For hundreds of years, the over-sized holiday treat known as turkey has been roasted in dry ovens or turned slowly on a spit near an open fire. In Louisiana and other parts of the southeastern United States, however, deep-fried turkey has appeared on the culinary scene. A deep-fried turkey is prepared exactly as it sounds. A small turkey, usually 12 pounds or less, is marinated or breaded and then carefully lowered into a vat of heated cooking oil. After cooking at a rate of 3 to 4 minutes a pound, the deep-fried turkey is raised out of the vat and plated for carving.
While it may sound like an exercise in grease absorption, a deep-fried turkey is usually not excessively greasy or oily. One reason is the nature of the frying oils used to prepare a deep-fried turkey. Only oils with a high smoking point, the temperature at which oil begins to break down, are used. Although safflower, corn and canola oils can be used for deep-fried turkey, the most common oil used is peanut oil. Peanut oil has a high smoking point, a number of complex flavors, and can be reused 3 or 4 times if properly filtered and stored.
Cooking a deep-fried turkey may not be as economical as roasting, since specialized equipment and gallons of expensive peanut oil must be purchased. This is why a number of families often pool their resources together to finance a deep-fried turkey dinner. Commercial food producers and restaurants may also offer their facilities and staff to customers seeking to cook off a deep-fried turkey safely.
Many deep-fried turkey recipes call for a large 40 to 60 quart cooking pot to contain the oil and a gas burner system to heat it between 325 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit (163 and 177 degrees Celsius). In order to determine the level of oil needed to cover the turkey, many experts suggest placing the raw bird in the empty pot and filling it up with water until the bird is completely submerged. Once the fill line has been marked, the bird and pot should be dried completely to prevent splattering. An equivalent amount of oil should then be added to the pot and heated.
One of the most difficult steps in preparing a deep-fried turkey is the introduction of the bird to the heated oil. Many deep-fried turkey kits include a special winch and hook mechanism used to suspend the bird securely over the oil. The cook slowly lowers the breaded or marinated bird into the oil to avoid splashing and spilling. Contact between the heated oil and the gas burner could result in a flash fire, so a fire extinguisher and heavy oven mitts should be kept on hand.
After the deep-fried turkey has reached an internal temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit in the white meat areas and 180 degrees Fahrenheit in the legs and thighs, it is ready to be pulled out of the oil and transferred to a plate for serving. Many people find that a deep-fried turkey is very moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. There are a number of breading and marinating recipes available for an even better deep-fried turkey experience, ranging from Cajun spice blends to lemon pepper to traditional Southern fried chicken seasonings.