Deep fried turkey is another one of those foods that divides people into camps. In one camp you have the folks who have seen videos of fiery exploding turkeys, who will decry the extreme safety issues, and will cite the unhealthiness of eating a bird fried in gallons of boiling oil. In the other camp, you have the folks who have actually eaten a deep fried turkey.
As soon as I heard of the idea of a deep fried turkey, I was fixated with the need to do this. Two of my buddies and I decided we would make it happen. We got some beer, a turkey, a large pot, a big jug of oil, and a rocket engine. Somewhere there is a folder of photos labeled “Turkey Fry” showing people in bare feet or flip flops lowering a turkey into a vat of hot oil. Was it unsafe? Maybe. Was it good? Yes, it was. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The pictures told the tale, and now we do wear shoes and protect ourselves from hot oil with things like pants.
Safety lesson complete. How can we make this better than it already is? I would say first to use pure peanut oil (unless someone you are serving is allergic.) Peanut oil gives a great taste and aroma to the turkey. In reality, the turkey absorbs almost none of the oil. You will actually end up with a bit more oil volume than you started with when you fry a turkey. This is because the turkey skin gives up some oil, too. But the flavor of the oil is important to the finished product.
The oil must be fresh. Don’t go cooking a turkey in rancid oil that has been sitting in your garage for a year. I use my oil a few times (not like I’m making a lot of these turkeys all the time), and then use up the oil in my kitchen. I use used fry oil to season the outside of The Porkulator, our giant barbecue. Nothing goes to waste.
Some might say that you need to buy an expensive heritage breed, free range turkey, but I have found that the results are every bit as good with a cheap, frozen supermarket turkey. In fact, I typically buy up as many turkeys as our freezer can hold when they are very inexpensive at Thanksgiving time. This year, the lowest price I saw was $.52 per pound. I look for turkeys that are between 12-15 pounds because they cook more evenly and are easier to handle.
Everyone who knows about a deep fried turkey knows about injecting it, but here is where I depart from the prepared mixtures. My secret for spectacular turkey is in the juice.
When I fry a turkey, I fry two. If you are heating up all of that oil, you might as well fry at least two birds. This recipe is for two turkeys.
The injection liquid starts with a 750ml bottle of inexpensive Chardonnay. I add a five-ounce bottle of my homemade “Island Sherry Steak Sauce.” This sauce is made with Scotch bonnet chilies, sherry, catsup, soy sauce, lime juice, tamarind, brown sugar and mustard. Maybe a bit of rum, too. The flavor is similar to a commercial sauce called Pickapeppa, so you can use that instead.
Then I break out the juicer. We have an Omega juicer. It’s great for extracting the juice from just about anything. It finely grates the fruit or vegetable matter, and then spins at high speed to separate the juice. For turkey, I assemble:
3 celery stalks
1 head garlic
1 piece of ginger about the size of your thumb
6 hot peppers (don’t worry, I use Habaneros, and even with the hot sauce, the turkey is kid-friendly)
1 bunch parsley
6 fresh sage leaves
I cut everything into pieces, and separate the garlic cloves. Wash everything, but no need to peel. I do core the apples. Run it all through the juicer. It will make about 5-6 cups of liquid.
I like to add different fruits in different seasons. For example, peaches are great in the summer.
Whisk this liquid together with the wine and hot sauce mixture. Add 2-3T salt and a few turns of finely ground black pepper.
Wash your turkeys with cool water. Remove the plastic thing that holds the legs in place. The legs need to move freely to allow the oil to move around all parts of the bird for even cooking. Remove the necks and giblets. I freeze these for another use. Pat dry. Tuck the wings back.
Now for the injection. Use an injector with a steel needle with two holes on the sides. When you poke the needle into the turkey, press down on the plunger as you move the needle back and forth. This will distribute the juice over a larger area in the muscle. When you pull the needle out, if the juice comes back out, then hold your finger over the hole to let the turkey absorb the injection for a couple of seconds. Inject each side of the breast 2-3 times. Each drumstick twice, in two spots along the bone, going in from the foot end. Each joint of the wing, and the meat where the wing is attached gets a shot. The thighs get 2 injections each. Inject along each side of the backbone. If you see any spots that look like they did not get hit, give a shot. When the level of juice in the bowl gets too low to suck up with the syringe, pour that juice into the cavity of the turkeys.
I used to apply a dry rub on the outside of the birds, but I found that those spices just burned in the oil, and became bitter. They fouled the oil and did nothing for the finished bird. If you want to do a spice rub, put it under the skin. Personally, I have found it unnecessary with all of the flavor in the injection juice.
Put the turkeys in a food lug in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, set up your fryer. Add the oil to the pot. If you are unsure how much oil to add, it is better to err on the side of too little. It is easier to add oil than to take oil out. Adding a little oil later will not significantly lower the temperature. Turn on the heat to start heating the oil.
While the oil is heating, get the turkeys out of the fridge and set them up on the frying stands. These are stands to allow you to easily raise and lower the turkey in the oil. Setting up the turkey now allows excess juices to drain off and will reduce the amount of bubbling when the turkey goes in the oil.
Heat the oil to 350F. Now is the only tricky part of this operation: putting the turkey in the oil. I recommend turning the flame off or reducing the flame to very low. Use oven mitts to hold onto the handle of the turkey stand (mine is detachable), and slowly lower the turkey into the oil. Watch how much it bubbles up. If it looks like the pot may boil over, raise the turkey. When the oil calms, lower the turkey again. Eventually, after several dips, you can fully submerge the turkey in the oil.
Turn the flame up a bit. It does not need to be raging. Keep an eye on the temperature. It will have dropped to maybe 300F with the turkey, but the turkey will cook about 3-1/2 minutes per pound, about 45-50 minutes, so you do not want the oil to get above 350F during that time. Set a timer for the allotted time.
You don’t have to watch the turkey every minute, but do not stray far. Check on it frequently. When the time is up. Pull the turkey from the oil and set it over a pan to full drain and cool a bit. Put the next turkey into the oil and set the timer again.