Excerpted from Hoppin’ John Martin Taylor’s The Fearless Frying Cookbook.
If you live in the South, you’ve probably heard of deep-frying an entire turkey—it’s a new and popular tradition. I first saw it done when I was in high school in the 1960s; Justin Wilson, the Louisiana cookbook author and television personality, says he first did it in Louisiana in the 1930s. I think it appeared in the South simply because it’s such an outdoors event—and an event it is: a huge (10-gallon) pot sizzles with lots (5 gallons) of oil over a very hot fire. You can’t do it indoors. You can cook whole chickens or a turkey breast (page 84) the same way in less oil, but still you mustn’t try it indoors: you don’t want to risk setting that much oil on fire inside.
You will need an outdoor cooker (mine is 140,000 Btu) and a 10-gallon pot, preferably one with a basket insert (available in hardware stores and stores where outdoor equipment is sold). The insert keeps the bird off the bottom of the pot and facilitates removing it from the oil.
Deep-Fried TurkeyPrint Recipe
- 4 to 5 gallons vegetable oil
- 1 whole turkey (12 to 15 pounds), at room temperature
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
Begin heating the oil in a 10-gallon pot over a very hot propane flame outdoors. Don’t set the burner to its highest setting, as you may need to increase the heat after you’ve added the turkey. It will take about 20 minutes for the oil to heat.
Meanwhile, rinse the turkey well, pat it dry inside and out, and set it on end in a sink to drain.
When the oil reaches 375°F, pat the turkey dry again, and sprinkle it with cayenne, if desired. If your cooker has a basket insert, place the turkey in the basket and set it over a baking sheet; if not, set “an oven rack over a large baking sheet, place the turkey on it, and take them outside to the cooker.
Check the temperature of the oil. When the oil reaches 390°F, carefully and slowly lower the basket with the turkey into the oil; or lower it holding it by its legs or by a long heavy tool such as a clean fireplace poker inserted into its cavity. Be careful! Immediately check the oil temperature and adjust the flame so that the temperature does not dip below 340°F. You want to maintain the temperature at 365°F. As it cooks, occasionally move the bird around in the oil so that it does not scorch (the oil near the heat source will be hotter). Whole turkeys take only 3 to 4 minutes per pound to fry to perfection: small ones, around 12 pounds, will take about 35 minutes; large ones, around 15 pounds, will take about 1 hour. When it is done, the turkey will float to the surface with a perfectly crispy, brown skin. If you are unsure, you can test the meat for doneness at the hip joint or insert a meat thermometer into the breast; it should register 180°F.
Using the basket insert if there is one, or by again inserting a long heavy tool such as a clean fireplace poker into its cavity, carefully remove the turkey from the oil and hold it over the pot for a moment to allow any excess oil to drain back into the pot, then lay the bird on the oven rack. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes before carving.