Deep-fried indoor turkey – for science
November 24th, 2010
08:00 PM ET
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Around this time last year, a colleague who was long on culinary passion and short on storage space offered me a brand new Butterball Digital Electric Turkey Fryer, that claimed to be suitable for use indoors. I am, if nothing else, not the least bit risk-averse when it comes to big cooking projects and somewhat of a glutton for peril.

And, quite frankly, I've gotten a tad fed up with some media's seeming obsession with making people panic that if shopping benchmarks aren't achieved by a certain point, all will be lost, family will disown you and your dog will regard you with a mixture of pity and disdain.

I set out to prove that one can indeed be birdless, mid-afternoon and have a company-worthy turkey by early evening, and that deep-frying doesn't have to spell disaster - if you exercise appropriate caution.

2:30 p.m. – Sustain minor injury wrassling smallest available non-frozen bird from the back of the poultry section of my local C-Town grocery store. Recent episode of back spasms not aided by having to bend down and toss 24-pounders out of the way as if I'm trundling boulders from a cave's mouth. The bag is slippery and since holding a grocery basket is currently a potentially painful affair, I cradle the runt bird like an infant on my hip as I stroll the aisle in search of a boatload of inexpensive cooking oil.

While peanut is, per the deep-fryer's directions, the preferred oil for flavor and smoke point, this is Park Slope, Brooklyn and not Macon, Georgia. The bottles of peanut oil are wee and costly, so I settle for two large three-quart handles of store-brand corn oil at $7.49 a pop. The 12.85-pound fresh bird runs me $20.43. Homeward.

2:55 p.m. – Change into non-flammable dress, tights and hard boots, Tie hair back remove wedding rings and pre-locate protective apron, mitts and goggles. I am not an ex-metalsmith and the daughter of a chemist for nothing. Plus, it all just adds a fabulous sense of occasion.

3:00 p.m. – It's the device's maiden fry, so it's irksome to find that the cord isn't long enough accommodate placement on the kitchen tiles, away from cabinets, the fridge and other splashable surfaces as I'd planned. Luckily I find that a countertop a foot from the the door to my Barbie-sized backyard offers a stable base and easy access to pavement upon which I can stop, drop and roll should I perchance ignite.

3:15 p.m. – The turkey was touted as "fresh," but its exile to back-of shelf Siberia left ice crystals, palpable through the plastic wrapping. Those would, if every single video on the internet is to be believed, cause the heated oil to Vesuvius out of the fryer upon contact. I lower the bagged bird into a galvanized, skull-emblazoned party tub full of cool water and start scheming about seasoning.

3:34 p.m. – I note on Eater.com that Iron Chefs Mario Batali and Michael Symon are engaged in a Twitter battle over turkey treatment. Batali is stumping for wet brine while Symon says it makes for mush – just season the night before.

My last second decision leaves no real room for either - just self recrimination. Still, it also indicates that the eschewing of brine isn't necessarily a damnation to the far reaches of Cardboardia. Then I remember that my nephews-in-law have in the past used my homemade dry-rub to season their deep-fried birds at Christmas. Run pell-mell to cookbook shelves to paw through Karmel and Raichlen tomes and lightly alarm the dogs.

3:45 p.m. – I cobble together 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup Kosher salt, 1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of sweet paprika (husband hates hot spice), 1/4 cup of fresh black pepper, 2 Tablespoons each of dry mustard, celery seed, onion powder and garlic powder, 1 Tablespoon of coriander and a few solid shakes of dried thyme.

This all goes into a Pyrex measuring cup, and I mix it with my fingers, rubbing out lumps. It smells...promising.

4:00 p.m. – I unwrap, rinse and blot the bird dry inside and out with paper towels after removing the neck, giblet bag and device that looks as if it's used to restrain wayward poultry in the back of a paddywagon until they can be dropped off at the drunk tank.

Unnerve the dogs a bit further by performing impromptu puppet show with hand up bird. Then rub mixture thickly in cavity, under the skin and on all external surfaces and jam the giblets back down inside.

4:23 p.m. – Pour in the oil - which fails to reach the "max fill" line and fret a moment. Then I close the lid, plug in the cord and - oh my - a light comes on. This is no longer a whim. The thing works and pretty soon, I'll be faced with the prospect of lowering a nearly 13-pound bird into six quarts of 375° oil. Alone. In my kitchen.

I set the countdown clock - approximately four minutes per pound, but what's important is achieving an internal temperature of 165°F - and check Twitter.

4:30 p.m. – Well, Twitter is pretty much telling me I'm going to die in a horrifying sizzle. All and sundry commence Tweeting links to cautionary videos. Right pointer finger knuckle spontaneously begins gushing blood for reasons I do not understand. I peer outside for raining frogs and swarming locusts. Bet they'd be great deep-fried.

4:53 p.m. – The oil timer tolls. It tolls for me.

4:59 p.m. – I'm sure I look like a chemist with a leather fetish - biker jacket, goggles, motorcycle boots - but better safe than scalded. I lift the fryer basket with the enclosed stainless-steel two-pronged grappling hook and open the fryer lid. It's daunting in there, roiling and popping audibly. I inhale deeply, ignore the flick and throb of a mid-back spasm and begin to lower the bird, millimeter by millimeter into the oil.

It protests, surging up angrily, but I maintain my glacial pace until the basket hits the bottom of the fryer, frothing oil fully claiming the bird. I shut the lid.

5:00 p.m. – My. House. Smells. AWESOME. It's like the most bewitching Chinese restaurant has opened up a branch in my very own kitchen, minus the green-hued oranges and Maneki Neko figurine beside a pot of lucky bamboo. Twitter friends are still predicting my doom, but the heady scent of frying meat and spice somehow melts away the fret.

5:13 p.m.Kenny, my friend and dog walker (I forgot to call and cancel) comes walking in, sniffing the air. He says he can smell it all the way out to the sidewalk and agrees that it's pretty darned heavenly.

5:45 p.m. Kenny and the dogs return, and he asserts that it's wafting even further. His own wife had gotten deeply into a cooking project the other night and he'd found himself, hunger-mad at the rich, meaty air, bursting into his apartment hissing, "What...did...you...DO?" We chat for a bit and then...

5:50 p.m. – Bing! Turkey's done. Kenny offers encouragement and caution as he departs, saying he doesn't want to be the one identified in the police report as the last person who'd seen me alive. Heh.

I lower the dial, unplug the unit, re-dress in my paranoia gear and lift the lid oh, so slowly. Would that this video were in smell-o-vision.

The grappling hook comes back out and I ease the basket from the bottom, hooking it into a position several inches above the churn and take the bird's internal temperature. Perfect. It must drain for ten minutes, but I begin picking at the leg meat and skin with tongs. It's sweet, smoky and sumptuously moist and suddenly, I'm ravenous. I spear the liver with a fork and wander around dazed and munching.

6:02 p.m. – At 2:30, I was turkeyless. Three hours and thirty-two minutes later, I have a miraculous, crispy-skinned, deeply flavorful whole bird, fit to serve whomever should just happen on by. I have one quite specific guest in mind, so I limit myself to a couple of feral gnaws at a drumstick, foil tent the pan where it's now resting and stash it in the oven on low.

7:35 p.m. – The dogs jump up. I hear my husband's key in the lock. He enters the living room, sniffing the air.

"What...did...you...DO?"

More about frying:
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8 hot pieces of advice for frying at home
Overcome your fear of frying
Deep-fried indoor turkey – for science

See all our best Thanksgiving advice



soundoff (53 Responses)
  1. SixDegrees

    I'd put down good money on a bet that deep-fryer isn't UL listed, and never passed any sort of safety inspection.

    Deep fry turkeys outside. Well away from the house and other structures. Period.

    November 18, 2013 at 11:20 am |
    • RC

      Party pooper....

      November 18, 2013 at 11:46 am |
    • coolgunz

      CSA certified to UL's 1083 standard, the fryer is hassle-free and safe to use.

      November 18, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
  2. duhlesman

    Sorry to rain on your parade, but the video looks a little suspect to me. As an 11 year veteran of outdoor turkey frying, the way to fry a turkey is to completely immerse the bird in oil. Your video shows the turkey about half immersed, so I'm not sure how the turkey completely cooks. Also, the meat is pulled away from the tip of the leg, which is confusing since that only happens when completely submerged. In regards to setting yourself/home on fire, there are 2 important factors for that: temperature and liquid. If a turkey is room temperature and completely dry (no water), the oil will not splatter, which is the cause of all these fires. And just as a matter of taste, I have tried both injected turkeys and completely plain, no seasoning. I find an unseasoned turkey just as good as a seasoned one since the main attraction is a completely crunch, edible skin all over.

    December 1, 2010 at 10:30 am |
    • Winston

      WHAT does one do with all that oil, once the deed is done?

      November 20, 2012 at 11:07 am |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Good question. I think my dad just tossed it out in the woods or something.

        November 20, 2012 at 11:15 am |
      • Sir Biddle

        The Golden Touch Massage Parlor usually takes it where I live.

        November 20, 2012 at 11:24 am |
        • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

          Mmm!! I canz smellz like food?

          November 20, 2012 at 11:29 am |
      • jwilmes

        Once the oil has cooled down, strain it through cheesecloth into a container to remove the food particals. It can then be re-used for something else at a later time.

        November 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm |
      • Nerissa

        I hear that peanut oil does not burn and its re-useable. My friends husband says he has been using the same oil for 3 years. Once its cooled off he pours it back into the container. Which is great because that peanut oil is expensive.

        November 21, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
      • g2-e231d98c0b5bb9d66a0087937af963ce

        I've got a friend at work who would gladly put it in his VW diesel. Got any friends that fuel their vehicle(s) with vegetable oil?

        November 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm |
  3. J.H.

    Smart and Final has the 4 gallon jugs of oil as well as Wal Mart..Use Canola oil..works the same as peanut oil only way cheaper.

    November 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      And terrible for you compared to peanut oil.

      November 20, 2012 at 11:14 am |
  4. Lindarose72

    We have the exact same fryer and have used it twice now. Did a trial run last weeek with a turkey breast and it was awesome. My husband flavor injected it and put some rub on it. Today we did a turkey breast again with flavor injected and some rub and it was just as awesome as the first time. Everybody loved it. I was at first afraid of the machine in the house, but everything turned out fine. As long as you follow the directions it will work perfectly. That fryer requires 2 gallons of oil.

    November 25, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  5. jorge juan jose mario de tu maria

    cuando tu comiste caca, yo rei, jajaja .... feliez dia de tu thanksgiving!!!

    November 25, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      F-leas on my dog ♫♫

      F-leas on my dog ♫ ♫

      I wanna wish you a merry Christmas ♫♫

      I wanna wish you a merry Christmas ♫♫

      I wanna wish you a merry Christmas, from the bottom of my heaaarrtt. ♫

      F-leas on my dog ♫♫

      November 20, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  6. michael

    For future plans on needing peanut oil go to Home Depot. They have it in large quantity and fairly cheap.

    November 25, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  7. tamsin

    It's so mouthwatering!!!! Makes me feel hungry!!

    November 25, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  8. poodlestix

    A little confused....earlier in the article, it sounded like you bought 6 QUARTS of cooking oil, and later you mentioned that the turkey was in 6 GALLONS of oil. We had been thinking of getting a turkey fryer, but I'd kind of like to have a definite on how much oil it takes to cook one of those.

    November 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Ack! Quarts! (I shouldn't post while tired.)

      November 25, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
      • Mike

        Was that whole coriander-or ground coriander for the rub

        November 28, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  9. Barbara

    I'm awestruck that you would attempt this indoors. I do chicken Kiev about once in 4 years and it totally terrifies me.
    After many years of traditional thanksgiving I treated friends to prawns and scallops on a bed of red pepper puree. They seemed happy enough and it's about as much stress as I can stand at this age.

    November 25, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  10. Lisa

    So funny – I loved the comment about unnerving the dogs more with the impromptu puppet show. Great stuff and I want to try this.

    November 25, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  11. truthinrock

    I did the deep fried turkey a couple years ago and it was amazing, but a lot of work! The stress alone was the killer for me. By the time all was done and we sat down to eat I was so stressed out I had no appetite. I then started the overnight brine and quick roast aka Alton Brown's recipe and it's time consuming but the turkey cooks in just a couple of hours. Still it's Very time consuming. Last year I realized I'd been making Thanksgiving day dinner for 30 years and that was the tipping point. This year we started a new tradition, the best Chinese restaurant in the Seattle area!

    November 25, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  12. Ms. Messmaker

    Question. In the rub recipe, is it 1/4 *CUP* + 2 T of sweet paprika? It sounds wonderful.

    November 25, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  13. Josh

    Welcome to the wonderful world of Fried turkey .. You will never eat turkey Roasted again

    November 25, 2010 at 6:19 pm |
  14. Bill Zigrang

    KAt –
    A cute article, but you should have checked on the oil-fill level BEFORE putting the turkey in the hot oil, by doing a "dry run" (pun intended) of putting the turkey in the (cold) fryer, adding water to cover, then measuring the amount of water you used, and using that measre of oil. This avoids overfull boilovers after the turkey in added (since you are an ex- metalsmith, there MAY be an analogy to the "lost-wax" method, but that's a stretch).

    November 25, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • MarshaTx

      Bad idea... boiling oil has air bubbles, cold water doesn't. The pot will be too full if you do this so it spills over the edges as you lower the turkey, and the cavity through the middle of the turkey acts as a volcano for the hot oil sending it up towards the hand lowering the bird! Fortunately we were using a propane burner out on the driveway when we learned this lesson and didn't ruin the kitchen. But it's a great story that my dad will never live down.

      November 20, 2012 at 9:46 am |
  15. Derik Fales

    Strange engagement.......I like Cornish game hens

    November 25, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • Victoria

      We have had Cornish Hens before also. There is only the two of us, my husband and I, we mostly get the hind quarters one each but we still have some left over. We bought a small (10#) turkey once and we had so much meat left over that it took months to eat it. This year its hind quarters again. It takes only about 2 1/2 – 3 hours to cook. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

      November 25, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  16. Bill Kilpatrick

    In recent years, I've come back to my convection oven as a wonderful cooking appliance. I grew up on fried and microwave foods but for those with the ability to do something else while the food cooks, I think the oven is a wonderful tool. I pop something in (with minimal issues over where to put it and whether to use tin foil, et cetera) and go back to what I was doing. It's just as magical as a microwave, but with a much more gratifying result.

    November 25, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  17. Rhonda

    Thank you soooooo much for the laugh out loud! You are a girl after my own heart. I would have made my own impromptu fire suit too.

    November 25, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  18. stef

    You are so funny!!! I think it looks great!

    November 25, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  19. hal9thou

    God, I've got to get one of these! Onward, Christmas list!

    November 25, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  20. elaine

    stressfree year; making ham

    November 25, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  21. Theresa

    Awesome Post!!!!

    November 25, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  22. GmeMstr

    Kat,

    Thanks for the review! I fry turkeys every year and have always been curious about the indoor fryers. Gonna have to look into one for myself soon. As an aside, here is a recounting of what the wiki-folks talk about.

    http://gmemstr.blogspot.com/2006/12/turkey-on-fire.html

    November 25, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  23. Latoya M.

    YUM.... I can't wait for my own family's fried turkey tomorrow.... Kudos and I hope it tasted as good as it looks!!

    November 24, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  24. kdogg

    Kat, could you provide any information on what temp. and how long per pound we should cooked a stuffed turkey using a convection oven? It's our first Thanksgiving cooking so any help would be appreciated!

    November 24, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
    • AuroraDawn

      I have cooked loads of turkeys stuffed and unstuffed. For a stuffed turkey I'd recommend approx 20 mins per pound. Don't stuff the bird too tightly. I have a convection oven too, however all ovens are different. The temperature calibration of mine may vary to yours. A good way to go your first time is with a thermometer. Remember to keep some foil handy in case the legs or wings get too brown before cooking is done. Just tear off little pieces and cover only the wing/drumstick etc. Dunno if this helps...and I'm not Kat but I hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

      November 24, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
      • Sir Biddle@AuroaDawn

        Nice job Aurora, you have some good info. Someone asked the same time per pound question at dinner tonight. Hopefully you re not on hospital duty tomorrow and get to enjoy the day.

        November 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Sure! Will answer in just a tiny bit - stay tuned.

      November 24, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Aurora – love your input! Keep chiming in!

      November 24, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
      • AuroraDawn

        LOL I wasn't sure if you were still on or not. I just popped in and saw the question. Being it was the first time they cooked one....was trying to help.

        November 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm |
      • Kat Kinsman

        Aurora – so delighted you did! And I even quoted you: http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2010/11/24/t-minus-0-your-thanksgiving-questions-answered/

        Keep it comin'!

        November 24, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
      • Larry

        MACON, GA! YES!

        November 25, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Aaaand so it begins! Hope this helps: http://eatocracy.cnn.com/2010/11/24/t-minus-0-your-thanksgiving-questions-answered/

      November 24, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
    • JoanieMarie Kearsey

      Go to Butterball.com
      Everything you need to know there.

      November 25, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • 101cajunrecipes.com

      Please visit 101cajunrecipes.com for information on cajun dishes including frying a turkey. Generally, we fry a turkey at 350 degress for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes per pound. I would have the temperature of the oil at 400 degrees when you set the turkey in the oil. It is wise to slowly lower the turkey in the oil and not drop it quickly.

      November 25, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
  25. RichardHead

    Good Lord Kat,I can't believe the prices of the stuff up yonder.Haven't been to New York in years. Good job -looks tasty.

    November 24, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
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