A few years ago, some folks decided that smoking and roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving just wasn't good enough. Perhaps inspired by the "fry everything" mentality that has overtaken our state fairs, these intrepid individuals began testing the limits of Darwin's theory of natural selection by submerging their birds in huge vats of boiling oil. It seems simple enough: Inject your bird (Russian track star-style) with flavorings, then toss it like the One Ring into a stainless steel Mount Doom full of Crisco. But do it wrong, and at best you'll be left with a story you'll never live down—and at worst, you and possibly those you love could be injured in the most horrific fashion possible.
I've had fried turkey a few times over the years, and I'm honestly not impressed. I find it greasy, with an odd texture and heavy flavor that only deteriorates as time passes, turning normally delightful leftovers into a pile of congealed yuck. Turkey takes to smoking and roasting quite nicely, and if done right results in a moist, tasty bird good for carving—and for soups and sandwiches the next day. But if you want to baptize your bird in the deep fryer, here are some safety tips to make sure you do it correctly:
Don't be a hero with your bird. I've seen folks buy the biggest bird they can find just for the bragging rights. Smaller birds fry better, taste better and are less likely to cause accidents. When frying a whole bird, keep it in the 8 pound range. If you're feeding an army, fry two birds or cut a larger bird into pieces and fry separately.
*Fry your bird away from your house.
Give yourself 15 feet or so between the fryer and your home, car, storage shed or pile of fireworks. If your grass is really dry, dig a fire pit, spread some sand out—do something to keep fire contained should something happen.
*Use a thawed and dried bird.
If you dunk a frozen bird into boiling oil, the water trapped inside it will boil away, causing extreme bubbling and spillage. Allow your bird ample time to thaw (in the fridge, not on the counter) and pat the thing dry before frying. Oil and water don't mix—and that goes double when the oil is smoking hot.
Basic physics tells us that two things can't occupy the same space. So if you overfill your kettle with oil and dunk your turkey in, the oil will have to make room for the bird. Gravity being what it is, that means overflow. And then you are going to make some poor fireman work on the holiday. Most fryer setups have oil fill levels marked, but if you want to be safe, place your turkey in the empty pot, then cover with water until the water level is 3-5 inches from the top of the kettle. Remove the turkey and note where the water level is. That's where your oil should be.
*Have the right fire extinguisher.
If your kettle boils over and lights, the garden hose is not going to cut it. A multi-purpose, dry extinguisher is necessary. Read the label and make sure you have one that is rated for grease fires.
*Keep track of the temperature.
One year, some folks I know fried a turkey and didn't get their thermometer set correctly. Luckily, they didn't cause a grease fire—but they did burn the hell out of the turkey. A good turkey fryer setup will have ways to track temperature—be sure to use them. Grease that gets too hot will combust. Turkeys that get too hot will taste like ashes.
*Easy does it.
Be careful, and go slow. That means go slow when handling the oil, the bird—and going slow with any beer, wine and/or cocktail drinking you might be doing prior to frying your bird. Frying a turkey is an activity that should be treated with respect, for your sake and for the sake of others. Don't turn your Thanksgiving bird into Christmas skin grafts. And remember that frying a turkey is not a "here, hold my beer and watch this" activity.
So there you have it. Follow these tips and you should be just fine when frying your bird. Got any suggestions for flavoring a bird for frying? Success stories? Failures? let us know down there in the comments.