Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Fried Turkey

A couple years ago, while still in Florida, we took to the hallowed Southern tradition of frying turkeys. The merits of the method are many. Moist meat. Crispy skin. Total cooking time of about an hour and 15. So now we're back in Seattle and naturally The Family commanded that we produce a fried turkey. Or two, as the case turned out to be. So I've got my frosty beverage and will sit down to write. Here's the story, following this anyone should be able to handle frying their own turkey.

First, if you haven't seen it yet watch Alton Brown's Fry Turkey Fry.

At least watch part 2 for the flaming lesson in what not to do.

  • I have a Bayou Classic Cajun Cooker of about 40,000 BTUs. It was $40 at Home Depot. It's main purpose in life is brewing.
  • A large pot. I have a tall 7.5 gallon aluminum pot with a turkey lifter insert that came with a previous Turkey Frying kit. It is also good for things like Crab Boils. The burner that came with the kit was terrible though, and was replaced within a year.
  • A lifting device. No, you don't need Alton's Turkey Derrick. It's ridiculous and no doubt the product of gun-shy lawyers. (Seriously, what is with those guys?) But I also wouldn't use the "glove and small lifting handle" method either. Solution: my patented turkey lifting stick. Ok not patented, or particularly special. It's a broom handle with a steel hook screwed in the end. Sturdy and cost about $8. You could also use it to, I don't know, reach tall things and, um, hook them.
  • A long clicky lighter
  • A long dial thermometer. They come with the kits but otherwise run about $10.
  • A fire extinguisher rated for grease fires (Class 'B'). You're not going to spray water on a grease fire are you? No you're not. Because you like your house and skin just the way it is. Un-incinerated.

Ok. Now we need a turkey. 10-14 lbs tends to work best. Bigger and you start running into trouble. But smaller is ok. (Or try a 3lb chicken as practice. Or three, stacked on the turkey lifter...) We went for some labelled "Northwest Natural" and though 'natural' means nothing, at least these were apparently local-ish, vegetarian, antibiotic and hormone free. Farmer's market turkeys all were reserved well in advance. Bummer. Figure a pound a person so we got a 10lb and 14lb.


Of course you're going to brine your turkey, because all turkeys should be brined. I've done it several ways, including the cajun injection and cover with Tony Chachere's method. Spices always just fall off and burn, and ruining your oil. No, keep it simple. Alton's on the right track here. You'll need:
  • a gallon and a half of water
  • 1 lb dark brown sugar
  • 1 lb pickling/canning salt
Stir until everything is dissolved. Then stick your turkey in a bag and pour it in. Squish out as much air as you can. I've used garbage bags before, but actual Turkey Brining bags are available and they are cool because you can fit two smallish turkeys in! Double the brine, naturally. Let it sit in the fridge overnight, or at least 12 hours.

Time to Fry

Measure the oil you'll need. Have at least 3 1/2 gallons on hand. Peanut is best, but anything with a high smoke point will work. Got 4+ish gallons from Costco for cheap-ish.

Take your turkey out of the brine, put it on the lifter, and stick it in the pot. Add water until the level kindof meets the ankles of the bird. That's how much oil you'll need. But even in my 7.5 gallon pot I think 3.5 gallons is about as much as I'm comfortable using, I wouldn't go much past that even if I measured more. No one eats the bone part of the drumstick anyway. Dump the water, towel dry the bird, and dry the pot.

It's time to fry.

Add the oil in and start heating it. Adjust the air vent on the burner to get as much blue, and as little orange, as possible. From now on you're glued to the burner, so send someone else to get you a beer.

Heat it to 250. In the past I have tried heating to 375 first. While the addition of the bird is fantastic and terrifying, it mostly resulted in a lot of unnecessary danger and overcooked birds. But if like me you are frying two turkeys, you don't have much choice. Oil stays hot a long, long time.

Add the bird
  • turn the flame OFF
  • make everyone stand back
  • carefully lift and SLOWLY insert the turkey
  • if the oil is 250, this won't be very spectacular
  • if the oil is 350 this will be very spectacular, so add it slowly, an inch or two at a time and hold it there for 15 seconds or so before lowering it any further.
  • Dropping means splashing. Splashing means overflowing. Overflowing means Burn Ward.
Right. Turkey is safely in. Light 'er up and crank up the heat.

You're shooting for 350. It will take a bit to get there as the water boils off the turkey, but then it will shoot up once most of the water is gone.

So don't go anywhere.

Drink your beverage.

On the first turkey, at 14 pounder I put in 4 gallons of oil, which was a bit excessive and I had to watch it like a hawk. Frankly, I didn't need the added stress and about halfway through carefully took out two quarts of oil. Safety first.

I went for 35 minutes on the 14 pounder. Turn off the heat and carefully lift it out, then check various parts with a thermometer. It worked out pretty well, a bit overdone at internal temps around 160. You're shooting for 151 because carryover will take it to 160, so the carryover took it to 170ish, which is a bit overdone. Still tasty though. Went down to 30 minutes on the 10 pounder, came out perfect.

Let the turkey rest for 30 minutes before serving.

How was it? A rousing success. Moist, tender, crunchy skin, pleasantly seasoned. And two turkeys, enough to feed 21, took about 2 1/2 hours, didn't occupy any ovens, and were also entertainment for the crowd.

Unfortunately now it looks like I might have "volunteered" for all future T-days...


Let the oil cool down, overnight is best. Crispy crunchy bits will sink to the bottom. You can a) pour it out on your compost/corner of your yard or b) decant off the cleaner oil through cheesecloth and use it again. We always do.


Trish said...

MMMMmmmmm Nom Nom NOM

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