Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How I Fry a Turkey

Yesterday, I mentioned that I wrote a summary for a friend awhile back of how I fry a turkey.  I'm not saying this is the best way to fry a turkey, but this is how we roll at the South Carolina Products Liability Law Blog when it comes to turkey frying.

I have also learned some lessons about how to save some time on the clean-up, which I share below.  Fried turkey is crazy delicious, but be careful. 

TIPS BASED ON MY EXPERIENCE

PREPARATION:

First, I would not recommend a “Butterball” turkey for frying.  I’m not sure what it is about them, but I don’t think they fry up very well (especially if you are injecting marinade). 

Makes sure the turkey is fully thawed.  Then, rinse the turkey thoroughly.  A good way to do this is to put the turkey in your fryer pot and fill the pot with water to rinse it.  Once the water fully covers the turkey, take the turkey out and note where the water level drops to, and mark it.  Now you know how much oil you need to put in the fryer pot for your turkey to be submerged.  (This is just a way to save oil; you can put in as much oil as you want, but it increases clean-up and also increases the risk of overflow, which is very dangerous).

Dry the turkey thoroughly.  If there is any water on it, it will pop when you put it in the oil.  Make sure it is good and dry.

You don’t have to do anything, as fried turkey is delicious without any “extras.”  However, I use fat-free Italian dressing as my injectable marinade.  I strain the herbs out first, and then I inject the marinade throughout the turkey.  I also coat the outside of the turkey all over with the marinade.  After this step, I coat the turkey heavily with Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning.  After this preparation, put the turkey in the refrigerator overnight.

FRYING:

Do the frying of the turkey on the grass somewhere.  There will be a little popping and grease residue that gets out of the pot, and if you are doing it on concrete, it will get on there.  This is not a big deal, as it will wear off.  However, it also makes it easy to track oil into the house, which never goes well with the wife.  For this reason, I do it in my backyard on the grass.  Also, do it away from your house.  Plenty of people have burned their houses down while frying a turkey, so you don’t want to be one of them.  You don't have to be 100 yards away from your home, but the point is not to do it in your garage.  A back patio away from the house or in the yard is fine.

I use peanut oil.  I can’t speak to other kinds of oils.  The cardinal rule about oil is do not mix poultry and seafood oil.  Your turkey will taste fishy.  You can fry anything else with turkey (hushpuppies, vegetables, etc.).  However, if you are using oil that you have used in the past for seafood frying, my experience is you taste the seafood in the turkey.  

Before I put the bird in the oil, I give it a fresh coat of Tony Chachere's.  Some of it usually drips off overnight, so I like a good coating before putting it in the oil.  

As for the actual cooking, in my experience, the key to frying a turkey is watching the temperature and watching the time.  Generally, I fry my turkey at 325 degrees for three-and-a-half minutes per pound.  That being said, before I put the turkey in the oil, I heat it to about 350 degrees.  The reason is that when I put the cold turkey in the oil, it usually decreases the temperature a fair amount.  Therefore, I have it a little hotter at the beginning so that (hopefully) the equilibrium is about 325 degrees when the turkey is lowered in the oil.

As I cook, I compensate with more or less time depending on my ability to keep the temperature at 325.  If it gets too hot, I turn the burner off until the temperature comes down, and I may reduce the fry time a bit to compensate.  If it gets too cold, I turn the burner up and may add some frying time depending on how long it takes to get it back to 325.  The point is to watch your gauge and try to keep it around that temperature, and compensate as needed.   

When the turkey is ready, lift it out and set it on some paper towels to strain off.  I usually just let it sit outside on the paper towels for about 15 minutes to cool and drip off oil.  Then I slide it off the lowering tool into a pan, take it inside, and pick it off the bone.

If I am frying multiple things over a few days, I don’t bother with cleaning the oil out of the pot.  I just put it in a safe place to cool and store until the next day.

CLEAN-UP AND STORAGE OF OIL

I've always read that oil is good for a year, and I've practiced that and never had any issues.  I find turkeys get better with every fry because the oil is good and seasoned.

When you are done frying for good and want to clean up, I've found the following to be the easiest way:

Let oil cool completely.  Get someone to help you, and have one person hold an oil funnel while the other pours the oil out of the pot and back into the original container.  Try to keep from spilling the oil outside the funnel, because if you do, it can get on the side of the container in which you are storing the oil.  If this happens, you now have to clean up the container (in addition to everything else you are cleaning).  Lowe's sells turkey frying peanut oil in big containers.  I would recommend trying to buy it in one of those big containers because it makes clean-up easier.  If you have four or five containers of oil (as opposed to one large container), then you have to keep refilling.  This creates more and more chance to get the oil on the outside of the containers and increase clean-up time.  If you have one big container, then you can just tip the pot and pour until it is all out.

Unless you have large "chunks" of residue, I wouldn't bother much with filtering the oil.  All the big stuff sinks to the bottom anyway, so when you get to the end you can decide if you want to keep what's at the bottom (i.e., the seasoning) or pour it off.  I usually pour everything back into my container.  It makes for better-seasoned oil. 

For cleaning the pot, get some Dawn and a good brillo pad or other steel wool.  I would do this outside…you won't score points with your better half if you do it inside. 

If you have hot water outside, that’s awesome.  If not, rinse the pot with some cold water to get the big residue out, and do a quick scrub.  This is to get the big stuff.  Pour out the cold water, and then fill the pot with water again and put it on your burner.  Use the burner to heat the water nice and warm/hot.  Then, I use the pot as a basin to clean my lowering tools, thermometer, scooper, etc.  Then, I scrub the interior and exterior of the pot and lid really good with the water in it, scrubbing hard.  Then I pour off that hot water, and probably repeat a last time with cold water. 

I’m not going to lie: the clean-up is a pain.  It usually takes me about 30 minutes to an hour.  You don't have to use hot water, but it seems to clean better and it takes longer just using cold water (i.e., you usually have to repeat it a couple more times).

(Because the clean-up takes a bit, I take advantage of every time I use my turkey fryer.  I will fry a turkey, a chicken, some hushpuppies, and maybe some other food to freeze). 

I store my oil inside until the next use.  I've kept it outside before in a storage room, and it got very cold.  I never had a spoilage issue from storage temperature, but it is probably a better practice to store it inside.  

I hope this is helpful.  It has always worked for me.

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