How to Deep-Fry a Turkey Without Killing Yourself, Indoors and Out
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This is the best-known method, and has spawned a slew of unfortunate deep-fried-turkey disaster videos. Frankly, I think this method is pretty darned dangerous.
You’ll need an outdoor turkey-frying rig, which includes a burner and stand, a pot, a thermometer for the oil, and the hanger and lowering mechanism for the bird. I used a Brinkmann model; Kenji has used the Bayou Classic. Neither of us has complaints about them. You’ll also need a propane tank. You should not try to jury-rig your own setup.
The biggest mistakes people make when using this method are: setting up the fryer in or near a home or other combustible thing, overfilling the pot so that the hot oil spills over when the turkey is lowered into it, and dropping the turkey, causing the hot oil to splash.
You should also have a fire extinguisher nearby that is rated to work with grease fires; attempting to extinguish a grease fire with water is incredibly dangerous.
To avoid an overflow of oil, it’s necessary to first determine exactly how much oil you need. To do that, put the turkey in the pot and fill it with water, measuring as you go, until the turkey is covered by about half an inch or so; remove the turkey and pat it dry with paper towels.
Once the turkey is removed, the water in the pot should be below the maximum fill line. Pour out the water, dry the pot well, then fill the pot with the equivalent amount of oil.
A good setup should be in an open area, a safe distance from anything combustible. In the photo above, you can see we’ve set the burner and propane tank on a concrete surface, and there’s nothing within about 10 feet of it in any direction. Be sure not to walk between the propane tank and the burner: You can trip on the gas line, causing the pot of oil to tumble.
Once the oil has reached its temperature, about 350°F (177°C), insert the hanger through the bird.
When you’re ready to lower the turkey into the oil, you’re going to want to wear heavy oven mitts and a solid pair of shoes, and not have any skin showing. Shorts and sandals are a bad idea.
Kenji recommends shutting off the burner for this part, then relighting it once the turkey is in the pot so there’s no chance at all of a flare-up during turkey entry. That’s a good idea (you’ll see why in a second), though it also means monkeying around under a pot of hot oil to relight the burner after the bird is in, which comes with its own risks.
Lower the turkey very, very slowly. Ease it into the oil, and if anything seems to go wrong, abort by carefully lifting the turkey out, not by dropping it in—splashing oil can mess you up real bad.
In the photo above, you’ll see why it’s a good idea to turn the burner off when lowering the turkey into the oil, and also why the maximum size bird (in this case, 18 pounds) is not a great idea.
Even though I had measured my oil carefully to account for displacement, even though I made sure the turkey was dry and free of all ice, even though I lowered it slowly, a jet of hot oil still managed to shoot out of the pot once the turkey was fully in. In this particular shot, we see oil spattering out of the pot, some of it igniting down by the burner, and me running to the fire extinguisher while yelling to Vicky to get away.
The good news is that nothing bad happened and things quickly came under control, but this is a good example of how, even if you do everything right, deep-frying a turkey like this can still be risky.
Once the turkey is in, it’ll fry pretty quickly. Most people say about three minutes per pound of bird, but I’d start checking it even sooner than that. My oil level started out above the turkey, but it slowly went down as the bird cooked, leaving part of it exposed toward the end. This didn’t have any negative impact on the bird or its skin.
When you’re ready to check the temperature, use the hook to fish the turkey out, and lift it very slowly, allowing oil to drain off as you raise it.