Deep-Fried Turkey

from The Fearless Frying Cookbook

If you live in the South, you've probably heard of the now popular deep-frying of an entire turkey. It's a new tradition; I first saw it done when I was in high school in the 1960s. Justin Wilson 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 event it is: a huge pot sizzles with lots (4 gallons) of oil over a very hot fire. You can't do it indoors. You can cook whole chickens or a turkey breast 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.

Whole fried turkey or turkey breast is the best illustration I know of just how delicious and fat-free fried food can be. I bet that once you've tried it fried, you'll never go back to baked turkey. As the turkey cools, take advantage of the big pot of oil and fry something else like French fries. You can serve the turkey the way you would a baked one, as the center of a big meal such as Thanksgiving; it will only take about an hour from setup to serving. Or you can have your guests make turkey or club sandwiches, served with fries.

You will need an outdoor cooker, preferably one with a basket insert. The insert keeps the bird off the bottom of the pot and facilitates removing it from the oil.
4 to 5 gallons vegetable oil
1 whole turkey at room temperature

1. Begin heating the oil in a large pot over a very hot 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.
2. Rinse the turkey well, pat it dry inside and out, and set it up on its end to drain in a sink.
3. When the oil reaches 375°, pat the turkey dry again. Place an oven rack over a large baking sheet and place the turkey on it. Take them outside to the cooker and check the temperature of the oil.
4. When the oil reaches 390°, carefully and slowly lower the turkey into the oil, holding it by its legs or by inserting a long heavy tool such as a fireplace poker into its cavity. Immediately check the oil temperature and adjust the flame so that it does not dip below 340°. You want to maintain the temperature at 365°. 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. Smaller ones, around 12 pounds, will take about about 35 minutes; larger ones, around 15 pounds, will take about 1 hour. The turkey will float to the surface with a perfectly crispy and brown skin when it is done. 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°.
5. Carefully remove the turkey from the pot, using the basket insert if there is one or by inserting a long heavy tool such as a fireplace poker into its cavity. Allow any excess oil to drain off the bird back into the pot, then lay the bird on the prepared baking sheet. Allow it to rest for 20 minutes before carving.

20 servings