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! This year, we might try a different method than roasting turkey to save our oven space and sanity: deep-fried turkey. You’ve probably heard of it before, but haven’t dared to try it. Rest assured, it makes a great bird and only requires a few extras and some safety precautions.
Get our complete Thanksgiving turkey guide for more tips and tricks.
Safety Tips for Frying Turkey
Before we get started, we really want to stress that deep-frying a turkey is not without risk. As a former restaurant chef, I can tell you first-hand that hot oil burns fast and hot. Before you decide to deep fry your turkey, make sure you’re ready to be safe and responsible. That means no drinking and frying, as well as reading through our beginner’s deep-frying guide.
Read through the manufacturer’s manual that came with your deep fryer (yes, the whole thing). You should also read through the process before getting started so you fully understand every step before jumping in. That being said, when done right, fried turkey is downright delicious.
Follow along to learn our best tips for how to fry turkey.
How to Make a Deep-Fried Turkey
- Your favorite brine, rub, injection or marinade (optional). We love following the brine from our Grilled Apple-Brine Turkey recipe which includes:
- 2 quarts unsweetened apple juice
- 2-1/2 cups packed brown sugar
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 4 ounces fresh gingerroot, peeled and thinly sliced
- 15 whole cloves
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 medium oranges, quartered
- 3 quarts cold water
- An outdoor turkey-frying kit, including a propane tank, a burner, a large 30-quart pot, a deep-frying thermometer and a hook/lowering mechanism
- An instant-read meat thermometer
- A fire extinguisher that’s rated to work with grease fires (just in case!)
A quick note about deep fryers: We recommend buying a turkey fryer kit, like the popular Bayou Classic ($50). This will ensure that you have everything you need for a successful run.
Step 1: Size Up Your Turkey
If your turkey is 14 pounds or less, you can go ahead and deep fry it whole. But, if it’s larger than 14 pounds, 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!
Step 2: Flavor Your Turkey (optional)
While there are many ways to flavor to your Thanksgiving turkey, this is our favorite: To create our delicious apple brine, combine the first apple juice, brown sugar, salt, fresh ginger, cloves, garlic and bay leaves in a large kettle. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until salt and sugar are dissolved. Next, stir in the oranges. Remove the bring from the heat and add the cold water to cool the brine to room temperature.
Once your brine is cooled, remove the giblets from turkey (discard or save for another use). Place a turkey-sized oven roasting bag inside a second roasting bag and tuck your turkey inside. Carefully pour the cooled brine into the bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible, then seal the bags and turn to coat. Place in a roasting pan or other large container and refrigerate for 18-24 hours, turning occasionally.
Pro tip: Don’t have time to brine? Try a flavor injector ($15). While it may look a little surgical, it’s a tool that imparts super quick flavor. Simply fill it with melted butter and insert it into the breast of the turkey. Try to create minimal holes by inserting the needle through the skin and shifting the injector around.
Step 2: Choose the Right Location for Your Turkey Fryer
Set up your turkey fryer on a flat surface (such as concrete) in an open area. You want the fryer to be far away from any other combustible materials, such as wooden decks, structures or furniture. Make sure that no one will need to walk between the propane tank and the burner, which could cause the pot of hot oil to fall over. Set your fire extinguisher nearby.
Step 3: Measure the Oil
Overflowing the pot is the number one most dangerous aspect of deep-frying a turkey. There’s no way to fix things when the oil is already heated up, so you’ll want to pre-measure your oil line.
- Place the 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.
- 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.
Step 4: Ensure Everything Is Dry
Oil and water don’t exactly get along, and that’s especially true when the oil gets hot. Any water in the fryer will spit out at you as the turkey fries, which could cause a fire hazard or bodily harm.
If you used a brine: Drain the turkey and discard the brine. Rinse the turkey under cold water and pat it dry with paper towels. Fully dry the inside and outside of the pot. Check the turkey’s cavity to make sure it’s dry and free from ice.
Pro tip: The drier you get your turkey, the crispier the skin will be—plus, there will be less chance of splatter from the hot oil.
Step 5: Prepare the Oil
Once you’re ready to fry, fill the pot with oil, being careful not to exceed the maximum fill line. Clip the thermometer onto the side of the pot and turn on the burner. Heat the oil to 375°F. If you’re cooking turkey parts instead of a whole turkey, you only need to heat the oil to 325°F.
Step 6: Slowly Lower the Turkey
When the oil is good and hot, you’re ready to add the turkey! Hook the turkey with the provided hanger. Make sure you hooked it good: You should be able to hold the turkey securely over the cutting board without it slipping or falling. Turn the burner off and slowly lower the turkey into the pot, going slow enough to prevent the oil from bubbling over. Easing it in nice and slowly also allows you the chance to abort if anything goes amiss.
Pro Tip: You should definitely be wearing heavy-duty oven mitts 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: Fry
Turn the burner back on and set your timer. The turkey cooks incredibly quickly using this method, about three to four minutes per pound (or four to five minutes a pound if cooking turkey parts). When the timer goes off, very carefully lift the turkey out of the oil and take the temperature with an instant-read meat thermometer. The deepest part of the thigh should register 175°F and the breast meat should read 165°F.
Step 8: Let Rest
Once the turkey is cooked, carefully remove it from the oil and place it on a rimmed baking sheet fitted with a wire rack (or, paper towels, if you prefer). Let the turkey rest for at least 20 minutes before cutting into it. Resting meat keeps it juicy, so don’t slice too soon.
When you’re ready to enjoy, follow our step-by-step turkey carving guide for picture-perfect slices.