Properly deep frying a turkey will make you the indisputable hero of your next holiday dinner. When done right, a deep-fried turkey is a very juicy, welcome alternative to a roasted turkey, which can be easily overcooked. However, deep frying involves cooking with a large amount of very hot oil; that's why it must be executed with precision. You need to plan your turkey fry several days in advance for both safety — and flavor — reasons.
Before you even start thinking about frying, get all the equipment you could possibly need together, including a fire extinguisher safe for use on oil fires (you never know!), several aluminum roasting pans, kitchen towels, tongs, and both a meat and oil thermometer. Make sure you have a hook to lower and lift the turkey into the oil.
And be sure you have a safe spot for frying — a flat, fireproof surface (not your wooden deck, please). Also plan to have someone stay with the turkey the entire time it's in the fryer. And, decide how you will discard the used oil ahead of time.
Step 1: Choose Your Turkey
Opt for a smaller turkey; you want a bird that's about a quarter to a third of the size of your fryer's pot. That will leave plenty of room for the oil to completely surround the bird once you submerge it. A 10- to 12-pound (4.5-kilogram to 5.4-kilogram) turkey is a good size for most outdoor fryers. Make a note of the turkey's weight. Plan to fry the turkey for 3 to 3 1/2 minutes per pound. Quick tip: Before you brine your turkey, put it in your fryer pot and fill it with water just to the point it covers the bird. Remove the turkey and then mark the water level and you'll know just much oil to add when it comes time to frying.
Step 2: Thaw the Turkey
Dumping a frozen bird in hot oil can cause an explosion. So be sure to allow enough time to completely thaw out your turkey. This article tells you exactly how much time to plan for depending on the size of your bird.
Step 3: Brine the Turkey
When you fry a turkey, you won't be able to stuff the cavity with aromatics like you can when you roast one. Rubs on the skin will wash away and burn, and fresh herbs under the skin are likely to burn, too. But brining gives you an opportunity to flavor the meat before cooking it, and it also helps make the bird juicy. You can also inject the meat with a marinade if you like.
A few days before you plan to fry your bird, you can make a basic brine. Combine 11/2 cups (360 milliliters) kosher salt, 1 cup (240 milliliters) sugar or brown sugar and 1 quart (0.9 liters) of water. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve (or, as an alternative, heat the mixture and stir to dissolve). Add 3 quarts (2.8 liters) of ice water and stir. Place the thawed turkey into a large, non-reactive (stainless steel, ceramic or glass) container. Once the brine is 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) or colder, pour the brine over the turkey and maintain the water temperature below 40 degrees. Brine for 24 hours.
Step 4: Dry the Turkey
After your bird has brined for 24 hours, you want to let it dry out. This step takes an entire day, but it helps to create a crisp skin and makes sure your turkey is nice and dry, which is super important when frying. (If you don't have that kind of time, you can pat it dry with a paper towel, but this method is far superior.)
Clear a shelf in your fridge, (preferably the bottom shelf so you don't have raw turkey juices dripping on other foods). Place a drying rack in or over the bottom of a large, shallow roasting pan. Remove the turkey from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the turkey dry. Place the turkey on top of the rack and let it drip dry in the fridge, uncovered, for 24 hours.
Step 5: It's Time to Fry!
Remove the turkey from the refrigerator, place it in a clean aluminum pan and let it sit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes. This will help the turkey cook faster and more evenly.
Meanwhile, set up your fryer according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add your oil just to the fill line you marked previously. Follow the instructions for bringing the oil up to the proper frying temperature, 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176 degrees Celsius). (Peanut oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil, soybean oil and sunflower oil are all good options.)
Very slowly submerge the turkey in the hot oil, about a quarter of the bird at a time, and wait 1-2 minutes between each step. Lowering the turkey slowly allows the oil to better maintain the proper frying temperature. Remember, the cool bird lowers the oil's temperature, so give the oil time to heat up. If you submerge the turkey too fast, the temperature of the oil may drop below frying temp, and then you'll just be boiling the turkey in oil. Frying seals in the juices; boiling releases juices.
Fry the turkey for about 3 to 3 1/2 minutes per pound, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius). The USDA instructs you to cook poultry to 165 degrees Fahrenheit (73 degrees Celsius), but when you take your turkey out at 160 degrees, it will continue to cook from the residual heat — a phenomenon that chefs call "carry over cooking." If you leave the turkey in the oil until it reaches 165 degrees, it will continue cooking and reach a final temp of 170 degrees Fahrenheit (76 degrees Celsius) or higher, and then the turkey will be dry.
Remove the turkey from the fryer and transfer it to a clean aluminum roasting pan to allow it to drain. The moments after your turkey comes out of the fryer are a good opportunity to add extra flavor; a lot of cooks like to sprinkle a dry rub on the bird at this point.
Step 6: Rest, Rest, Rest
This is perhaps the most important step for a juicy turkey. Once the turkey is done, loosely cover it with foil and let it rest for at least 30 minutes before you carve it. Basically, you want to allow the juices inside the turkey to cool down. If you carve it too early, the juices will flow out and your turkey will be dry.
Once you've let the turkey rest, carve as usual and enjoy your feast.