What is the best way to cook your christmas turkey? There’s the classic oven roast. This method is relatively stress-free and can produce juicy meat, however it involves a fairly long cooking time of 3-4 hours and its easy to dry the meat out or not cook it all the way through. Then there is the sous-vide method which I am quite fond of generally. I made a roulade from the drumsticks last year which was delicious and freed up oven space but not everyone has access to the equipment and it took quite a lot of prep work.
I’ve been interested in American BBQ cooking this year and something I saw a lot of online around Thanksgiving was the deep-fried turkey. This is a tradition in some of the southern United States where you can even buy specialist turkey fryers. This probably sounds like a gimmick and some people might worry about the turkey being greasy or unhealthy cooked this way. In fact, it is often touted as the very best (or totally awesome dude) way to cook the turkey because the intense heat cooks the bird around four times quicker than the oven, meaning less moisture is lost and the meat is more juicy and succulent. It also produces the ultimate in golden, crispy skin on the outside as you might expect. And there’ll be more time and oven space for cooking the rest of the christmas dinner.
The idea that is an unhealthy way to cook the turkey is a bit misguided I think. Its true that chips or battered foods are not the healthiest but this is because the starch in the potato and the flour in the batter soaks up the oil which is left in the food that you eat. With the turkey, the oil does not soak into the meat. As long as the oil is hot enough, the steam coming out of the bird as it cooks, prevents any oil from getting in. And this is also why the skin does not burn but turns a deep golden colour once the turkey is cooked. In fact, roasting the bird in the oven smothered in butter will probably leave more fat in the meat than deep-frying as you have to add more to keep the meat from drying out.
In any case, I wanted to try deep-frying a turkey as it is something I’ve never done before and it looked pretty exciting and dangerous! The frying will have to be done outside on a pot over a gas flame. This is a potentially lethal combination as can be seen in numerous online videos. I particularly like this one because the oil is already on fire and they still put the turkey in – obviously it goes up in a fireball. Try search for frozen deep-fried turkey disasters as well…
If you take precautions, though, there’s no reason it should be dangerous. As long as the oil doesn’t get too hot and doesn’t go near the flames, it should be perfectly safe. This means you must regulate the oil temperature with a thermometer and keep children and pets somewhere safe while the bird is frying.
Another important step is to dry the turkey as much as possible. Water and oil do not mix and when cold water hits hot oil it tends to explode. This is why dropping a frozen turkey into hot oil is a bad idea. To dry the turkey, place it in the fridge uncovered overnight and then pat it down with paper towels make sure it is as dry as possible.
To prepare the bird I trussed it with some butchers string to keep the legs and wings tucked in. This will help to cook the turkey evenly and make it more compact in the pot. Lay the string out and place the turkey on top with the neck end over the string. Then bring the two ends over the wings holding them tight to the body.
Bring the string over the drumsticks and round the back end holding the drumsticks tight to the breast and tie the string securely.
I placed the turkey on a wire rack with coat hangers wound through the grill. Then bent the hangers together and bound them with some more string so that a hook could lift the turkey safely.
An important step is to check the required oil level in the pot before heating anything up. This can be done by putting the turkey in the pot and filling it with water until it is covered. The turkey can then be removed and the water level noted. Then fill the pot to the same level with oil so that when the turkey is lowered in, the oil will not overflow onto the flame. This seems to be the cause of most of the problems people have.
So with all safety precautions considered and the turkey prepared for the pot, we set up all the kit as follows: A gas burner, attached to a gas bottle a safe distance away. The pot with oil to the right level on top of the gas burner. Fire extinguisher ready.
With everything ready it was time to cook the turkey and see if we survived. Have a look at the results here…