How to Deep Fry a Turkey

November  7, 2013

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Deep-fried-turkey master Paul Longton (and our shop editor & stylist Bryce's dad!) gives us the tips -- and the step-by-step process -- for deep frying your Thanksgiving turkey.

Deep Fried Turkey from Food52

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Let’s deep fry a turkey. And as long as we’re at it, let’s deep fry a half dozen or more.

Come Thanksgiving, our annual celebration is to set up the deep fryer and invite our friends and their birds over to deep fry turkeys, one after another. The last few years we’ve deep fried eight turkeys. We could do more in the same pot of oil, but we run out of daylight and enthusiasm. This way we get friends over for a couple of hours, and then send ‘em home.

There are different ways to cook turkeys other than conventionally in an oven. This discussion will be about immersing the turkey in 350° F degree oil for 3 1/2 minutes per pound. There are infrared cooking pots and electrical oil fryers designed for indoors. This is not that. My story is for the outdoor adventure.

Deep fried turkey on Food52

In addition to the turkey, you’ll need a pot for the turkey, a propane-fired burner, and the stand the burner sits in. I’ve got a 30-quart “Bijou Classic." There are plenty of online sources for turkey pots and burners. I don’t have history with other pots or burners but this one has been chugging along for 15 years and probably 100 turkeys, a couple of lamb roasts, handful of Twinkies and other miscellanea that has gotten thrown into the pot over time. The Twinkies, by the way, were pretty damn good.

Remember this is for outdoors. Not in a garage or under a carport, not under the dry pine tree, not close to the house. This turkey fry business has splattering oil, is messy and is enjoyable from beginning to end. 

Frying turkey on Food52

My neighbors set theirs up one year atop of their glass-topped outdoor table. The oil splattered on the glass, the glass shattered, the 4-1/2 gallons of oil and turkey ended up on the ground amidst the shattered glass. Another friend, not clear on the concept, put her still-frozen turkey in the pot of hot oil on top of her stove inside her house. It was your basic turkey bomb. If you want real entertainment go to Youtube and enter in “Deep Frying T….,” you’ll get about that far and you’ll have Deep Frying Turkey Explosions as an option. Lots of good pointers on what not to do.

Find a spot away from things that’ll catch fire. Cover the ground in tarps, old carpets, cardboard or whatever else may absorb the oil that comes splattering out. There’s a significant 5’ radius of splatter and you should have a 8’ radius covered to protect concrete from acquiring permanent oil.

Setting Up Your Fry Station

Frying on Food52 Deep fried turkey from Food52

Keep a fire extinguisher on hand. Pay no attention to the pictures -- wear long pants, long sleeves, shoes and use a long oven mitt.

In addition to the turkey pot and the burner you’ll need a 5-gallon propane tank and a long-stemmed thermometer. If you’re going to deep fry a bunch of turkeys you’d better have 2 or 3 propane tanks on hand. Set the propane tank as far away from the burner as the connections will allow. 

Deep fried turkey from Food52

The 30-quart Bijou Classic is good for turkeys up to 14 pounds. The 32-quart pot is good for turkeys up to 24 pounds. (Not sure how two additional quarts allows for 10 more pounds of turkey, but I’ll take Bijou’s word for it.) The first year, I placed a 14-pound turkey in the pot and filled with water until the water was 2” above the turkey. I pulled the turkey out and marked the level of the water on the outside of the pot with a magic marker. That’s the amount of oil I put in. Although I’ve read that oil heated to 350°F expands 10%, I still fill to the original line.

I’ve only ever used peanut oil. I read that other oils will do, but I don’t know. I buy peanut oil in the 35-pound containers for about $45 at Costco. Thirty-five pounds of oil equals 4.63 gallons of oil. To get to my magic marker on the pot I use 4 1/4 gallons of oil. It takes 30 minutes or so, depending on outdoor temperature, to bring the oil to 375° F. Run the oil hotter than 350 because when the cool bird is dropped in, the temp will drop 50°.

Getting the bird ready

Prep station from Food52

I buy the Trader Joe’s kosher bird. It’s brined and never frozen, but Trader Joe’s had no birds at this time of year. It was difficult to find fresh turkeys out of T-Day season. We went to Shelton’s Turkeys in Pomona (100 miles away) to fetch our 6 turkeys for our Food52-Boil-a-Bird-in-Oil day. For each turkey I made a brine with a gallon of vegetable broth, a gallon of ice water, a cup of sea salt, and one tablespoon each of sage, rosemary, thyme and black pepper. After removing the giblets and neck, any plastic or metal parts holding the legs together or a pop-out thermometer, the turkey was sealed in an oven bag with the brine and kept it on ice overnight. Brined birds cook a little faster. 

Next day the brine was drained, the turkey patted dry inside and out. Getting the turkey dry is critical. Imagine drops of water in a pan of bacon frying. The turkey was rolled in a plastic bag of flour and pepper and placed on the spindle awaiting its turn in the oil bath. Take twine and tie the legs and wings to the body.

Dredging turkey from Food52

The turkey is brought to the pot and s-l-o-w-l-y lowered into the bubbling oil. No matter how slowly the turkeys are lowered there is always oil spills. Each of the Food52 turkeys weighed an average of 13 1/2 pounds. 13 1/2 pounds x 3.5 minutes per pound = 47 minutes. Time enough to visit, have a sip of beer and adjust the temperature on the pot. While that bird is cooking the next bird is getting readied.

Deep fried turkey from Food52 Deep fried turkey from Food52

If you’re deep frying turkey for the first time, satisfy yourself that the internal temp of the bird is 165° in the breast and 180° in the fat part of the thigh.

You’ll discover the skin is to die for, the meat moist, succulent and does not taste the least bit oily. There is a 5% increase in calories over oven baked…, but really? This is Thanksgiving. If you’re counting calories it’s about boasting of totals.

Deep fried turkey from Food52


Papa November 21, 2015
I love your pics and great article. I used to have a lot of trouble with wind on Thanksgiving Day raising havoc with temperature regulation. I solved this problem by making a heat shield set on the burner fit around the pot with an inch of clearance on each side. Mine is made of aluminum roof flashing ten inches high held together with a paper clip. The oil heats faster, is unaffected by wind, I use less gas and the bird cooks faster. I use some tent stakes to help stabilize the burner; I don't need it falling over. I have used peanut oil and some of the other oils, IMO not a lot of difference. I can't stress enough the importance of the bird being thoroughly dried; this will cut down on the splattering significantly. IMO higher temperatures equal more splattering so I try not to go over 350 and it is too easy to burn the oil above that, the burner can easily make up the difference.
adam December 22, 2014
Your turkey looks absolutely delicious! I tried a slow precook in the oil on a low temperature before a final fast hot fry, but didnt work out to well - results here: http://burningkitchen.co.uk/deep-fried-turkey/ it all came out very dry and flakey. Lovely skin though
Matt R. November 25, 2014
One thing to point out is that when lowering your turkey into the oil, make sure the burner is off. This will prevent a flare up that could cause a fire.
Dave B. December 11, 2013
I've been frying turkeys on Thanksgiving for three years and I'll be frying them until I can't stand anymore. I love the flour and pepper coating idea. That's on my to do list. Thanks for a great article.
Gail S. November 22, 2013
I would read anything Paul Longton wrote on any subject ever!! Even the turkeys in heaven after being deep-fried must be gobbling with delight at their place in Paul's high culinary art, not to mention essayistic oeuvre. Brilliant, informative, hilarious! And the photos are fabulous.
Todd November 15, 2013
Paul, <br />Great read. Thanks for the great info here.<br />Just to clarify, the name of the fryer is Bayou Classic, not Bijou.<br />
Diane (. November 9, 2013
I was blessed with one of these beauties and it was so delicious, Paul's method has me thinking of deep fried turkey often. He sure has frying turkey down to a science!
Kenzi W. November 8, 2013
This is amazing.
Karl R. November 7, 2013
We usually do one smoked and one in the oven - maybe it's time we do both outside - one smoked, one fried!
Deanna H. November 10, 2013
We just made one that we brined for 24 hrs then smoked for 3 hrs then deep fried it...it was the best Turkey we ever had..
Patti I. November 7, 2013
We are doing 5 or 6 for our neighborhood Thanksgiving and additional friends! We've done them for over 20 years and they are wonderful!
inpatskitchen November 7, 2013
So happy to see this! We've been frying turkeys for years (although our method is a little different) and now the turkey is the star instead of the sides!! http://food52.com/recipes/19403-our-family-fried-turkey