Sunday, February 20, 2011

Recipe: Deep Fried Turkey

This recipe offers step-by-step instructions for deep-frying a turkey. It features important safety lessons, helpful tips, and lame humor.

Essential equipment includes:
  • A high-output gas burner, at least 40,000 BTU
  • A tall stock pot that allows at least 6 inches of clearance between the surface of the oil and the top of the pot once the turkey is submerged
  • A high-temperature "candy" thermometer (should read up to 550 degrees F)
  • A low-temperature instant-read meat thermometer
  • Good oven mitts
  • Beer
  • A rack to hold the turkey (and to help easily lift it out of the oil for temperature checks)
  • A hook to lift the rack
  • Scotch
Let's face it. Deep-frying a turkey is just plain awesome. If the pilgrims had figured this one out, we'd all still be wearing stupid hats and buckled shoes.

Kids revere it. Fire departments fear it. And women find it irresistibly sexy.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Not all of the preceding statements are true.

I deep-fry my turkey at a somewhat lower temperature than is recommended by many so-called experts. I find that this keeps the skin from getting overly dark, and keeps the meat nice and tender. My oil temperature ranges between 275 degrees F and 300 degrees F.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Deep-fry your turkey outside! Not in the house. Not in the garage. Not even under a covered portico unless you've got a good 10 feet of clearance overhead.

For my deep-frying, I use a single-burner propane stove. It's a Camp Chef 60,000 BTU model. These days you can also buy all-in-one turkey frying kits that include a burner, the pot, a thermometer, a rack, and sometimes even a timer to turn the thing off if it's left unattended for too long. A structure fire is a very real possibility when you've got a pot of boiling oil sitting on top of 60,000 BTU's of open flame.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Women do not find sudden homelessness due to structure fire irresistibly sexy. 

While proper preparation and diligent stewardship decrease the likelihood that you'll burn your house down, you cannot account for X-factors like:
  • high winds
  • faulty thermometers
  • clumsy neighbors
  • beer
  • earthquakes
  • scotch
  • the infamous "neck hole volcano" effect (shown at right)
The only real drawback of deep-frying your turkey (other than the risk of structure fire) is that you lose out on a roasting pan full of browned bits, drippings, and "liquid gold" from which to make gravy. Never fear. I've put together a recipe for gravy when deep-frying a turkey.

Back to deep-frying the turkey... Constant attention to oil temperature and meat temperature is crucial. This means you've got to plan ahead so you can pretty much hang out with your turkey the whole time it's deep frying. Far from being a negative, this is actually the point. Leave the screaming kids, kitchen clutter, and annoying relatives behind, and prepare to focus on the turkey (and beer, and scotch).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Whatever you do, do NOT place a frozen turkey into hot oil! If you forget to thaw the turkey, order from Boston Market instead. 

A 12-14 pound turkey generally takes about 45 minutes to deep fry once the oil is hot. The oil takes about 15-30 minutes to come up to heat (about 300 degrees F). Here's how it all works:

  • One 12-14 pound turkey
  • Water and salt for brining (see below)
  • 25 pounds or so of oil (I use peanut oil)

    Brining and Seasoning
    Brine the turkey for 24 hours (give or take) in a brine consisting of 1 cup kosher salt (or 1/2 cup table salt) to 1 gallon of water. You'll likely need a few gallons of brine. Remove the packaging from your turkey, take out the bag of giblets from inside the cavity, and then rinse the bird in cold water before tossing it into the brine. Save the giblets! You'll need them for gravy.

    If you don't have 24 hours to spare before deep frying, double the salt in your brine and brine the turkey for 4 hours. If you don't have time to brine at all, simply salt and pepper the turkey heavily, inside and out, before deep-frying it. Kosher salt makes it easier to get an even spread and helps prevent over-salting, but otherwise table salt is fine.

    Heating the Oil
    Place your gas (propane, usually) burner out in the open, on a non-flammable surface, at least 4 feet from any combustible walls and 10 feet from any combustible ceilings. No matter how careful you are, the oil will drip, splatter, and spill... so don't deep fry a turkey over any surface on which some oil stains would be unsightly.

    Light the burner, and add oil to the pot. Many kits have a fill-line to help guide. Generally speaking, you want your pot about half-full of oil before the turkey goes in. The turkey will displace a lot of oil, raising the oil level by 6 inches or more. Remember, you MUST have at least 6 inches of clearance between the top of the oil and the top of the pot once the turkey is submerged in the oil. Otherwise your set-up WILL catch on fire once things get rolling.

    Crack open a beer.

    It will take 15-30 minutes to bring the oil up to 300 degrees F. Measure your oil temperature often, and get a sense for how fast the temperature is rising.

    Once the oil is hot, remove your turkey from the brine, pat it dry with paper towels, and place it on a deep-frying rack, neck-hole up. Gently lower the turkey into the oil. You'll get an initial "crazy period" where the oil bubbles a lot. This is caused by the cold water on the surface of the turkey boiling off. It will settle down somewhat, but a deep frying turkey will boil pretty vigorously the whole time.

    Crack open another beer.

    After a few minutes, measure the oil temperature and adjust your burner flame accordingly. You just added a whole mess of cold turkey flesh... so you may need to turn up the heat to maintain an oil temperature of at least 275 degrees F.

    After 15 minutes, remove the turkey from the oil, and measure the internal temperature of the thickest part of the turkey breast and thigh with an instant-read meat thermometer. Your turkey is surrounded by 300-degree oil... and it goes from raw and quivering to over-cooked in a matter of minutes. Begin measuring the meat temperature early on so you get a sense of how fast the temperature of the meat is rising. This will help you predict when the turkey is probably done (which you'll confirm with more measurements, of course).

    Have a nip of scotch.

    Continue taking measurements  of oil temperature and meat temperature every 5 minutes or so. Keep the oil as close to 300 degrees F as you can without going over.

    For the meat, you're looking for 165 degrees F. The rate at which the meat temperature rises will start to increase... so be careful. If can take 10 minutes for the turkey to rise 10 degrees F in the early going. But towards the end, it may take only 1 minute for 10 degrees of temperature rise.

    When the thickest part of the breast and thigh have reached 165 degrees F, pull the turkey and place it on a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes. Cover the turkey with aluminum foil while it rests. Turn off the burner, and wait for your oil to cool to about room temperature before you do anything with it (I typically store it in its original container, and keep it frozen for future use).

    Carve up your turkey, and then serve with some outstanding mashed potatoes or other side dishes.

    Recipe: Gravy for Deep Fried Turkey

    Deep frying a turkey has precious few downsides. In fact, I can think of only two:

    1) You can easily burn your house down.
    2) You don't end up with a roasting pan full of browned bits from which to make an outstanding gravy.

    I'll be dealing with the more serious of these two issues. Here's how to make a darn fine gravy from the giblets that come with your turkey:

    • Turkey giblets, with neck
    • Half a medium onion, chopped finely
    • 1/2 stick of butter (4 tablespoons)
    • 4 tablespoons flour (gluten free, if you like)
    • 2 cups chicken or turkey broth
    • Salt and pepper
    • 1 tablespoon dry white wine
    • Pinch of rubbed sage

    First, roast the turkey neck in a medium cast iron skillet at 350 degrees F for an hour. Hold the other giblets back for now. However, if you happen to have any extra chicken or turkey parts on hand (say, a frozen carcass that you intended to make a soup out of), throw those in as well. 

    After an hour of roasting, pull the skillet from the oven. Put it on the stove top over medium-low heat. Push the turkey neck (and any other assorted parts) off to the side, and then add the butter and finely chopped onion to the skillet. Caramelize the onions for 7-8 minutes until golden brown, stirring frequently. Add flour, and combine the flour with the rendered fat to form a smooth paste. Then add the broth, white wine, and sage.

    Stir things around until you've got a stable gravy. If you get lumps or clumping along the bottom of the skillet, add liquid (a tiny bit at a time). Once the gravy has stabilized, lower the heat to low, and add the rest of the (uncooked) giblets, and cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

    Remove the neck and various other giblets, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite mashed potatoes and your deep fried turkey.