If you have never participated in or watched a whole turkey being deep-fried, you are probably one of the doubters. Most people who haven't actually done it say it can't be done and that only a fool would suggest that it could be done. At least they say that until they get their first slice of the finished product between their fingers.
Whole deep-fried turkey is some of the tastiest, moistest meat you will ever eat, if the job is done correctly. There are no short cuts. The process can be relatively costly, preparation is demanding and time consuming and the timing and temperature absolutely cannot be guesswork. You can spend between $75 and $100 frying a turkey, not including your equipment. You'll be buying propane, turkey, injector liquid, minimum 5 gallons of oil, plus side dishes and cheap beer.
Even if you consider yourself accomplished in the art, you might find something of benefit here, perhaps just one useful hint that might improve your own next one. Incidentally, there is absolutely no reason to wait all year until Thanksgiving or Christmas to heat up your turkey grease. Those long, open coolers back toward the meat market, the ones you hardly ever notice, are filled with turkeys all year long.
Turkey frying should never, ever be attempted indoors. Never consider doing this in any indoor structure, nor an outdoor shed with any dollar value.
You will need a fish-fry rig consisting at least of a sturdy iron burner assembly and a propane bottle. The ideal pot is a large stainless or aluminum pot--the type that comes with a basket insert and lid. However, the insert and lid need not be used in cooking a turkey. Never cook with the lid fully on. This can cause an explosion. The pots can be purchased at hardware stores, home & garden centers, military surplus type stores and larger sporting goods stores. Buy one that will hold at least 7 gallons of oil, capacity 26-34 quarts. Some turkey fry pots are slim and tall. These can limit the size bird you can fry. The all-in-one rigs available now will seriously limit you to a particular weight bird. And half the fun is in being able to move the turkey around while the hot oil is rolling.
You will be using between 4-6 gallons of oil and you need a minimum of 4-6 inches of pot wall above the grease to control boil over. A lifting hook is required. You can purchase one or you can make one using a strong pegboard hook. Bend the end of the 8-10 inch metal hook into a J-shape. This is the end of the hook you will use to lift the bird.
I recommend buying the 26-34 quart pot with basket-insert and lid because of its versatility. You can also use it to boil crawfish and shrimp or to simmer a huge stew for 30.
You also need at least half a roll of paper towels, your favorite 20-year-old Holiday Inn towel with the green stripe and some kind of tabletop surface to lay your stuff out on. This will be impressive. You'll look just like a surgeon with stainless steel instruments and sponges laid out on a tray.
Locate a level, shaded spot outside. The process will take a while, so be sure the weather will cooperate. If rain is expected, a wind is blowing or it's the dead of winter, you can cook in your garage with the door UP.
Be sure the burner is level. Avoid burners set on tall, spindly or unstable legs. The pot full of oil and turkey will be very heavy, so it's essential that you not use unstable or unleveled equipment. If the burner is unstable or can be bumped over during cooking, you can absolutely ruin your shoes, as 6 gallons of hot grease will not wash out. If you cook in a carport or garage, place newspaper or a large busted-down cardboard box under the cooker because there will be some minor bubbling over, drips and spills that will stain the concrete. If your carport has years of accumulated oil and transmission fluid stains already, you may skip this step.
There is no substitute for the dry run. Some people will recommend that you fill the pot with water and put your bird inside to gauge the right amount of oil needed. If you do that, you'll have to thoroughly dry the pot and the turkey or it will result in hot, popping grease later.
Here's a better method. This is failsafe: Put your prepared bird in the empty pot and then add oil until the bird is totally submersed. Put in only enough oil to totally cover your bird plus 1/2 inch. Now lift your bird with your hook, drain the oil back into the pot from the bird's body cavity and place your bird in a large pan lined with paper towels. This is the perfect "no-guess" way to know exactly how much oil to heat. If you base your oil need on guesswork or some estimate you got from a friend and you have too much hot oil rolling at 350 degrees, and you lower a 20 pound turkey into it, what will you do to solve that problem? It's too late then to recover safely. You don't want a half-gallon of oil running over the side of the pot and into the flame. If you insist on guesswork, you should either have a nurse for a neighbor or have 911 on speed-dial.
You can use a turkey weighing between 12 and 22 pounds. Store bought or road-kill birds are equally appropriate. Always remove gravel from road-kill. Thaw frozen turkeys as you normally would, about 3 days in the refrigerator. Injection of spices is not essential, but is recommended. Inject him the night before and let him sit in a plastic garbage bag in the refrigerator overnight.
You can mix your own spice injection or buy a jar with needle at the grocery. The most popular one is Cajun Injector. Experiment with all the flavor varieties. Each glass bottle of liquid spices comes with instructions and a loading syringe if you need one. You can also buy your own needle from a veterinary supply house, or where you bought your pot, and create your own liquid. Inject a needle full into each breast, same hole, at three different angles, and in each leg. Some people use a dry spice rub on the outside. That will look pretty and impressive, but I think it just dissipates into the grease as soon as the turkey is lowered.
Be sure to trim most of the fat from the neck end, which must remain open and unobstructed for the grease to boil through the entire bird. Don't cut off all the excess fat though. It will fry great and everyone will want to snap off a fried crunchy piece and try it. Be sure to remove giblet sack and neck from inside the store-bought turkey and remove head and feet from road-kill (optional in Arkansas).
If the turkey has its legs bound together with plastic, remove the plastic. Melted plastic doesn't blend well with the spices. If your turkey's legs are bound with wire, don't count on the wire binding to lift or lower the turkey. This wire will invariably slip off while you're lifting the turkey out of the hot grease. I recommend running a strong piece of wire (15-18 inches) through the entire body cavity from one end to the other and twist-looping it three times tightly against the breast. Use a strong wire much thinner than a coat hanger. Then make a 2-inch loop, at the point where you twisted the wire, for your lifting hook to grasp. Commercially sold kits include an upright rod on a round base to position the turkey on during frying. If you use one of these kits, you won't need to run the wire.
Do not even think of using tongs or forks to lower or lift the bird. If you let a 15-pound turkey slip and fall into 5 gallons of hot oil, the party is over precisely at that point! Some people say they clip off the wings before frying a turkey. This is insane. Although the wing tips do turn dark and fry quicker than any other part of the bird, there is only one thing better than a crisp fried wing, and that is a crisp fried wing with a cold beer.
Turkeys should be fried at 325 degrees for exactly 3 1/2 minutes per pound. Recipes vary and I have gone with 350 many times and messed around with the minutes per pound part too. I find the best combination to be 325 @ 3.5 minutes per pound. If you threw away the plastic wrap the bird came in, go to the garbage and retrieve the weight/price sticker. Don't guess at the weight unless it's road-kill. Multiply the exact weight, including ounces, by 3.5 to determine the exact number of minutes to fry. Don't round numbers up or down. Get it right. Write it down and lay it on the table beside your cooker. Otherwise, 30 minutes into the frying, you'll forget your exact time.
Write down the time you plan to lower the turkey into the grease, add the exact cooking time and that's your lifting-out time. If the formula says 52.5 minutes, cook the turkey 52.5minutes, not an hour. Some recipes say cook until golden brown. That ain't right! It'll be golden brown long before the meat is done at the bone. Always use a deep fry grease thermometer. Try to purchase one with shaft about 10 inches long with a clip to snap onto the side of your pot. Don't use one with any plastic cap or clip on it. You want to bring your grease up to 340-350, not a degree higher. Your turkey is much cooler than the grease and it'll reduce the temperature to the desired 325. Regulate the temperature very closely to stay right on 325 the entire time. Letting your temperature rise and fall uncontrolled for more than one minute throws your entire cooking time off.
Lowering the turkey into the grease requires patience and safety. Never do it with bare arms. Wear an old long sleeve shirt plus a cooking mitt. The mitt is absolutely never optional. The grease will always pop when you lower the turkey. This is why you're out in the back yard. Lowering the turkey will take somewhere between 15 to 20 seconds. Take it as slow as the popping requires. Rushing to lower the bird will increase boil over and popping grease.
Feel free, if you can't resist, shift the turkey around using your J-hook and the wire circle you formed when you ran the wire through the bird and looped it. Part of the art is being able to twist and roll and reposition the bird while cooking. The turkey will come to rest at a stable floating spot and won't require any attention until time to lift it out. This will impress all the guys standing around in loafers sipping Southern Comfort. All the while you're cooking, they'll be thinking, "Man, I can do this. And I've got some shortcuts figured out."
Give them a copy of this before they leave your house. And remind them that there are no shortcuts.
Ding! When the bell goes off, it's time to get your sleeve and mitt back on. Turn off the propane bottle. Lift the turkey with your J-hook hooked into the wire ring. Raise the turkey above the grease and stop right there. With the turkey just above the grease, use a long fork in the other hand to tilt him so the hot oil will run out of the body cavity back into the pot.
Now, lower the turkey into your large pan or cookie sheet that you have lined with paper towels. Use wire pliers to clip the wire, slide it out of the bird and discard it. Move to the kitchen or picnic table. You may think the turkey is burned or overcooked; however, it absolutely is not if you followed the instructions. It will be unbelievably crisp and moist, with all the juices sealed inside. No grease is inside the turkey. You're about to become a very popular man.
Carve the turkey as usual. He's still very hot. Break off a crisp piece of skin or wing and fight over it, savor it and see if you can keep from breaking off another piece. Right about this point is when you say, "I will never eat another baked turkey!" And the naysayer will say, "I don't know if I want any of that or not." Yeah, right.
Notes: Try frying a whole chicken first and pulling it off the bone for snacks while your turkey is cooking. The chicken will fry the same way and is out of this world if you inject it. Chicken requires an adjustment to the cooking time. It must be fried for 9 minutes per pound instead of 3.5 minutes. Also, you can flour, salt and pepper livers and fry them at the same time the chicken or turkey is frying, using a wire-ladle or fry-basket to remove them.
It is absolutely essential that you not try to find shortcuts. If you want an overcooked or undercooked turkey or a fire or sloshing grease or a burned forearm, use all the shortcuts you want. If that's your plan, go ahead and invite the nurse over early. Otherwise, go with the instructions.
Some people insist on peanut oil or canola oil. Neither is mandatory or better for that matter. Any good quality vegetable oil will do. If your friends are impressed with peanut oil, you might want to buy peanut oil initially in a 5 pound jug, use it the first time, and then, after you've fried 2 or 3 times in the peanut oil, use cheap oil and pour it up in the peanut oil bottle so your friends will think you cook with peanut oil. I just use cheap oil.
It is not necessary to remove the cooled-down oil from the cook pot. You can store it right in the covered pot and use it for 6 months, not to exceed 4 turkeys. The grease will not have food particles or other impurities in it and it'll be fine left right in the securely covered pot. Optionally, you can pour up the grease strained through a cheesecloth or filter, but then you'll have to thoroughly clean out the pot each time.
Leftovers (if any)
You remember that leftover baked (dry) turkey that sits in the refrigerator for days unless you absolutely force the kids to eat a turkey sandwich? Those days are gone! If you have any fried turkey slices left over, you'll be returning to the refrigerator off and on all afternoon long, relishing the moist, flavorful meat and crispness.
Soup: If you're really into it, you can now boil down the turkey carcass, wings and chipped leftovers in a large soup pot. Add everything to a large soup pot, add about 2 quarts of water, cook this all down for about 20 minutes on a slow boil, then turn off heat and set aside to cool for 30 minutes. When cool, discard all bones and skin. Freeze in a large container with water/brine.
Then, a couple of months later, when you're ready for turkey-vegetable soup: thaw, add one 16-oz package frozen vegetables, two cans of small potatoes, half a cup of chopped onions, two cloves fresh knife-flattened garlic, one cup diced celery and simmer for 30-45 minutes, covered. Everything is already cooked. Great soup.
Like with anything else worth doing right, the preparation and cleanup take more time than consuming the delicacy you've produced.
The best way to lose points with your wife is to leave your 10-inch thermometer, the J-hook, the fried liver dipper-basket, your pan or cookie sheet, your long meat-fork and the injection syringe lying beside the sink for her to wash. Wash them yourself, dry 'em off and store in a large cloth sack hanging on a nail in the garage. Next time you don't have to hunt for them.
Good luck. Enjoy!