In the spirit of risking our lives for a delicious meal, we three friends gathered on a blustery November afternoon to lower an enormous turkey into an enormous-er vat of bubbling oil. For Kelsey and Peter, this was an entirely new experience. But Leah happened to be a veteran bird-fryer. For the past few years, she and her brother have made Alton Brown’s deep fried turkey recipe on Thanksgiving. Though the process begins by brining a turkey for a lengthy stretch, the meat cooks in just 35 minutes.
See the complete recipe, courtesy of TV personality and food expert Alton Brown.
To avoid the common pitfall that plagues many first-time fryers (an explosion of scalding oil and turkey flesh that can easily consume your home in delicious-smelling flames), please make sure your turkey is completely, fully, entirely thawed before frying.
Alton was kind enough to provide us with some key safety considerations, including this important tip: “Use a thermometer to monitor the oil temp and always have a fire extinguisher handy. I've never needed one personally but I know deep down that the first time I don't have one is the time I'll need it."
Armed with professional tips, a trusted recipe, and hearty appetites, we started to fry. The frying was one step in a five-step, death-defying journey that concluded with a glorious meal. Along with our turkey, we made a stovetop gravy and a salad. Also, we took advantage of our vat of turkey-infused oil to make sweet-potato fries and two desserts.
Sadly, the photo documentation of the brining process (a lovely turkey, cool and raw, its skin the texture of goosebumps and color of a cold sky, plunged into a murky brine, sealed in an economy garbage bag, and floated in a styrofoam cooler) was deemed unappetizing. But you don’t need it to guide you: the brine itself is a simple mixture of warm water, kosher salt, and dark brown sugar. The turkey rests in it—fully submerged and accompanied by ice—for at least 12 hours, absorbing flavor.
Ready to Fry
To determine how much oil we needed, we tossed the turkey into the empty frying pot and filled it with water until the bird was just covered. Then we measured the water and fetched the same amount of oil.
The set-up is pretty simple: the frying vat sits on a stand over a burner, fueled by a propane tank. The rugged simplicity made us feel almost like we were camping. You can pick up a similar kit at many hardware stores.
At this point the oil has a medium-grade fever. We dispatched for an apothecary. The apothecary has yet to arrive.
The trashcan fire we lit next to the propane tank burnt out quickly, so we resorted to warming our hands over the sizzling vat of oil.
At Last, We Fry
Slowly and carefully lower the turkey into the hot oil. Notice that Peter stands back from the bubbling vat of oil. However, this would not save him in the event of a frozen turkey explosion.
Poor Peter. Just kidding! Peter was totally fine. We’re slowly bringing the oil up to full temperature now.
Never leave a frying turkey unattended. Not pictured: a fire extinguisher and a steamy firefighter calendar.
Leah slowly lifts the turkey from the oil, being careful to avoid splatters, as Peter deftly probes the deepest depths of the bird’s fleshiest flesh. The thermometer reads 162 degrees Fahrenheit—151 is the beginning of the safe range for removing the bird from the fryer.
Bird resting. This interminable 30-minute wait ensures that the juices redistribute inside the turkey (rather than pouring out onto your carving platter), and that it reaches an even and safe temperature: 165 degrees is optimal.
The Meal Gorgeous. We finished our turkey with a simple stovetop gravy (chicken stock, simmering with herbs until it reduced, and then thickened with cornstarch). A fresh, leafy salad adapted from Alice Water’s new cookbook, The Art of Simple Food II, accompanied the meat, as did a fistful of sweet-potato fries. Here is the recipe for the fries, fully illustrated.
We also made two lovely desserts, once again making use of the pot of oil we had: already hot, we think it was pleased to be useful.
Thanks again to Alton Brown for the excellent recipe, which yielded the juiciest, most tender bird we’ve ever eaten.
Food photos by Arlie Nuetzel and Tawny Lane. Explosion photo courtesy of Wikimedia.