Fried Turkey Delicious When Safely Prepared Says LSU AgCenter Nutritionist

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  10/24/2006 12:37:46 AM

News You Can Use For 10/24/2003

One of South Louisiana’s favorite holiday dishes is deep-fried whole turkey. For a great-tasting bird, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames offers food safety and nutrition tips.

"Be sure to completely thaw the turkey to prevent splattering," Reames says, noting, "The turkey should easily fit the cooker, and the oil should cover the turkey completely."

To prevent fires or other accidents, keep the fryer outside away from flammable materials on a flat surface, do not leave unattended, and keep children and pets at a distance.

The LSU AgCenter nutritionist says deep-fryers can be dangerous. Many units easily tip over, spilling the 5 gallons of hot oil within the cooking pot. If the cooking pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill out of the unit when the turkey is placed into the cooking pot. Oil may hit the burner/flames, causing a fire to engulf the entire unit. Partially frozen turkeys placed into the fryer can cause a spillover effect. This, too, may result in an extensive fire.

With no thermostat controls, the units also have the potential to overheat the oil to the point of combustion. The sides of the cooking pot, lid and pot handles get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards.

Safety experts at Underwriter's Laboratory offer additional guidelines:

• Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other material that can burn.

• Never use turkey fryers on wooden decks or in garages.

• Make sure the fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.

• Since fryers don’t have thermostats, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire if you don't watch the fryer carefully.

• Never let children or pets near the fryer when in use. Even after use, never allow children or pets near the turkey fryer. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot hours after use.

• Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.

• Make sure the turkey is completely thawed, and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don't mix, and water causes oil to spill over, causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.

• Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. Remember to use your best judgment when attempting to fight a fire. If the fire is manageable, use an all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call 9-1-1 for help.

"Fried turkey is not as unhealthy as it sounds - if you don't eat the skin of the bird," Reames says, citing a study showing that a 17-pound fried turkey absorbed less than a half cup of oil.

To thaw a turkey in the refrigerator safely, leave it in the original wrapping, place it on a tray and refrigerate. Allow 5 hours thawing time per pound.

For faster thawing, place the whole turkey in its original wrapping in the sink and cover with cold water. Change water every 30 minutes to maintain low temperature, and allow 30 minutes per pound to thaw the turkey. Don’t leave turkey - raw or cooked - at room temperature for more than 2 hours.

"When frying a turkey, however, it is imperative that the bird be completely thawed, or the oil will ‘boil’ when the bird touches it - possibly causing injury or fire," Reames warns.

If you choose to inject the turkey before frying, you will need an injection kit, which is available at most grocery stores around the holidays. Marinades also are available at the grocery, and the kit includes instructions on injecting the meat properly. Be sure to keep the turkey refrigerated while it is marinating.

The amount of oil needed to fry a whole turkey will vary, depending on the size of the bird and the size of the pot used to fry it.

Most pots require 5 gallons of oil, and peanut oil is recommended. Many Louisiana residents use a crawfish boiling pot with a butane burner and a clean jambalaya stirrer to fry turkey. The oil should be heated to a temperature of 350 degrees - the point where it almost is smoking. Then ease the bird into the oil. When frying a turkey, never let the bird touch the bottom of the pot.

Turn the turkey every 30-45 seconds to keep it from burning, and try not to break the skin, if possible. The turkey needs to cook for 3 minutes per pound, plus 10 minutes, to assure it is thoroughly cooked. A meat thermometer is recommended to check the temperature of the bird and determine if it is properly cooked. Use an instant-read thermometer and check the bird after removing it from the oil. The internal temperature of the whole bird needs to be 180 degrees F.

After cooking, the turkey can be allowed to drain briefly and then can be moved inside and served. Leftover fried turkey should be removed from bones and stored in small shallow containers in the refrigerator.

Plan to buy at least 1 pound of uncooked whole turkey per person to assure a moderate amount of leftovers.

"Don’t forget to wash hands, utensils and cutting boards thoroughly before and after handling raw meats," Reames says.

Additional information on food safety and other family and consumer topics is available by contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. Also, log on to the Family and Consumer Sciences section under the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service at the LSU AgCenter Web site: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/.

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Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3329, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu

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