How To Deep Fry
A Turkey- Rainman Style!
It's Thanksgiving, and every year I have numerous callers to our radio shows that want to know how we cook the Turkeys we've had at tailgate parties and patio parties for the radio station. Each year I repeat the whole procedure over the air many, many times- which is great for those who want to deep fry a Turkey for Thanksgiving, but not so great for those who think we're supposed to be talking football. So, this year I decided to put the whole thing on the website for you to print off. Forget everything you've ever heard or know about deep frying Turkeys. Follow my recipe and I'll GUARANTEE you the best Turkey you have ever eaten!
First, with much love and many thanks, I have to acknowledge two great friends who taught me how to do this- Eddie Holmes (Home Plate Ed as we know him) and Dave Sherrod (Coca-Cola Dave). These two had the first Turkey fryers in Memphis and they were deep frying Turkeys before anybody here had ever heard of it.
Next, forget everything you know or have heard about deep frying Turkeys. If you have the instruction booklet that came with your fryer, throw it away. If you follow the instructions that come with your fryer, you'll wind up with a Turkey that is to hard to chew on the outside and not cooked properly on the inside. Then you'll say, "What's the big deal about deep frying Turkeys?"
Here's what you need to cook the best Turkey you've ever tasted:
1. A good deep fryer. If you go buy one, get the big one. Should be about 12" in diameter. You want to get one with a strainer basket that goes in the pot. It makes it a lot easier to get the bird out when it's done. The smaller cookers have a bottom plate with a vertical post that the bird fits down over and when you cook them correctly, the meat will fall apart when you take it out of the cooker. The strainer basket works much better and is also great for cooking catfish and other small items.
The other reason you want the bigger pot is so you can cook bigger birds. The smaller pots will only accommodate 14 - 16 lb birds- almost not worth the trouble.
2. A good thermometer. Cooking temperature is the single most important thing about cooking your Turkey. If you buy a good fryer, it should come with a good thermometer. Don't consider fryers which come with thermometers that have just a "red" and "green" zone on them that supposedly tells you good and bad temperatures for cooking. You need one that shows, at minimum, 10 degree increments.
3. A few paint strainers. You can get them at Home Depot, Lowes, or any paint store. When you're through cooking your bird, (and after the oil has cooled down) you'll use the paint strainers to strain the oil to take out the little pieces of skin, meat and fat that will be mixed in with the leftover oil. Clean up the oil, store it in a cool place, and you can use it again for another Turkey at Christmas, or at the very least, you can use it in your FryDaddy in the kitchen for french fries and chicken strips.
4. Cooking oil. Lots of debate over which oil to use. Personally, I prefer vegetable oil because I like the taste it produces better than other oils. We can argue trans-fats and hydrogenated oils all day, but bottom line is that if you're worried about your cholesterol, you probably shouldn't be cooking a huge Thanksgiving dinner anyway. Many people recommend and prefer peanut oil for deep frying. Others go with corn oil. Still others with canola. Aside from the debate over health issues, a primary concern when choosing the oil you cook in is the smoke point, or burn temperature, of the oil. This is the temperature the oil begins to break down at. The instructions that come with many cookers recommend peanut oil because it has a higher smoke point. Most cooker instructions will tell you to cook your bird at 350 degrees and for that you need an oil with a higher smoke point. This is not a concern for us since we never approach 350 degrees. Some examples of smoke points: Canola Oil: 400 F, Corn Oil: 450 F, Peanut Oil: 450 F, Vegetable Oil: 320 F.
A few safety precautions:
This part of the instructions that comes with your cooker is a part you need to read and follow- it's the cooking instructions you need to throw away. Each year, there are an amazing number of dimwits who set their deck, garage, or house on fire deep frying Turkeys. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that oil and a propane burner don't mix.
1. Choose a firm, level surface to cook on. Do not cook on your wooden deck or inside the garage. Driveways or patios are great, but you may want to put down a piece of cardboard or other absorbent material under the cooker. You will get some oil drippings on whatever you cook on and it will stain the concrete. Since it's basically clear, it won't stain like oil from your car, but no sense in messing up the patio or driveway.
2. Keep a fire extinguisher handy. Just like in the kitchen, if you get an oil or grease fire going, don't put water on it- just makes it worse by splattering the burning oil everywhere.
3. Don't leave the cooker unattended.
4. Follow any other safety instructions that come with your cooker. A little common sense goes a long way.
5. Do a test run with your bird using water before you start cooking. Many accidents occur when the Turkey is lowered into the hot oil and you find that you have too much oil in the pot and it overflows when you put the Turkey in. To make sure this doesn't happen, put the bird in the pot, fill it up with water to a level that covers the bird by about 1 inch. Remove the bird and note the level of the water. This is the level you want to hit when you put the oil in prior to cooking. Since this level is going to vary every time because the size of the Turkey can vary every time you cook one, it's a good idea to check the levels this way each time you cook. This is a very important step since you don't want to have to add more oil after the bird is put in as this will lower the temperature of the oil and you have no way to remove hot oil from the cooker if you have too much to begin with.
6. I recommend that you have something set up to hang the bird from when you are finished cooking it. This lets you drain the bird over the pot when you're done. I use a swing set frame with a "S" hook hooked into a small chain and I position the frame and chain over the center of the pot before I start. When the bird is finished, I hang the strainer basket on the "S" hook and let the bird drain for a few minutes. You can also just set the strainer basket in a big disposable aluminum Turkey pan you can get from the grocery store. Lots of ways to do it- the frame above the cooker is just my personal preference.
Alright! You're set up. Let's cook!
From here, it's pretty simple, but preparation is important. Get your bird, and pick out a big one! I usually look for a Tom around 22 lbs. Of course, I feed a pretty big crowd on Thanksgiving. Get your bird a couple of days early and put it in the refrigerator side to let it thaw out. Doesn't hurt to leave it out for a few hours right after you get it- it will be frozen solid. I actually prefer to buy a bird that isn't frozen- it's just a hassle to thaw them.
When your bird is thawed out, remove the neck and other goodies that usually come packaged inside the bird and clean it thoroughly. I use a teaspoon of Chlorox bleach in a gallon of water to wash mine. Helps kill those nasty bugs sometimes associated with poultry. After the cleaning, rinse thoroughly with water and drain. Set the bird on a rolled out piece of Saran Wrap (use the 18" wide because we're going to totally wrap the bird after we season it).
Now, rub the bird down with a combination of Lawry's Seasoned Salt, Tony Chachere's Original Creole seasoning and Tony Chachere's More Spice seasoning and a good sprinkle of black pepper. Use a lot of the seasoning and rub it into the bird. It's hard to use too much! Cover every part of the Turkey. Once the bird is seasoned, completely wrap it in the Saran Wrap with two or three layers and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight before you cook it.
Set up your cooker, put in the oil and bring the oil up to 275 degrees F. Most people will tell you to cook the bird at 350 degrees for about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes per pound. This is too hot and results in a Turkey that is tough on the outside and undercooked on the inside and not nearly as tender as what we're looking for. When the oil temp is 275, SLOWLY immerse the bird in the oil. TAKE THE SARAN WRAP OFF THE BIRD BEFORE YOU COOK IT! Sounds silly to have to include this, but... Expect some boiling and bubbling as whatever water that was left in and on the bird from cleaning and rinsing tries to sink in the oil and is immediately turned into steam from the high temperature of the oil. Cover the pot with the lid and cook the bird at 275 degrees for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes at 275 degrees, turn the heat down and bring the oil temperature down to 225 degrees. It takes a little time for the temperature to drop, so I turn the fire down after about 20 minutes at 275. Once the oil temp is down to 225 degrees, adjust the burner to maintain that temperature and cook the bird for 1 1/2 hours at 225. This is really the secret to your success. Imagine slow cooking ribs. We're doing the same thing with the Turkey. The cooking time will vary according to the size of the bird, but not by a lot. 1 1/2 hours at 225 should be about right for a 20-22 lb bird.
After the 1 1/2 hours at 225, turn the heat back up and bring the oil temp back up to 275 to finish it off . Shouldn't take more than 20 minutes or so. We're looking for two things: a nice medium brown color and we know the bird is done when you see the meat around the leg bones begin to pull away from the bone.
Pull the strainer basket out of the oil, hang and let drain for a few minutes. After the excess oil has drained off, completely wrap the bird in aluminum foil. Once again, I use the 18" width and wrap it in a couple of layers. If you have a couple of hours before dinner is served, or if you're taking the bird to someone else's house for dinner, I recommend putting the wrapped up bird in an office file folder box (available at Office Depot). It will stay really hot for several hours.
After dinner, when the oil has cooled down, use the paint strainers to filter the oil as you put it back in it's container so you can use it again. You're done! The only thing left to do is to send me an email telling me how good it was and how everybody at dinner raved about your Turkey!!!
That's the way I do it. I hope your Thanksgiving is a wonderful one and from our family to yours, we wish you the best of holidays!