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How to deep fry a turkey (and why you’ll never roast again)

IMG_0588This may ruffle a few feathers, but I am going to take a stand: Fried turkey is better than oven roasted turkey.

There, I said it.

And before you ask – yes, the feather pun in my opening line was intentional.

While there are practical advantages to fried turkey, such as the significantly shorter cooking time, it mostly comes down to flavor. The intense heat of the oil locks in all of the moisture that many Thanksgiving chefs struggle to retain after four or five hours in the oven, yielding some of the juiciest turkey breast you will ever eat. It really is idiot proof. I’ve never had a dry turkey come out of the fryer.

And then there is the skin. That sinfully salty, crunchy skin. That’s where the magic happens.

As I’ve previously mentioned, my family usually does a Cajun fried turkey for Thanksgiving most years. I don’t know why we made the change, but about 15 years ago my dad started deep-frying our birds and we have not roasted one since.

If you have never had a fried turkey, I urge you to branch out. Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in tradition. If you have been roasting birds since your momma’s momma was in charge of Thanksgiving dinner, I can understand how tough it can be to change things up. I can’t guarantee that all of you will prefer it this way, but I’d bet you a tray of twice baked potatoes that most of you will be glad you listened.

Before we get into the specifics of how to fry your bird, let me be absolutely clear on one thing: Deep-frying a turkey can be DANGEROUS if not done properly. Please make sure that you take all necessary precautions before doing this, and promise not to sue me if you burn your house down. You are frying your turkey at your own risk.

Here are a few major safety pointers to remember:

1 – Set up your fryer outside, away from any overhangs. That means doing this inside your garage isn’t a good idea, and neither should you try this in the guest bedroom.

2 – Water and oil don’t mix! This includes frozen water. The bird must be COMPLETLEY thawed and patted dry as much as possible. The thawing is really the most important step. A frozen bird has a lot of frozen water stuck in it, and your fryer will turn into an inferno if you try dropping one into the oil.

3 – Don’t leave the fryer unattended.

4 – Use common sense. You would think I shouldn’t have to say that, but then again you’d think that Two and a Half Men wouldn’t be the most popular show on network television.

This is the simple recipe that my family uses every year and it has yet to disappoint.

Deep Fried Turkey, Watson style:

Prep time:


10-to 12-pound fresh or frozen turkey (completely thawed)

2.5-3 gallons of peanut oil

1 (16-ounce) jar of Creole butter (w/ injector)

Tony Cachere’s Creole seasoning (to taste….1-2 8oz shakers)

Thaw the turkey completely, if frozen. Pat down the bird, removing as much moisture as possible. And please make sure that you remove the innards. If you have ever seen anyone accidentally cook a turkey with the innards bag still in there, you know that it’s pretty gross.

Once the turkey is thawed and patted down, it’s time to shoot it up with the Creole butter. Inject the entire bird, using all 16oz of the marinade. This can be done as far as 24-36 hours in advance, but can be done just prior to frying as well. After injecting, pat down the outside of the turkey with the Creole seasoning, coating completely. This is what is going to form the flavor packed crust, so don’t be bashful with it.


Jason Getz /

Pour peanut oil up to the “max fill” line in your turkey fryer. If there is no line, do not fill past ½ way. The bird will displace a lot of the oil and you don’t want it to spill over. Heat the oil to 350 degrees.

Once the oil is to temperature, SLOWLY lower the bird into the fryer, being careful not to splash.

Make sure to keep the oil temperature between 325-350 while frying. A 10-12 lb bird should take around 45 minutes, give or take.

Once the turkey thigh registers 165 degrees internally, your bird is ready. Remove from oil, let drain, and rest for 20-30 minutes before carving. Spend that time slapping the tops of hands trying to get a bite of skin. Enjoy.

See also:

Bob Townsend’s fried turkey recipe

Gallery: Avoiding a deep fried turkey disaster

Turkey fryers


- Jon Watson writes about Popular Eats for the AJC Dining Team. He also publishes his own blog, Live To Feast

29 comments Add your comment


November 24th, 2010
11:26 am

Kenji at Serious Eats wrote a great two part series on frying turkey. In part one he argues fried turkey isn’t better, but he corrects some errors in his experiment in part two. I learned a lot reading both though.

Kenji (and Harold McGree, really) have dispelled the whole “locking in moisture” argument. Moisture is only related to internal temperature, but the frying does create a fantastic Maillard reaction on the surface on the turkey.

A good read.


November 24th, 2010
11:27 am

I’ve never tried fried turkey. Would love to. My mom is in the “why break tradition” bucket though… plus she always does a 20lb+ turkey.

Jon Watson

November 24th, 2010
11:40 am

@Jimmy – great article…especially the updated post. Based on years of practical experience, I’m sure I would have been one of the irate fried turkey lovers reacting to Kenji’s first post, so it is good to see that he came around.

@reds – Good lord! How many people is your mom cooking for?!

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Bride of Puerquito

November 24th, 2010
12:03 pm

Brine, then roast. A lot safer and just as juicy (if not more). Plus, you can do it indoors.


November 24th, 2010
12:09 pm

Jon – love your blogs. Our family alternates between fried and roasted, because we love both and happen to have a fool-proof roasting method that produces excellent results.

@reds – When feeding a large crowd, it’s a snap to fry two or three turkeys.


November 24th, 2010
12:27 pm

Brine, then smoke on big green egg is the way to go. We have enough fat in our Thanksgiving meal without deep frying something.

Jon Watson

November 24th, 2010
12:38 pm

@ Bride of Puerquito – Don’t get me wrong…I’m not hating on roasted turkey. It can be fantastic. I just think that fried is better.

@al – I love that idea. Anything on a Big Green Egg is going to be great, and a whole smoked turkey sounds fantastic. I’m a complete BGE enthusiast. But Thanksgiving is one of those meals where I find that it is best just not to think about how much fat is in there. It is just one day…cut loose!

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November 24th, 2010
12:49 pm

Hate to say it, but you can get just as good of a skin, just as moist, and not burn your house down…just use one of those infrared (mine’s Char Broil) turkey “fryers” and you’re set.

Also, I really wish y’all would have emphasized the importance of NOT overfilling the pot with oil. That seems to be where most of the fires come from.

Whenever I’ve fried a turkey, I followed one safety tip, taught to me by a firefighter. Right before you lower the turkey in, Turn the burner OFF completely. Then pick up your turkey, and lower it in. Now, if it overflows, the source of ignition isn’t there, so no fire, just a mess. Once the turkey’s in, if you didn’t have an overflow, immediately relight the burner. If you did have an overflow, you still have a mess, but didn’t burn your house down.


November 24th, 2010
1:33 pm

Usually 15-20. We’ve had as many as 26 one year. We often also do a turkey breast after the turkey came out for sammiches later ;) I’m just glad I don’t need to live up to that expectation yet! I’ll stick with the sides. :)


November 24th, 2010
1:34 pm

Oh, and for a way to make the skin extra-crisy when you do it in the oven, my grandmother is fond of “cholesterol chips”. Take the skin off the turkey breast, throw it on a sheet pan and broil until crisp. >.<


November 24th, 2010
1:59 pm

A good way to measure how much oil to use is to put the turkey in the empty fryer, then fill it with enough water to cover the bird. Remove the turkey and note the water level – fill fryer with oil to this point and you won’t have an overflow of oil.


November 24th, 2010
2:13 pm

drop your bird in water to make sure the oil will not over flow.


November 24th, 2010
2:23 pm

Thanks for the post. Fried turkey is amazing. I find that guys (like my godfather) who enjoy grilling also love minding the turkey while it’s frying.

A few important points to help avoid disaster:
- As MardiBug suggests, test the amount of oil before cranking up the heat.
- Make sure to use PEANUT oil for the best flavor.
- Clear the area of pets and children.
Frying a bird doesn’t conjure the same familial atmosphere you get when folks walk through the house smelling roasted turkey or peeking through the oven window, but the flavor makes up for that.

Happy Thanksgiving!


November 24th, 2010
2:27 pm

The one thing you can’t replicate with frying is all the yummy roast turkey smells filling the house while the bird roasts.


November 24th, 2010
2:50 pm

My cousin fried one for our family a few years ago. It was YUMMO!! Slap ya momma good delicious. Haven’t had fried since. However this Christmas I plan to fry up one.

Protein overload

November 24th, 2010
2:58 pm

Enjoyed the article. My wife will do a 21# roasted Butterball, my jarhead brother-in-law will do his deep-fried bird (imagine the Clampett’s in the driveway) and my new son-in-law’s parents are bringing a turducken. Way too much bird but what the hell!!


November 24th, 2010
3:02 pm

Fried turkey is indeed good, but well roasted, brined turkey is the best for 3 reasons:

1) Just as juicy
2) Drippings for gravy
3) Stuffing inside bird


November 24th, 2010
3:04 pm

BRAVO! I have been doing this VERY thing now for several years and may I compliment you on your accuracy! I LOVE deep fried turkey and roasted turkey just doesn’t compare, traditional or not. I hope everyone at least tries it once in their life, it’s super surprising and WoW to taste.
My first thoughts were ewwwwwwwww…. it will be so greasy. Boy was I wrong. As mentioned it is sealed yummy and juicy inside by the searing hot oil and that crunchy salty skin is oh so good. One must make absolutely sure to use “Peanut Oil” as mentioned as that is the special oil that makes the turkey crisp and not mushy. It costs a little more than some other oils but believe me through trial and error, don’t use anything else! And keep in mind olive oil should never be used for the soul purpose that it has a low smoking point. It can’t handle the heat.
The injector is your FRIEND and you can’t beat the Cajun marinade as mentioned. I inject my bird and then save a little left over and smear it all over my foul de-feathered friend then sprinkle on the Cajun seasoning. Seriously folks, WoW! Thanks for such a great post and instructions on how to and remember folks, head that danger warning as that pot can turn into a torch if all is not handled properly. I will admit that I use an electric indoors sealed cooker especially made for deep frying on the counter. It’s really easy and works great. I have seen those propane ones go up in flames though outside so just be careful and ENJOY! Happy Thanksgiving all!

what he said

November 24th, 2010
3:07 pm

@ Protein overload–I’m coming to YOUR house! Sounds fabulous! Can’t have too much bird, great leftovers!


November 24th, 2010
3:17 pm

HA! The Two and Half Men comment was brilliant!! Kudos! Made my day!


November 24th, 2010
3:18 pm

Having eaten turkey prepared almost every way in God’s creation, roast turkey wins hands down — probably that wonderful smell throughout the house. All that being said, a deep fried turkey is sure up on my list of favorite ways. Not too fond of smoked turkey, no matter how it’s done or by whom. A turkey molé is a wonderful creation. Thank the Azecs for both turkey and chocolate!


November 24th, 2010
4:17 pm

Sorry, but the one time I had fried turkey I *hated* it! I found the juiciness that so many people rave about repellent. It was all I could do to choke down the small slice I got to be polite. I’ll develop a ‘turkey allergy’ before I eat fried turkey again.


November 24th, 2010
10:34 pm

Jimmyd is spot on. Mardibug is dead wrong. Do not use water to find the oil level. Just use the oil. Why in the world would you dunk your bird in water just before you need your bird to be bone dry!!!! It makes no sense.

Here is what does make sense.

Put the bird in the pot. cover with oil. take bird out. heat oil. turn burner off. lower bird in hot oil. relight oil.

BTW, if you had fried turkey and didn’t like it, YOU DID IT WRONG.


November 25th, 2010
12:55 am

@Nattie You use peanut oil because it has a high flashpoint of 400deg…..most other oils will smoke and blacken at or above 325 deg which will foul the taste.

@DaveC you need to wash the bird inside and out at some point before it is cooked. Which is a good time to do the water test in the pot. just make sure you dry pot and bird completely.


November 25th, 2010
9:29 am

About 15 years ago a cajun friend wanted to fry a turkey for us. I politely said no thanks, did not want another Southern fried food. But turning it down would have hurt his feelings. So my wife and I decided to oven bake one and get his too. We had both in the kitchen to taste before plating and sitting down to dinner. We were amazed. The Cajun fried was so moist and favorable. We loved it and that was the turkey on the table.

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November 25th, 2010
5:45 pm

Can i use the same oil for my Christmas bird?