How to Deep-Fry a Turkey
A deep-fried turkey means tender, juicy meat that's ready in a fraction of the time. Follow our step-by-step guide to learn how to deep-fry a turkey.
Every year, Thanksgiving at my house is the same: Try to cram a huge turkey, a ton of side dishes and a few too many cooks in the kitchen. It’s practically a recipe for a hilarious holiday rom-com! To make things easier this year, I’m skipping the oven-roasted turkey and perfecting my technique for how to deep-fry a turkey instead. Frying a turkey not only frees up space in the oven, but it might also save my sanity.
You’ve probably heard of deep-frying turkey before but maybe haven’t dared to try it. Once you learn how to deep-fry a turkey, you’ll find it’s not as scary as you thought. It’s one of the easiest (and quickest) ways to cook a turkey. It only requires attention to a few details and some safety precautions.
Before You Start
How big of a turkey do I need?
There is a size limit on deep-fried turkey. A standard 30-quart pot can only handle a 14-pound turkey (or smaller). If your turkey is larger, you’ll need to remove the legs and thighs from the body and fry them separately. Don’t be afraid to ask your local butcher to help you with that.
While a turkey fryer can only handle a 14-lb. turkey, make sure you consider how much turkey per person you’ll need. You should be able to feed 10 or 11 people with a 14-pound bird.
What kind of marinade or rub should I use?
Taste of Home‘s former senior food stylist, Shannon Norris, advises that moisture is not your friend when deep-frying. She recommends using a dry brine or spice rub instead of liquid brines to minimize the splatter factor. (Oil and water don’t mix, and hot oil will spit when it encounters water droplets.)
Plus, if you season the turkey the day before, it will absorb the flavors overnight as it sits in the fridge. This method also dries out the turkey skin as it sits uncovered in the fridge to help the bird crisp up in the fryer.
Just make sure you don’t rinse off the seasoning, or you’ll add the water we’re trying to avoid. Here are more tips on how to brine a turkey.
What type of oil do I use?
There are several oils that are good for deep-frying. Look for a neutral oil with a high smoke point, like peanut oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, safflower oil or rice bran oil.
How do I prep the bird for frying?
You don’t need to truss the entire bird when deep-frying, but you will want to tuck the wings behind the turkey and tie the legs together with twine to promote even cooking.
Of course, make sure it’s fully thawed before you get started. Here’s how long to thaw a turkey, whether it’s in the fridge or in cold water.
How to Make a Deep-Fried Turkey
- Turkey Fryer: It’s best to buy a kit that contains everything you need for a successful run, like the Nexgrill 30 Qt. Turkey Fryer Package. It includes an outdoor burner, a 30-quart pot, a deep-frying thermometer to monitor oil temperature and a rack with a hook to slowly lower the turkey into the oil. Once you have it on hand, you can use it throughout the year for seafood boils, brewing beer and other large projects. Our Test Kitchen also recommends the King Kooker 29 Qt. Turkey Fryer Package.
- Heat-Resistant Gloves: Heat-resistant gloves are the best way to protect your arms from hot oil splatter. Look for a pair that’s heat-proof, waterproof and grease-proof. If they come up to your elbow, even better.
- Meat Thermometer: If you don’t have one already, an instant-read meat thermometer is essential for knowing when the turkey is finished cooking.
- Fire Extinguisher: Pick up a fire extinguisher that’s rated to work with grease fires.
Step 1: Choose your deep frying location
First of all, never use a turkey fryer inside. You’ll want to find a flat surface (such as concrete) outside, in an open area. Make sure the set-up allows plenty of space to walk around the fryer. No one should need to walk between the propane tank and the burner. (If anyone trips over the hose, it could cause the pot of hot oil to fall over.)
Finally, make sure the fryer is at least 10 feet away from your house, garage or any other buildings. It should not be located near combustible materials, such as wooden decks, structures or furniture.
Step 2: Measure the oil
Once you’ve chosen the location for your turkey fryer, it’s time to measure the oil. There’s no way to fix things once the oil is heated, so you’ll want to pre-measure the oil line.
- Place your turkey in the pot and add water until it’s covered by about a half an inch.
- Remove the turkey and allow any excess water to drain back into the pot.
- Measure the remaining water, or mark the waterline as the maximum fill line before discarding the water. Make sure there is at least three to five inches from the fill line to the top of the pot to prevent a boil-over, because overflowing the pot is the most dangerous aspect of deep-frying a turkey.
It should end up somewhere around 3.5 gallons. You’ll also want to be sure you don’t overfill the manufacturer’s fill line. If that’s the case, you’ll need to deconstruct the turkey before frying it.
Step 3: Prepare the dry brine mixture
In a small bowl, combine the thyme, salt, sugar, garlic powder, paprika and ground pepper.
Step 4: Rub the seasonings on the turkey
Using your fingers, carefully loosen the skin from the turkey. Rub the salt mixture under the skin, inside the cavity and over the outside. Tuck the wings under the turkey and tie the drumsticks together using kitchen twine. Here are more tips on how to season a turkey.
Refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours, uncovered.
Step 5: Preheat the oil and dry the turkey
Once you’re ready to fry, fully dry the inside and outside of the pot. Fill it with oil, being careful not to exceed the maximum fill line. Clip a deep-frying thermometer onto the side of the pot and turn on the burner. Preheat the oil to 275°F.
While the oil is preheating, remove the turkey from the fridge and let it stand at room temperature. Pat the turkey dry inside and out, making sure no liquid or ice is lingering inside the cavity.
Step 6: Slowly lower the turkey into the fryer
When the oil is preheated, turn the burner on high until you reach 350° (or 325° if you’re cooking turkey parts). Adjust the heat to maintain that temperature.
Place the turkey, breast side down, on the deep frying rack. If the rack comes with a detachable hook, make sure it’s hooked well. You should be able to hold the turkey securely over the cutting board without it slipping or falling.
Slowly and carefully lower the turkey into the hot oil, going slow enough to prevent the oil from bubbling over. Easing it in nice and slowly also allows you the chance to pull it right back out if anything goes amiss.
Editor’s Tip: You should definitely be wearing heat-resistant gloves for this step, along with pants and shoes. This isn’t the best activity for shorts and sandals! You want as little exposed skin as possible to reduce your chances of getting burned.
Step 7: Set a timer
Deep-fried turkey cooks very quickly: About 35 to 45 minutes (or three to four minutes per pound). Set a timer accordingly, and carefully lift the turkey out of the oil when it goes off. Take the temperature with an instant-read meat thermometer. The deepest part of the thigh should register 170° to 175°. If it’s not finished, lower the turkey back into the oil and continue cooking.
Step 8: Let the deep-fried turkey rest
When the turkey reaches the proper temperature, remove it from the oil. Place it on a rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire rack to let the excess oil drain. Tent it with foil and let it rest for at least 20 minutes before carving. Resting meat keeps it juicy, so don’t slice too soon.
Serving Deep-Fried Turkey
After the turkey has rested for at least 20 minutes, follow our guide for carving the turkey. The skin will be crispier than a regular turkey, so make sure your carving knives are plenty sharp. Present the turkey on a platter with the legs and wings left whole. The breast and thighs are easier to serve when cut into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Sides to Pair with Deep-Fried Turkey
Any sides you enjoy with oven-roasted turkey will pair well with deep-fried turkey. You may find you have more freedom when choosing the right Thanksgiving side dishes with the oven freed up! Although deep-fried turkey usually turns out juicier and moister than other cooking methods, you can’t go wrong by serving it with Grandma’s best gravy.
Safety Tips for Frying Turkey
Deep-fried turkey is downright delicious, but we can’t overstress that the process is not without risk. We don’t want to scare you, but as a former restaurant chef, I know first-hand that fryer oil burns fast and hot. Before you decide to fire up the deep fryer, make sure you’re ready to be safe and responsible. That means no drinking and frying.
If you’re new to this cooking method, start by checking out our beginner’s deep-frying guide. Then, read the manufacturer’s manual that came with your deep fryer (yes, the whole thing). It’s also a good idea to become familiar with the cooking process before getting started. That way, you’ll fully understand every step before jumping in.
From there, it’s all about observing a couple safety tips.
- Have a fire extinguisher on hand. Hopefully, you won’t need it! But you can’t douse a grease fire with water, so have that extinguisher ready (just in case).
- If you’re new to frying, you can start by heating the oil to a low temp of 275°. Then, turn the heat up after you add the bird. This keeps the oil from splattering, which is safer and easier for beginners.
- Remember that moisture and oil don’t mix! You’ll want to make sure your turkey is completely thawed and dried (inside and out) before adding it to the fryer.