Thanksgiving is here: How to fry a turkey and live to tell about it
'If there's no flame, there's no fire. When you're putting it in and taking it out, turn the flame off. Anytime there's potential for oil flowing over the top, cut the flame off.'
Many Americans look forward to fried turkey over the holidays. The juicy, injected meat and crispy skin are hard to beat for flavor and texture.
The cooking process, however, can be intimidating. Gallons of hot oil, combined with an open flame, can be a recipe for disaster if not treated with respect.
With that in mind, Lance Monk of St. Martin, Mississippi who has successfully fried turkeys for decades without burning down his house — or anything else, for that matter — gives advice on how to safely fry a turkey.
Size of turkey matters
Monk, who cooks up to a dozen turkeys during the holiday season for friends and family, said selecting the right bird is key.
"The best turkey is between 12 and 13 pounds," Monk said. "A 12-pound turkey is best because you don't burn up the wings. Bigger than 14 and you burn up the wings and they're inedible."
Monk also noted that keeping the weight consistent helps the cook learn the process and cooking time better.
The turkey needs to be completely thawed before frying. Monk places frozen turkeys in a refrigerator three nights before cooking to thaw.
"If you drop a frozen turkey in 350-degree oil, you're going to have a problem," Monk said.
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Prepping the turkey
Prepping the bird starts the night before cooking. The first thing he does is remove the giblet pack and neck. Next, he injects the turkey with a Creole butter marinade and places it in a roasting pan lined with newspaper to soak up any marinade that leaks. No, this is not a shameless plug for newspapers. Monk said it works best. Then the turkey goes back in the refrigerator.
The following morning, he injects it a second time. However, this time he puts a cookie cooling rack in the pan so the turkey is not sitting in drained marinade. For those who aren't familiar with injecting poultry, Monk said just follow the instructions on the bottle.
When he's heating the oil to cook, Monk places the bird on the frying rack and allows it to drain for at least 20 minutes before he places it in the fryer.
Time to fry: How much oil?
Determining how much oil you need needs to be done ahead of time. Before you inject the bird, place it in the frying pot and fill with water until it is just covered. Remove the turkey and mark the water level inside the pot. That tells you how much peanut oil is needed. If you're cooking multiple birds, use the largest to determine how much oil is required. Monk said a 5-gallon container of peanut oil will do the job with some left over.
Now you're ready to cook. Fill the pot with oil up to the mark inside the pot. Light the burner and place on medium heat until the oil reaches 350 degrees, then turn the burner off. This prevents a potential fire if the oil bubbles over while putting the turkey in.
"If there's no flame, there's no fire," Monk said. "When you're putting it in and taking it out, turn the flame off. Anytime there's potential for oil flowing over the top, cut the flame off."
Slowly lower the turkey into the oil using a turkey frying rack and hook. Monk said it's going to bubble and spatter, period. If it looks like it may bubble over, lift the turkey partially out of the oil until the bubbling slows and then continue immersing it. Once it's in and the bubbling has slowed, place the top on with a slight opening on one side for steam to escape.
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Turn the burner back on and monitor the temperature. Keep the temperature between 325 and 350 degrees and cook for 3½ minutes per pound. Once the time is up, turn the burner off, remove the bird and cut into the inside of the thigh joint. If there's blood, return it to the fryer for a few additional minutes.
Once the turkey cools to the point it can be handled, carve and enjoy.
Safety tips when frying a turkey
Here's a quick list of rules and suggestions anyone frying a turkey needs to know.
- Always wear heavy pants, thick shoes, heavy gloves and a heavy apron while frying. Monk said if you don't follow this advice, you'll soon learn the error of your ways.
- Always fry turkeys outdoors. Never fry them indoors.
- Always keep children, pets and elderly guests who may become distracted well away from the cooking area. Remember, you're dealing with gallons of hot oil and an open flame.
- Always follow the instructions that come with your cooker.
- Never leave the cooker unattended until the burner is off and the oil has cooled.
- Never attempt to fry a turkey that isn't completely thawed.
- Break down cardboard boxes and place them on the ground in the cooking area to catch any oil spatter.
- Keep the propane tank as far away from the burner as possible.
- Keep a fire extinguisher handy.
"The main thing is use common sense," Monk said. "If something looks unsafe, it probably is. So, don't do it."