Deep-Fried Turkey

A whole deep-fried turkey, garnished with sage, bay, and thyme leaves on a wooden cutting board.

Before you make this deep-fried turkey, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your fryer and get a turkey that will fit easily in the fryer, preferably no more than twelve pounds.–Sara Foster

LC Why This Turkey Is Almost Worth Catching Your Garage on Fire Note

You may have heard others heap praise upon the burnished appearance and moist beyond belief meat of a deep-fried turkey, and you may not have paid any mind to what they had to share. In case that rings true for you, we’re going to say it, sing it, SHOUT it as loud as we can–this is the best damn turkey some of us have ever had. Specifically, those of us who swoon to crisp, crackly skin and plump, tender breast unfettered with extraneous flavors. Besides, it frees up your oven for all those gratin-y side dishes.

Frying a turkey has acquired something of a bad rep because, well, accidents happen. There are precautions, though, that can be taken which make this as mundane an act as boiling water. We’ve mentioned them where relevant throughout the recipe, but first, just a few words about the fryer itself. They sound a little scary, but really, they’re simple. (And just wait till you taste that turkey.) First, don’t even consider jury-rigging a hot-frying contraption. Pony up the money for a proper outdoor deep fryer. Trust us. And while you can get away with not reading the instruction manual for your espresso maker, actually read the instruction manual that accompanies the fryer. Those instructions will no doubt reinforce this, but it can’t be stated enough–set up the fryer outside on a flat, flame-retardant surface. Think concrete. Do not–we repeat, do not–even consider frying in your house, garage, or even on your porch. In fact, set it up at least 10 feet from your home, your garage, your fences, or anything else you treasure and don’t wish to see go up in flames. (Hey, we’re just saying…) If using a gas fryer, position the gas tank at least 2 or 3 feet from the fryer, preferably more. And the fryer must, must, must be situated so that the wind will carry the heat that emanates from the fryer away from the tank, not toward it.

Now go have fun.

Special Equipment:
  • An outdoor deep fryer, either gas or electric (check to make sure it comes with a fry basket; if it does not, purchase it separately)
  • Long-sleeved fireproof gloves
  • Heavy apron
  • Safety goggles (in a pinch, a clear-bottomed plastic bowl will suffice)
  • Shoes (um, other than flip-flops; leather boots with steel toes do quite nicely)
  • Stopwatch or kitchen timer some sort
  • Deep-fry or candy or instant-read thermometer
  • Fire extinguisher (for the love of all things good, if you’ve never used one, read the directions; if, heaven forbid, you need to use an extinguisher, there’ll be no time to reach for your reading specs)
  • Common sense

Deep-Fried Turkey

  • Quick Glance
  • 1 H
  • 3 H, 30 M
  • Serves 6 to 8
Print RecipeBuy the Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen cookbook

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  • One 12-pound fresh turkey (preferably fresh; if previously frozen, it must be completely thawed)
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons ground cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 gallons peanut oil (the amount of oil depends on the size of your fryer; better to err on the side of buying too much since you can always return any unused, unopened containers)
  • Sprigs of fresh herbs (sage, thyme, or bay) for garnish (optional)
  • Dried figs, for garnish (optional)


  • 1. Rinse the turkey completely inside and out and pat it completely dry with paper towels. We mean really, really dry. (The turkey must be dry beyond a doubt, inside and out. If you’re using a frozen hen, it must be defrosted with no trace of ice and again patted dry. Any droplets of water or chips of ice will cause spattering—or worse, much worse–during frying.) Discard the bag of giblets as well as any pop-up timers or other plastic paraphernalia found in your turkey.
  • 2. Trim the excess fat from the turkey neck and remove the tail. Fold the wings beneath the turkey as if it were lying on its back with its arms, er, wings tucked beneath its head. Truss the turkey if you like, though it’s not at all necessary. Season the turkey all over, inside and out, with salt and black pepper to taste. Rub the butter, if using all over the turkey to coat evenly and sprinkle evenly with the cayenne, again, if using. Do not even consider stuffing a turkey that you’re about to plunge into burbling hot oil.
  • 3. Pour enough peanut oil in the turkey fryer to reach the fill line, which is usually found somewhere inside the fryer, about halfway between the bottom and the top. Heat the oil to 350°F (176°C). (This could take an hour or more.)
  • 4. Don your apron, goggles, and gloves. Seriously. Have the fire extinguisher within reach. Place the turkey in the fry basket and, holding the turkey away from you, slowly, slowly, slowly submerge it in the hot oil. The oil temperature will drop, but don’t adjust the temperature just yet as it should bounce back relatively quickly. You want to fry the bird until the turkey is golden brown and an internal thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads between 170°F and 180°F (76°C and 82°C). This should take about 3 minutes per pound, or 36 minutes for a 12-pounder. Start timing the bird as soon as you plunge it into its oil bath. Maintain the temperature of the oil as best you can at 350°F (176°C) but do not cover the fryer at any point and do not allow the oil to go above 360°F (182°C). And for the love of all things good, do not leave the fryer unattended. Ever.
  • 5. When the turkey is done, turn off the fryer. Line a rimmed baking sheet with brown paper bags and have someone hold it steady. Carefully, carefully, carefully lift the turkey from the fryer as if your life depended on it, because in a sense, it does. Pause with the turkey hovering above the fryer to allow any excess oil to drop back into the fryer, then gently transfer the bird to the baking sheet. Cover the turkey loosely with foil and let it rest for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • 6. Behold! Carve and serve as soon as possible, before you snitch so many pieces of crisp, crackly skin that your guests become wise to you. Garnish, if you please, with sprigs of herbs and dried figs.
  • 7. Let the oil cool completely. Pour or siphon it into empty resealable containers and dispose of it according to the rules in your city. (Don’t know? Just ask Google.)

Recipe Testers Reviews

Deep-frying a turkey is a very unique experience. If you have the chance, visit someone who’s done it before, so you have the benefit of experience. The finished turkey tasted as good as it looked! It had a clean flavor hinting of the deep-frying treatment, and a nicely browned and crisp skin.

There seems to be some fundamental differences between electric and gas fryers. It took close to one hour with my electric fryer to get the turkey cooked. There was very little splatter and no flare-ups. I mixed equal portions of fresh ground black pepper and sea salt to season the turkey. I would suggest a minimum of one tablespoon, but if you start with two tablespoons, there should be plenty, with a bit left over. The amount of cayenne had me concerned, but there really wasn’t much heat to the skin and definitely none in the meat. The white meat was just a tad on the dry side, but the dark meat was quite moist. My thermometer registered between 160 and 180, depending on where I stuck it — difficult to gauge through bubbling oil. So it may have overcooked a bit. There was no greasiness to the meat at all. I can say the roast is very “pick-able” — I had to force myself away from the table to avoid overeating! My 12-pound turkey would probably serve eight people, but there’d better be a lot of other fixin’s on the table if it’s going to serve 12.


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  1. Deep-fried turkey has definitely become a staple for Thanksgiving at my dad’s for the whole family. The very 1st time he did this it was EXCELLENT and that was before all the injections and such were introduced along with… and since then it has only gotten better. I can still cook a turkey in the oven and it be delish; BUT deep-fried turkey converts everyone over because it is SO tasty and JUICY. NEVER ever have had fail with deep-frying a turkey! LOVE the match made experience Janis had :)

  2. Gotta love any recipe where “common sense” is listed amongst special equipment. :) Deep fried turkey sounds heavenly—sort of just dreaming of that skin. Sadly, I am accident prone even on the best, most prepared days. However, I may risk it one of these years because I do happen to live next to a fire house.

  3. I was repulsed when my then boyfriend took me to Texas and his dad was making a Deep Fried Turkey. I was a native Californian. I didn’t eat fried anything. Had my first taste, and I was a convert. Oh, and the boyfriend is now my husband of 11 years.

    Advice? No bigger than 12 pounds as stated. We inject with garlic and onion juice and season the outside liberally.


    1. Janis, glad the boyfriend became the husband, and thank you for the suggestions and advice.

      Readers, take note! Not only can you eat well with this recipe, you might snatch a mate.

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