Fry Turkey Safely For A Delightful Meal

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  10/29/2005 1:45:45 AM

Fried turkey is not as unhealthy as it sounds – if you don’t eat the skin. When properly cooked, a 17-pound bird absorbs only ½ cup of oil.

News You Can Use For November 2005

Fried turkey is a tradition for many people at Thanksgiving. Although this cooking method may produce a great tasting bird, LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames says to be cautious.

Be sure to thaw the turkey completely to prevent splattering. 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.

Reames says deep-fryers can be dangerous for many reasons. Many units easily tip over, spilling the 5 gallons of scorching oil on anything nearby. If the cooking pot is overfilled, the oil may overflow when the turkey is placed into the 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.

Underwriter’s Laboratory offers a number of additional tips for safe cooking.

Use turkey fryers only 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.

Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units do not have thermostat controls. If you don't watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.

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.

To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer. 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 911 for help.

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.

"When frying a turkey 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 says. To thaw a turkey in the refrigerator safely, leave it in the original wrapping, place it on a tray and refrigerate. Allow five 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. Many Louisiana residents use a crawfish boiling pot with a propane burner and a clean jambalaya stirrer to fry turkey.

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 Reames recommends peanut oil because of its higher flash point. The oil should be heated to 350 F – the point where it almost is smoking. Then ease the bird into the oil. 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.

Use an instant-read thermometer, and check the bird after removing it from the oil. A whole turkey should be cooked to 180 F. To check for doneness, insert a food thermometer in the thickest part of the inner thigh without touching the bone. After it’s cooked, the turkey can be allowed to drain briefly and then 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 food safety," Reames says, advising, "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."

For additional information about safe cooking, contact the LSU Ag Center Extension agent in your parish. For information on related family and consumer topics, click on the Family and Home link on the LSU AgCenter homepage, at


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

Source: Beth Reames (225) 578-3929, or

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