LSU AgCenter Nutritionist Explains Fried Turkey Safety

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  4/19/2005 10:28:28 PM

News You Can Use For November 2004

It’s time again for one of South Louisiana’s favorite holiday dishes: deep-fried whole turkey. LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames offers advice on making the meal a safe occasion.

Plan to buy at least 1 pound of uncooked whole turkey per person to assure a moderate amount of leftovers. Be sure to wash hands, utensils and cutting boards thoroughly before and after handling raw meats. Also, never leave turkey – raw or cooked – at room temperature for more than two hours.

Thaw the turkey completely. "It is imperative that the bird be completely thawed, or the oil will ‘boil’ when the bird touches it - possibly causing injury or fire," the nutritionist warns. To thaw in the refrigerator, leave the turkey 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 two hours.

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. Reames recommends peanut oil because of its higher flash point. Many Louisiana residents use a crawfish boiling pot with a butane burner and a clean jambalaya stirrer to fry turkey.

Heat the oil to 350 degrees F - the point where the oil almost is smoking. Then ease the bird into the oil. The turkey should easily fit the cooker, and the oil should cover the turkey completely. 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.

Reames recommends using a meat thermometer 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.

To prevent fires or other accidents, keep the fryer outside on a flat surface and away from flammable materials. Never use turkey fryers on wooden decks or in garages.

Do not leave unattended, and keep children and pets at a distance. Oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot, hours after use.

Reames says deep-fryers can be dangerous for many reasons:

• Many units easily tip over, spilling 5 or more gallons of hot oil.

• If the cooking pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill out of the unit when the turkey is immersed. Oil may hit the burner/flames, causing a fire to engulf the entire unit.

• With no thermostat controls, the units also have the potential to overheat the oil to the point of combustion. If you don't watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.

• The sides of the cooking pot, lid and pot handles get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards. 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.

If you use a turkey fryer, Reames advises following additional Underwriter's Laboratory safety tips:

• Be careful with marinades. Oil and water don't mix, and water causes oil to spill over, resulting in a fire or even an explosion.

• 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 the fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call 9-1-1.

After cooking, the turkey can be allowed to drain briefly and then can be moved inside and served. Reames says fried turkey is not as unhealthy as it sounds, if you don't eat the skin. A study has shown that by measuring the oil before and after frying, a 17-pound fried turkey absorbed less than a half cup of oil.

Leftover fried turkey should be removed from bones and stored in small shallow containers in the refrigerator.

For information on related nutrition, family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/Extension
/Departments/fcs/.  For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst/
Extension/Departments/fcs/
Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929, or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu 

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