry you a whole mess of turkeys this Thanksgiving!

In the next installment, we'll tackle the other turkey preparation method I get the most questions about... brining.


Contributing Editor and CW Executive Chef Jason Clabaugh (BigO) hailed from New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city and has settled in a suburb of Atlanta. With the addition of a new baby to his family he's refocused his energies on fatherhood and a new project bringing his famous mango-habanero salsa and unique barbecue sauces into commercial production.