So You Want to Deep Fry A Turkey for Thanksgiving? A Complete How to Guide

22 Nov

So you think you want to Deep Fry a Turkey for Thanksgiving? I salute you! A deep fried turkey is the most flavorful and juicy cooking methods to handle these massive land birds. Deep Frying a whole turkey is relatively easy, but also easy to f%ck up and when I say F*ck Up!, I mean 3rd degree burns, house fire and crispy poodles.  Now I don’t want to scare you away from deep frying a turkey, as you will never go back to a regular oven baked turkey ever again!  After following these instructions,  you will be able to safely deliver a juicy fried feast to your family and friends without 3rd degree burns.

What happens when you dont follow instructions! Turkey Nuclear Meltdown!

This method I am about to teach  will require a little extra work, but your beast of the barnyard will not only make it to your table in one piece, but so will you. Did I mention that your dinner guests will treat you like a hero and will hoist you over their shoulders in celebration. Woot Woot!

Does your own independent research on safety, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the deep fryer. For the love of whatever God you pray to, follow ALL safety instructions. I mean it! Please see the attached picture to see what happens when you get lazy or cut corners. With that disclaimer, lets DEEP FRY a Turkey!!!!!!

What You Need

1)    Turkey – No more than 15 pounds (I’m serious about this one)

2)    Dry Seasoning Mix -Lawry’s seasoning , pepper, cayenne pepper (just a pinch), garlic powder, paprika,

Peanut oil provides a high smoke point and adds natural flavors

3)    Container of Peanut Oil (They sell this at Costco) 25 pounds

4)    Deep Fryer Set with 40-60 Quart Pot– You can get this from any hardware store (Home Depot, Lowes, ect)

  1. The set should include the burner apparatus, deep fryer pot, basket or turkey mounting perch, safety lift hook, deep fry thermometer.

5)    Full tank of propane – as most stores who sell full ones are closed on Thanksgiving. If you are unsure, don’t be lazy and buy an extra the day before.

6)    Digital Thermometer

7)    Ladder

This is the set I recommend, it can be purchased at most hardware stores or even Walmart if you swing that way

8)    Pulley system (homemade see instructions)

9)    Zip Ties (optional)

10) Three rolls of paper towels – To dry the turkey and clean (lots of oil splattering)

11) Large Serving Dish

12) Heavy Duty Foil

13) Fire Extinguisher suitable for Grease Fires (multi-purpose will due)


Flavor Injectors or Au Natural?

Should you turn your turkey into a real housewife of the OC? I think not

Many deep fry sets come with a food grade hypodermic needle to inject sauce into the muscle tissue of the meat.  There are mixed thoughts on this process. I have tried this technique, as it does infuse of flavor into the core of the meat. Although here are a couple of things to consider. First, you are introducing a little bit of safety hazard as injecting the bird with extra sauce will add uncontrolled moisture to the party, which can result in issues. Second a deep fried turkey’s flavor is in a near pure state, which can only be summoned by a deep fry exorcism. If you inject Mr. Tom Turkey with sauce, then you are tampering with his natural flavor profile and instead you will be tasting  Mrs. Sassy’s Secret Sauce. I vote Yes to Turkey and NO! to artificial injections. After all we are worried about the suppleness of its meat and crispiness of its skin, not injections like it’s a middle-aged housewife of the O.C. If you insist, be sure not to use a  smooth sauce with no particles as it will get clogged in the needle. Just saying from experience.

 Preparing the Turkey

Your turkey MUST be completely defrosted in order to deep fry; this means you MUST transfer your turkey to the fridge several days before the big deep fry day. Another option is to buy a “fresh” turkey which is already defrosted. In either case, inspect of the turkey for signs of a frozen center core. Even the Department of Homeland Security agrees with me, read this article posted on 11/22/2011 by DHS, although be sure to come back to my blog after you read the articles, especially my ADD friends

First, remove all packaging from the bird, including plastic wrapping, metal clasps in the turkey, plastic thermometers. Also be sure to reach inside the turkey and remove all packets, hearts, gizzards and whatever other goodies you find inside. If you like the internal organs or neck, good for you, but set it aside you will not need it. 

Ensure your turkey is completely dry, inside and out. Dont be shy with paper towels

Second, reach your fist deep inside the cavity like you are a fake proctologist and feel around for signs of frozen meat at the bone level. Next, push down on the breasts; if anything is firm it’s not a breast implant you are feeling, that is a frozen section. If you come across frozen sections don’t worry,  it can be remedied by running cold water through the cavity via the kitchen faucet. If you want to be sure, I highly suggest using an instant read digital thermometer to take some temperature readings. I suggest you insert the thermometer into the breast via the inside cavity. If the meat is reading 32 Degrees (+/- 5 degrees) then keep running cold water through it.

Third, let your turkey rest at room temperature for a couple of hours before the deep fry. This step is a judgment call, as you will have to balance food safety and the perfect turkey. Allowing the turkey to rest at room temperature will allow the temperature of the turkey to rise. Why would I do this? Simple, if the turkey is really cold, it will also cool down the boiling oil, resulting in a longer cooking time. By extending the cooking time, you are going to get a darker (if not burnt) skin. In addition, if the turkey is very cold, it will result in the oil cooling so much that the turkey will not seal and allow oil to permeate the muscle.  On the other side of the coin, letting poultry sit out at room temperature takes the meat into a danger zone that is ripe for bacterial growth. What is the middle ground? Use only clean and sanitized surfaces to let the turkey rest, wash hands EACH TIME before and after handling raw meat, keep the turkey covered and away from animals, kids, insects and the meddling Aunt Mable. I place the resting turkey in a large container and cover it with paper towels. I would let the turkey warm up to at least 55 degrees.

Measuring the Oil Level in the Pot

Use the turkey to measure how much oil you will need, by using water. Dont forget measure the water line after the turkey is removed

Place the turkey on its perch. This will either be a metal basket or a contraption that looks like a perforated base and a hook popping out. If you are using a perch, slip the hook up from the rear end through the neck (up yours Mr. Turkey), so that the turkey is “sitting” on the perch. Next, place the perched turkey into the pot. The turkey is used to measure how much oil is needed.  Next, fill the pot will hose water (yes do this outside, it will get messy), until the top of the turkey is completely covered with water, plus 2 inches. Next, lift the turkey out of the pot and let all the water drip back into the pot.  Important step! Make a mark how high the water is AFTER the turkey is removed. This water line mark, will tell you how much oil you should place in the pot. AGAIN, measure the water line after the turkey is removed. This is a big rookie mistake that I have made almost every year.  Next fill the pot with oil, up to the line you marked; do this step now or you will forget. It is time to warm up the oil.

Setting up the Burner and Warming Up the Oil

Make sure the burner is set back at least 20 feet from structures, 30 feet is better. This is not my set up, notice how he put cardboard under the burner. Don't do this! It is a conbustable and just stupid

IMPORTANT!!! Set up the burner at least 20 feet away from any structure (including your house).  Yes it is common for deep fried turkey experiments to go horribly wrong, so be smart and keep the deep fried fun away from anything that can catch fire. In addition, place the burner on a flat area, preferable on grass or dirt. Never set up your burner in the house, on a wooden deck, or right next to the house. Also be sure to place your fire extinguisher near your deep fry station, just in case things get out of control.

Place the pot of oil on the burner and then turn the burner on to high. The goal is to get the oil to 325°F and no higher than 350°F. Either you can use the thermometer included in your deep fry kit or purchase a candy thermometer. Depending on the starting temperature of the oil, this heat up period can take from 30 minutes to 45 minutes. While the oil is warming up, this is a good time to season the turkey. If you have to leave the fry station to season the turkey, be sure to leave someone there to monitor the oil. Never leave hot oil on the burner unattended!!! Especially if there are kids or pets around.

While the oil is heating up, season the turkey with your choice of dry seasonings. Be sure to season both the outside and the inside of the turkey. Be generous with your seasoning, such that there is a light seasoning crust forming on the turkey. The spices I prefer include Lawry’s seasoning salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, cayenne pepper (just a little), garlic powder.

Prepping the Safety Hoist (not a required step but I highly recommend)

This is the pulley system I made. Notice how I use a locking carabiner to connect to the perch. I connect the pulley to the ladder using a bolt and hook piece (get all supplies from your hardware store)

Although using a safety hoist is not a mandatory step, it is a lot safer than lowering a turkey into scalding hot oil at crotch level (think about this for a few minutes). The day before, you will want to assemble your safety hoist. You will need some rope, a pulley, a hook and a carabiner and a ladder. The goal is to create a pulley system that will allow you to lower the turkey into the oil from a distance.  I personally attached the pulley to a 2×4 segment and strapped it to the top rung of a ladder using zip ties. If your ladder has a top step (platform), then I recommend bolting the pulley into the top step. I used a carabiner to connect the turkey holder (perch) to the pulley system.  This set up allowed me to slowly lower the turkey into the oil without fear of burning my kiwis.

The Deep Fry Stud Tom Holmberg, from Tom's Foodie Blog, showing off his Deep Fry Rig. He is ready to deep fry a turkey and talk about myself in the 3rd person.


I tie up one end of the rope while I secure the turkey perch hook to the carabiner. When everything is hooked up the Turkey is ready for a hot bath.

Lowering the Turkey into the Deep Fryer! Now that I know I am playing it safe, it is time to summon the inner Beavis and Buthead and deep fry a turkey!!! The goal is to VERY slowly lower the turkey into the boiling oil. If you lower it too fast, then the oil WILL overflow and fly everywhere, thereby causing a chain reaction that ends with a fire volcano in your backyard. No Bueno! So my advice is to lower the turkey 2 inches every 30 seconds, until the turkey hits the bottom of the pot. This is always my favorite step in the process. The sound created when you first lower the turkey is very loud and a little bit intimidating to watch…if not just a little exciting! If you are a guy, this step is the equivalent of watching a fight at a NASCAR crash or the fight scene of a Bruce Lee movie. If you F&*@ Up this step, congrats your video will make it on YouTube,  under “deep fried Turkey Disaster.” I will secretly laugh at you.

Let her FRY!

After the turkey is lowered in, I tie up the rope and constantly monitor the temperature of the oil to ensure it does not exceed 350 degrees. Adjust the burner to keep oil temperature between 325 -350 degrees.

With a whole turkey, you can estimate cooking time at three minutes per pound. The goal is a temperature of 170° F at the breast and 180° F in the thigh. Remember how I said, 3 minutes per pound? This rule can go out the window sometimes, so you might want to consider hoisting the turkey out and checking the temperature when you are at ½ ways through the estimated cooking time and again about 5 minutes before the estimated finish time. If the temperature is at or just a tad under, then remove it. If you were drinking beers and chatting with your friends and forgot to check the temperature….then you deserve burnt turkey. Put the beer down and monitor your turkey.

Hoisting the Turkey out of its Jacuzzi

When your set time has elapsed or the breast reaches 170 degrees. Hoist the Turkey out, tie off the rope securely, and use the retrieval hook that came with your kit to secure the bird while you unclip it. A second person is highly recommended for this step.

When the turkey is done, slowly hoist the turkey out of the pot and tie up the rope to the ladder, so that it is very secure.  Use the recovery hook, provided with your kit, and secure the turkey and move it away from the pot of hot oil to a nearby work station. Next, unhook the turkey and place it in a serving platter, cover it with heavy-duty foil and let the turkey rest for at least 10 minutes. This cool down period will allow the juices to pull back into the meat. If you cut open the turkey right away, the juices will just be lost on the cutting board.

Next Cut it up and enjoy.

Winning! Your Deep Fried Turkey will have a nice mahogany skin, juicy flesh and will fall off the bone. Don't you wish your turkey was hot like mine!

I guarantee you will be the hero of the dinner table!

Clean Up!

Let the oil cool down, preferably overnight. Using a funnel pour the oil back into its original container and dispose of it according to your local trash disposal ordinance. My city allows us to through it in the trash, as long as it is in a closed container and clearly labeled as “used cooking oil.”  Don’t be douche and dump the oil  down the sink, toilette,  garden, or storm drain.

Good Luck with your deep frying adventures!

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One Response to “So You Want to Deep Fry A Turkey for Thanksgiving? A Complete How to Guide”

  1. Dave December 20, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    A good blog post. Something I always tell students is keep raw ingredients totally separate from ready to eat foods.
    Wash your hands well in soapy water after touching raw meat and raw vegetables. (Soil on raw vegetables is a major source of pathogenic organisms.
    Check the internal temperature of cooked foods to ensure it has reached at least 75°C or 167°F. This temperature will ensure that it is safe to eat.

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