Here in the United States, we love fried food. It doesn’t matter if it’s a vegetable, meat, or even a candy bar; if it’s coated in batter and dunked in hot oil, chances are we’ll love it. While it’s not the healthiest means of preparing food, it is undoubtedly one of the most delicious, so it’s no surprise that chefs are constantly experimenting with what they should deep-fry next.
As a matter of fact, that’s how the tradition of deep-drying the Thanksgiving turkey got started. It originated in Louisiana, which is home to plenty of its own local delicacies, most notably: boiled crawfish. Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, Cajun chefs had been experimenting with cooking crawfish, or crawdads as they are affectionately known, using portable butane and propane stoves. They soon realized that they could do more than boil items on these cookers, and began playing around with fried fish and chicken.
The first mention of deep fried turkey in Louisiana surfaced in December of 1982, when a local journalist, Gary Taylor, learned that deep frying a turkey had been attempted. He reported that, “A few daring cooks have developed a new way to prepare holiday turkey. They deep fry it… whole.” And so, history was made. Now, we consume over 40 million turkeys a year and, each Thanksgiving, hundreds of thousands are deep fried.
Pros and Cons of Turkey Frying
You may be asking yourself, “Why wouldn’t I deep-fry my turkey?” And you’d have a point in that there are a couple of strong pros to cooking using a deep-fryer. Yes, deep-frying does lock in moisture, making for tender, juicy turkey meat. And, yes, it is faster than roasting the turkey in your oven. But these are only two pros compared to a whole stack of cons.
The simple truth is, deep-frying is exponentially more dangerous than cooking in your oven. According to State Farm research data, more cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year, and that’s no surprise when you consider how temperamental hot cooking oil can be.
Each variety of oil has what is called a “smoke point” which is when it becomes so hot and volatile that it starts to smoke. Because many deep fat fryers do not have a built in thermostat, it can be hard to keep tabs on the temperature of the oil. If the temperature of the oil exceeds the smoke point and continues to rise, the oil will catch fire on its own.
Aside from having to constantly monitor the temperature of the oil, the process of deep-frying a turkey can still be rather difficult. Fryers are top heavy and can easily tip over, spilling nearly-boiling hot grease on anything and everything in its path. The pot and handles of the fryer can become extremely hot, requiring a heavy duty pot holder to handle. Also, disposing of several gallons of dirty, used cooking oil is no fun at all. Not to mention the fact that you could so very easily set your house, yard, or even your own body on fire. So, while you stand to gain some delicious meat from deep-frying your Thanksgiving turkey, there’s a lot you could lose as well.
Do’s and Don’ts
Some of you may have changed your minds about ever attempting to deep-fry a turkey and some of you have not; and that’s fine. The important thing is that if you do decide to deep-fry a turkey, you do it safely. To help achieve this goal, we’ve compiled a list of do’s and don’ts to keep in mind if you do chose to embark on this culinary adventure.
- Do thaw your turkey. Oil does not mix well with ice and/or water. Frying a frozen turkey will make the oil splatter and could easily cause a fire.
- Do purchase a frying thermometer. Know the smoke point of your chosen oil and maintain a temperature safely below it.
- Do use a real turkey fryer. There are plenty of products made just for this purpose, don’t risk your safety by trying to rig something up yourself.
- Do read the instructions. Make sure you do so before the big day, so when the time comes you’re ready to go.
- Do cover your skin. Oil burns are no fun. Make sure all exposed skin is covered when working with the fryer. Non-slip shoes are a good idea too.
- Do remove the innards. Most frozen turkeys come with the giblets and a few other organs inside a plastic bag, and you definitely don’t want to fry that!
- Do use oil with a high smoke point. Peanut oil is always a good option or, if you have peanut allergies, soybean oil works just fine.
- Do let the oil cool before disposing. Frying oil can hold heat for a very long time, give it a few hours to cool down before you put it into your disposal container.
- Don’t overfill the frying pot. While your turkey is still in the package, place it in the pot and cover it with water until it’s reached the desired level. Remove the turkey and draw a line where the water comes up to on the pot. Fill the oil to this line when you’re ready to fry and you’ll always have just the right amount of oil.
- Don’t fry inside. It’s just a bad idea. Always fry outdoors on a level surface. In fact, you should be at least 10 feet away from any kind of structure while frying.
- Don’t ever use water to extinguish a grease fire. Always use a fire extinguisher and have it handy at all times.
- Don’t go bigger than 12-14 lbs. To allow for proper and thorough cooking, it’s a good idea to keep the weight of your turkey under this threshold.
- Don’t leave the fryer unattended. You should always be on hand in case there are any spills, you need to adjust the temperature, or extinguish a fire.
- Don’t put marinade under the turkey skin. You can use a marinade if you are deep frying, but it needs to be injected deep into the meat and allowed to sit for several hours before frying.
- Don’t drop the turkey into the oil. You risk splashing hot oil everywhere, besides, most turkey fryers come with a hook that makes it easy to gently lower the turkey in.
Whether you’re planning on frying on Christmas or Thanksgiving, we hope you’ll find these deep-frying tips useful this holiday season. From the staff and attorneys at Hagelgans & Veronis, we wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!