When you think about Thanksgiving Dinner what is the center piece of the meal that comes to your mind? Of course it’s the TURKEY! Although, I have seen other things on the Thanksgiving dinner table, sometime based on local availability or other traditions. Dungeons crabs are often featured on tables in the Pacific northwest of the United States. Families with strong Irish heritage may have a prime rib of beef because of its rarity back in Ireland. Who could forget John Madden’s favorite the Turducken? I have even had vegetarian friends try to feed me turfoky (they are no longer my friend).
It’s clear to see that you do have choices for your dinner star, but in my home and most other households our tables features Meleagris gallpava silvistris, the American Turkey! I grew up looking forward to our Thanksgiving turkey all year-long. Turkey was kind of a special treat because it took a long time to prepare and cook, depending on the size up to four or five hours. I loved helping my father clean and prep the turkey, the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade was on in the background and it would just a time for he and I to be together.
While in Louisiana after hurricane Katrina I discovered Deep-Fried Turkey, it was wonderfully delicious! I’ve now been doing a fried turkey for about five years for my family and I say once you’ve tried it you will have a difficult time returning to the typical oven-roasted turkey. Many people mistakenly think that a fried turkey will be greasy and loaded with oil – this is not further from the truth! The deep-frying cooking method actual seals in the juices of the turkey (which can be bolstered with a good marinade) while creating a golden crispy skin on the bird. This collision of contrasting textures – incredibly juicy interior and splendidly crispy exterior will make this an instant holiday favorite in your family celebration!
As I mentioned, I first learned about deep-fried turkey while I was in Louisiana. Food anthropologist generally agree that the fired turkey begin in the Bayou (Louisiana / Texas) Creole regions. Foodtimeline.com, a website devoted to the history of food, shows that this turkey cooking method started in the 1920s/1930s although no one person or restaurant is credited with the origin. The fried turkey could also be found at many outdoor events in the American South during the early 20th century.
The fried turkey remained a relatively hidden culinary gem until the mid-1990s when celebrity chefs began to introduce them on national cooking shows. Unfortunately, it was not the great taste and flavor that really trusted the deep-fried turkey into public spot light. Stories of fried-turkey fire bombs began to fill the headlines of local news papers and broadcasts. The fear of destructive house fires and injuries (and yes sadly even few deaths) keep this deliciously prepared bird off of many Thanksgiving tables.
In part because of this great concern for danger a small Brooklyn, New York deli has become famous for making and shipping fried-turkeys. If you are local The Jive Turkey features a daily turkey menu and catering. Special holiday meals can be ordered online and shipped to your door.
Let talk deep-fried turkey safety.
I agree that deep-frying your Thanksgiving turkey can present an element of danger, but these hazards can be overcome with knowledge, planning and a little common sense (my family will tell you, I have very little common sense – so if I can deep-fry a turkey safely you can to.)
First let’s talk about equipment. You can purchase a turkey fryer at just about any store for as little as $35.00. I believe the most important thing in choosing a fryer is to make sure the base is sturdy and can support the weight of the pot, oil and bird.
Of course the next most important piece of equipment that should be close by your turkey fryer is an ABC Class Fire Extinguisher. It need to be in close proximity to your fried, not inside the house under the kitchen sink and NO you can not use the garden hose – water will cause major problems when applied to a burning flammable liquid like hot cooking oil.
Before the day of cooking, be sure your fryer is assembled correctly! Make sure the base is thigh and has large flat (outside) surface to sit on during cooking. I DO NOT recommend using your drive way – spilled oil could erode asphalt surfaces (experience talking here). Make sure all hoses connections are thigh and leak free. Be sure to follow any other safety instructions the fryer manufacture has offered in the direction manual (you did read it I hope).
A big problem that I’ve seen with frying turkeys is oil spillage during cooking. If you rely on the “fill line” inside the pot you may have too much oil once the turkey is place and a large amount of very hot oil could spill out of the pot, this could cause flaming oil to spread all over the cooking area causing great damage and risk! Before you begin to cool or consider adding any oil to your pot you MUST do a displacement test with the pot and turkey you will be preparing. Place the turkey in the pot and fill with water until the bird is completed covered and then another inch of liquid over the top of the turkey. This amount is of liquid is the correct amount of oil you will need for cooking.
Also, remember to set up a safety area around your turkey fryer. Children, pets and combustible materials MUST be kept away from the device – at least three feet for combustible items like furniture and houses. The fryer must never be left unattended while in use, have a partner with you so that you have someone to talk to during the cooking (a typical turkey should take about one hour and twenty minutes to fry). DO NOT WALK AWAY AND LEAVE THE OPERATING FRYER UNATTENDED! Another important point, leave the alcohol alone – drinking impairs judgment and reactions. Do not drink while operating your turkey fryer.
Always have a thermometer in the oil to keep a constant read on how hot the oil is. Cooking oils above 400 degrees Fahrenheit can become unstable and erupt into flames. Keep your oil as close as possible to 375 degrees while cooking. Also keep in mind when oil is too cold it will cause your turkey to absorb oil during the cooking.
Once you have cooked and removed your turkey from the hot oil be sure to place the oil on the ground, do not leave it on the cooking stand where it could be knocked over.
Frying the turkey in large amounts of hot oil can be dangerous, be very careful. For those of you who would like to lessen the hazards some the Char-Broil company has introduced the “The Big Easy” the first oil-less turkey fryer. The device uses infrared heat to safely cook the turkey without fear of spills, fires or burns, and eliminating the hassles of disposing of used oil. I have not personally tried this product, while I like the idea of decreasing risk I do not know if I like the thought of an oil-less fryer.
A note about peanut allergies: Peanut allergies are very common among people today and of course peanut oil is most often used for frying turkeys. Most highly refined peanut oils remove the peanut allergens and have been shown to be safe for the “vast majority of peanut-allergic individuals”, while cold-pressed peanut oils may not remove the allergens and can be highly dangerous to allergic individuals.
Once you have cooked and removed your turkey from the hot oil, place the pot on the ground – do not leave it on the cooking stand where it could be knocked over and spilled.
Following these safety tips will help ensure and enjoyable and safe fired-turkey for your Thanksgiving feast!
The following recipe is the one that I use when preparing a fried-turkey for my family. You see there are very few ingredients and very little work involved.
Bruce’s Cajun Fried Turkey Recipe
- Turkey – 18-20 lbs (consider the size of your frying pot)
- Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
- Marinade Brine:
- 3 gallons water
- 2 cups Kosher salt
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- Whole garlic (one head for each five pounds of turkey)
- Rosemary, 4 fresh sprigs
- Thyme, 4 fresh sprigs
- 2 tablespoons of crushed black peppercorns
Ensure that your turkey is completely thawed, place your turkey on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator 24 hours for every five pounds of turkey (20 lb turkey would need 96 hours / 4 days to thaw completely).
Combine all the ingredients of the marinade brine in a large container, you can use the fry pot if it will fit in your refrigerator. A large cooler also works well. Once all the brine ingredients are combined and dissolved add the turkey and marinade for 12 – 18 hours (I usually like to begin this the afternoon before I plan on cooking the turkey).
Remove the turkey from the fry pot and prepare the pot for cooking. Clean out the pot and add the amount of oil determined during your displacement test. Begin to heat the oil to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, rinse your turkey, drain and pat dry with paper towels. Your turkey MUST be as dry as possible to prevent an explosive reaction when introducing it to the oil. Coat your turkey with the Cajun spice mix (to taste). The turkey can remain out of the refrigerator while the oil heats.
Once the oil is hot, slowly lower the turkey into the oil. The temperature of the oil will drop when the turkey is added and fluctuate during cooking – adjust your fryer accordingly to maintain the 375 degree temperature. Cook your turkey for 4 minutes per pound (20 lb = 80 minutes).
When your calculated cooking time is complete remove the turkey from the oil and allow to drain for thirty minutes.
Slice and enjoy!
Stay Safe and Happy Thanksgiving,