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How to Deep Fry a Turkey

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Michael Sabourin, Windstar’s Executive Corporate Chef shares some culinary experience just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’ve just returned from an eight week visit to our yachts in Europe, getting the chance to experience some really fascinating ports in Israel, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Greece. I had the chance to meet many of our wonderful guests from all over the United States and Canada. When I mentioned to one guest that I would be going home for Thanksgiving, he asked me about the best way to deep fry a turkey.

I have written a guideline for those of you brave enough to try this technique for the holidays. Please note, this way of cooking can be dangerous if not done properly, so please be careful and follow instruction. This must be done outside (not in the garage) and be sure to keep the kids far away!  This is just suggestions, and you should follow all instructions!

Because deep frying a turkey is less time-consuming than using an oven or rotisserie grills, this delicious, alternative way to cook a turkey is extremely popular around the Thanksgiving holiday.

Where to start:

  • 8-10 Lb. turkey (see Tips) patted dry, inside and out
  • Neck and giblets removed from cavity
  • Pop-up timer removed
  • Wire or plastic truss that holds the legs in place removed
  • Completely thawed; see “Warnings”
  • 2 Tbsps. cayenne pepper (or desired seasoning/marinade)
  • Oil with high smoke point (peanut, refined canola, corn oil and sunflower)

Seasoning the turkey:

Begin by sprinkling cayenne pepper over the top of the turkey and around the legs, rubbing it in as you go. Then turn it on its side, sprinkle more cayenne and rub it in. Completely turn the turkey over upside down before sprinkling and rubbing the underside. Continue until the entire body has been well covered and rubbed.

There are many different ways to season the turkey, so feel free to look up recipes. Most of them involve rubbing the turkey with seasoning or injecting it with marinade.

Try to get the rub under the skin as the skin is often tossed on a big bird once it gets overcooked.

Make the metal handle:

This method is recommended if you do not have a deep frying basket. Place the turkey on its shoulders (where the head would be) and begin to spear the wire through it, just underneath the breast and by the wings. Carefully pull the wire through and loop the wire around about three times to make a metal handle. Twist the ends of the wire around your handle so there are no sharp ends. Season the turkey. Begin by sprinkling cayenne pepper over the top of the turkey and around the legs, rubbing it in as you go. Then turn it on its side, sprinkle more cayenne and rub it in. Completely turn the turkey over upside down before sprinkling and rubbing the underside. Continue until the entire body has been well covered and rubbed.

*It is very important to do a little test to make sure that your handle is totally secure when lifting up the turkey. Only when you are convinced that the handle is strong enough should you move onto the next step.

To get the oil to the hard to reach spots, make incisions in the leg skin where it pulls against the body to allow the oil better access.

Prepare the burner:

The frying of the turkey must be done outside, in a dry and well-ventilated area and not near anything flammable. Set the gas burner on a level surface because this is one of the safest options so that the fryer doesn’t tip over. Keep the propane tank as far away from the fryer as possible and make sure it is not on, under or near any flammable materials. Read the instructions that came with your fryer.

Never use the fryer in the garage or on the deck when oil is in the pot.

Prepare the oil level.(read this part carefully this is important safety tip) Fill the pot halfway with water. Then roughly fill half the bucket with water, which should represent the same weight as your turkey. Place the bucket into the pot to make sure the water does not go past the top of the bucket; it should be at least 5 or 6 inches below the rim. If it is too high, then discard some of the water. The water line will represent the quantity of oil you will need, so make a note of it. Remove the bucket and tip away the water from the pot.

Dry the pot. It is extremely important to thoroughly wipe the pot dry with paper towels. You must not leave any water in the pot as hot oil and water can be a very dangerous combination.

Add the oil. Pour the oil into the pot to the level where the water was. You should have somewhere between 3-5 inches of oil in the pot. Light your gas burner to a high setting and place the pot carefully down onto the burner plate. Place the thermometer into the oil and allow the oil to heat to a temperature of 350 °F (175 °C). The time it takes to heat to cooking temperatures varies.

You should monitor the temperature throughout the heating and cooking process. Depending on your burner and outside conditions, the oil can heat up to dangerous levels very quickly.

Fry the Turkey:

Put on a protective jacket/apron and gloves. You may also wish to put on safety goggles to keep oil from splashing in your eyes. (Be sure take a photo and send it to me!)

Check the temperature. Once the oil has reached 350 °F (175 °C), you’re ready to fry. Make sure you have on your protective gloves and jacket when handling the turkey or working around the hot oil. With the metal hook attached to the wire loop handle of your turkey, lower the turkey with extreme care into the hot oil. Even with the bird patted dry, there will be a violent reaction when it hits the hot oil. Do this very slowly and be aware of any hot splashing oil.

It is strongly recommended to turn off the burner while the turkey is being submerged, then to turn it back on once the turkey is in. Boiled over oil hitting the burner is the cause of most accidents.

For a large bird, use a pole of some sort like a hockey stick (which is how we do it in Canada!). Put it through the handle and have someone help lower the bird into the pot. This will help keep your distance from the oil as it reacts to the bird.

Fry the turkey. Allow 3-4 minutes of cooking for every (1lb) 500g grams. Monitor the temperature by leaving a candy thermometer in the oil (hung from a copper wire normally come with the fryer) as the turkey cooks. Never leave the hot oil unattended during the cooking process! When the bird is dropped and the fluids begin to cook out, the boiling off of these fluids tends to cool the oil, after which the oil temperature may tend to rise. Halfway through the cooking process, check to see how the turkey is doing by briefly lifting it out of the pot, again using the metal hook attached to the wire handle. Then lower it back into the pot for the rest of the cooking period.

Cooking time can vary based on factors such as outdoor temperature and the temperature of the bird. If the oil begins to smoke at any time, lower the heat. Overheated oil can lead to combustion.

To control the temperature if it starts to rise, adjust the burner to turn down the heat.

Finish the frying. Once the turkey begins to float to the top of the oil, allow it cook for an additional 15 minutes. Once cooked, carefully remove your turkey from the pot, give it a little shake to disperse the excess oil and transfer it back onto its platter. Check the internal temperature with the meat thermometer. The temperature should be at least 165 degrees F (75 degrees C), but preferably 170 degrees F (77 degrees C) in the breast and 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) in the thigh.

Turn off the flame. Let the oil cool completely, making sure it’s in a spot where nobody (especially kids and pets) will run into it. Remove the wire and serve.

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Final Note:

I would like to wish you all a happy and safe Thanksgiving! You should monitor the temperature throughout the heating and cooking process. Depending on your burner and outside conditions, the oil can heat up to dangerous levels very quickly.

Put on a protective jacket/apron and gloves. You may also wish to put on safety goggles to keep oil from splashing in your eyes.