By: Michael Davis, Assistant Professor and Extension Poultry Specialist, The Texas A&M System
What is golden brown and crispy on the outside and fork-tender and moist on the inside? Its turkey or other poultry that has been deep-fried. This popular method of cooking whole birds is quick and fairly easy to do. However, this process does require some advance preparation, special cooking equipment and strict safety measures.
Choose a fresh or previously frozen, high- quality turkey that weighs 9 to 12 pounds. A 10-pound bird is ideal. Chickens, game hens, quail or cuts of turkey, such as legs or a whole turkey breast, also can be deep-fried.
Poultry must be thawed before cooking. Place it in the refrigerator for 1 to 3 days for even thawing. Do not thaw at room temperature. Remove the giblets from the body cavity before cooking. In turkeys, the neck is usually stored in the body cavity and the other giblets can be found in the neck cavity under the flap of skin. Trim this neck skin flap to allow good oil flow through the bird. Trim off the tail and cut off the wing tips to the first joint. If the turkey has a pop-up timer, remove it before cooking. The timer is usually found in the breast.
Use any seasonings that you prefer. A heavy spice rub of Creole seasonings, black pepper or lemon pepper can be applied liberally both inside and outside the bird. A marinade also can be injected into the meat before cooking. Use a marinade injector syringe, available from the grocer, to inject marinade. A 10-pound turkey should be injected with about 16 ounces or 2 cups of marinade. Use more marinade on larger birds, less marinade on smaller birds or cuts of poultry.
Be sure to inject the marinade evenly throughout the bird in proportion to the amount of meat on each body part. On whole birds, inject about 60 percent of the marinade into the breast, 30 per- cent into the legs and thighs and 10 percent into the wings. Inject the marinade into the muscle, not under the skin, because when the water-based marinade contacts the hot oil it causes the oil to pop and splatter.
You will need a propane burner (camp burner), a pot large enough to hold the turkey, a lid for the pot, and enough oil to completely submerge the bird. A basket insert for the pot makes it easy to add the bird to the pot and remove it from the hot oil. Set up your equipment outside, away from people and buildings.
Use peanut oil because it cooks cleaner and doesn’t smoke at high temperatures. A candy/oil thermometer that measures at least 450 degrees F should be used to measure oil temperature.
Wash utensils and equipment thoroughly before the cooking process.
Measure the volume of oil needed by placing the bird (before preparation with the seasonings) into the cooking pot and adding water until the bird is completely covered. Remove the bird and mark the level of water on the pot. This mark indicates the amount of oil needed for cooking. Completely dry the pot, then add cooking oil and place the pot over the propane burner.
Heat the oil to 375 to 390 degrees F before lowering the bird into the hot oil. Use a candy/oil thermometer to make sure the temperature is just right. The oil should drop to about 350 degrees F when the bird is immersed. Cook turkey 3.5 minutes per pound at 350 degrees F. Use a timer to ensure doneness. For example, a 10-pound bird would cook for 35 minutes at 350 degrees F. Keep an eye on the oil temperature. If it rises to 375 degrees F, reduce cooking time to 2.5 to 3.0 minutes per pound. If the temperature drops below 350 degrees F, adjust the burner to increase the heat.
Chickens, game hens, quail or cuts of turkey will cook more quickly than a whole turkey. Decrease the cooking time for these types of meat. Often, these smaller birds will begin to float in the hot oil as they become fully cooked, and this is a sign that they are done.
When cooking is complete, carefully remove the turkey from the oil and drain it on a clean platter. Check for doneness using a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest portion of the thigh or into deep breast muscle. The temperature must reach at least 185 degrees F.
As you carve, make certain that the meat is completely cooked. Check the joints of a wing and thigh to make sure there is no blood. All juices should run clear. Refrigerate leftovers immediately. Do not leave cooked food at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Hot oil must be watched at all times. Keep children and pets away from the cooker.
Do not overfill the pot with oil. This can cause it to overflow and catch fire. Hot oil can cause serious burns, so be very careful when placing the bird into or removing it from the pot. Never put frozen meat into hot oil because the oil may spatter.
Outdoor cooking also requires extra attention to prevent foodborne illness. Wash your hands before preparing food and after handling raw poultry. Use clean cooking utensils and wash them after contact with raw poultry. Use a meat thermometer to tell when poultry is fully cooked and safe to eat.
Deep frying is a popular alternative to smoking or grilling. Follow the instructions for an enjoyable, safe experience.
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