If you haven't tried deep fried turkey, you are missing out on one of life's true pleasures. There really isn't anything like it. The skin is crisp and delicious, the white and dark meat are moist and tender, and it generally takes less than an hour to cook. I will often fry several and do the following: the first one is usually the "pickin' turkey" where it comes out hot and people just pick off bits of skin and meat - it really is the best that way, kind of along the Krispy Kreme doughnut principle where the sooner it comes out of the fryer, the better it is; one or two more will feed people on Thanksgiving; one or two will be carved and frozen for another day...alas it never seems to last as long as I want. I also take the carcasses and will make a good turkey jook (or soup) the next day.
Frying for the first time can be a bit intimidating, but after awhile, you'll find it is very easy. Here are some tips that I've learned over the years:
1. Get good frying equipment and make sure the stand for the fry pot is sturdy. Don't forget to fill the propane tank in advance.
2. If I do it optimally, I will brine thawed turkeys (that are no more than 15 pounds, although 12-14 pounds is best) the night before in a solution of about a cup of kosher salt to each gallon of water with ice, enough to cover, along with some peppercorns and maybe some poultry seasoning. I'm not a big fan of adding sugar to the brine, but that's up to you. If I'm doing several, I will brine the turkeys in a clean cooler. You can also use a clean, unused paint bucket if you are only doing one and have enough room in your fridge to put the bucket in.
If I'm lazier (which I tend to be more these days), I will buy frozen turkeys that have been injected with a broth solution already (the Safeway sale turkeys are like that). The day before, I will place the frozen turkeys - still in their wrappers - in the cooler, cover with water, and they should be thawed by the next day (but watch the temperature of the water and make sure it still is cold enough). The downside of this method is that some of the brine will diffuse out of the turkey and the flavor loss may be noticeable to some, but it is a whole lot easier.
3. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed. If doing the lazy method, you will often find that the cavity is still a bit frozen. Soak in cold water without ice for a bit.
4. Make sure that the turkey is absolutely dry, patting down with paper or lint-free cloth towels, making sure you dry off the pesky cavity. Water is the enemy of the deep fryer - you will have painful and dangerous oil spatter if you aren't careful; the dry rub doesn't stay on as well either.
5. The classic seasoning for deep fried turkey is Tony Chachere Creole Seasoning (pronounced Satchery as in hatchery - don't ask me why, it's a Southern thing). Liberally sprinkle and rub all over the skin and inside the cavity. You can add some freshly cracked black pepper as well.
Some people like to inject the birds with different things...after the first year, I did not. If you brine the turkeys or get one of the pre-injected turkeys that haven't lost a lot of broth, there will be plenty of flavor.
5. Make sure that the turkeys come close to room temperature. It will keep the oil from cooling down too much and make the turkey more greasy. When making several, I bring the next one out right after I lower a turkey into the fryer.
6. Use oil that has a very high smoke point. Peanut oil is the classic, but it is the most expensive (although the prices this year are about 40% cheaper - about $30 for the big container), but since one of my daughters has a peanut allergy, I use liquid vegetable shortening - yes, I know about trans fats, but it tastes a lot better than canola. Costco has it for about $20.
7. Remember that oil is different than water!! It takes time for the oil to come to temperature (no higher than 375 degrees). Don't be tempted to put the heat on very high to speed up the heating process. You will find that it will seem slow and then all of a sudden be too hot. The oil cannot be taken to the smoke point, or else it will break down and the quality will suffer. You also run the definite risk of burning your turkey, because oil also takes a long time to cool down.
The converse of that is that you should not let the oil go below 325 degrees, which usually means your turkey was too cold to begin with. If it does, do not fiddle with the flame too much, if at all. The oil should come back to temp. Increasing the flame even a little too much will cause the turkey to burn black - I know, this happened to me the first year. Remember the principle: oil is slow to heat, and slow to cool. Patience is the key.
8. When lowering the turkey into the fryer, you must be very careful, or else there will be spatter that will burn you, or the oil will bubble over and there is a real fire danger.
I have developed a "teabag" technique where I dip the turkey slowly so the bottom of the bird gets seared, then dip a little bit more so more gets seared. After doing this a few times, I will very carefully dip so that oil gets into the cavity, then pulling it out immediately, so there is no spatter. The cavity tends to have the most moisture, so the dipping method sears the inside as well as the outside. I repeat this procedure again, a few more times, and then slowly lower the turkey into the fryer. If the oil is still bubbling too much, raise the turkey and lower again. This takes a lot of practice, so be very, very careful!
Once all the way in, I will fry for about 3 1/2 minutes per pound. You may wish to experiment. Use an instant read thermometer until the breast reads at least 165 degrees (although I usually cook it until the temp is at least 170; the dark meat can reach 180 degrees). Even if the temperature is a little higher than than that, it's okay, because trying keeps the meat moist.
I usually place a cardboard box on the ground with several sheets of newspaper and paper towels on top and place the beautifully browned turkey on that, and remove carefully from the caddy.
The only downside to deep fried turkey is that you can't put stuffing into the cavity or the neck. But it is a small price to pay for something so absolutely delicious!
Grace and aloha,
P. S. The first Thanksgiving might not have had too much turkey. Venison almost certainly was the main meat, along with duck, and perhaps fish, such as cod. Corn was prominent.
The one thing that hopefully never changes from the first Thanksgiving is the gratitude to God the Pilgrims had in surviving a harsh first year in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
May your Thanksgiving be blessed!