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Talkin' Turkey

Deep-fried Turkey
by John Raven, Ph.B.

Here we are at the beginning of the holiday season. Time to haul out the roasting pans, turkey fryers and smokers.

Roasting and brining the bird

Theres not a lot of new information on the traditional method of cooking the turkey. The only thing that might be interesting is to try "brining" your bird. This is nothing more complicated than soaking the bird overnight in salt water in the icebox. You need a container large enough to hold the bird submerged in water, and youll need room enough in the icebox for it to set overnight.

The brine is composed of one cup of salt per one gallon of water. Ordinary table salt is fine. Make sure your turkey is completely thawed before you start the process, remove the giblets, and give it a good washing inside and out before you put it in the brine.

When you remove it from the brine, rinse well in cold water and pat dry before roasting it as usual. The brine process is said to make for a moister, more flavorful bird with a firmer breast.

Frying a turkey

Deep-frying turkeys has become very popular over the past years. Nearly every hardware or home store has a batch of fryers on display. Buying a turkey fryer is like buying anything else: You get what you pay for. You want a fryer with at least a 28-quart cooking pot. It needs a large burner to heat the oil quickly. Look for workmanship on the product and brand names.

With the fryer, you need a device for holding the turkey while you are moving it into and out of the hot oil. You cant do it with a pair of tongs or a fork. The device that goes through the cavity of the bird and has a removable retainer on the bottom works best. In a pinch, a large frying basket will do.

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There's a case to be made for "injecting" the turkey; that is, using a large hypodermic needle to inject spices under the skin of the bird before its cooked. Note: Thats under the skin -- not in the meat. Just pinch up a fold of skin so the needle goes between the skin and the flesh. You can find injectors at most kitchen or restaurant supply stores. Or the fryer you buy might include one. The seasoning you use is up to you.

You DO NOT brine a turkey before frying. There will be excess water, and it will make a big mess when it hits the hot oil.

The oil of choice for frying turkeys is peanut oil. Peanut oil will not smoke at high temperature, as other oils will. I recently priced peanut oil at about seven dollars a gallon. If you have the minimum size pot (28 quart) you will need about five gallons of peanut or other oil.

You want to keep the level of the oil at least four inches below the top of the pot. Six inches would be better. The oil will bubble up when the turkey goes in, and you do not want the oil to spill over the top of the pot onto the burner.

When you get ready to do the frying, you want your cooking pot to be OUTSIDE. Outside as in out of the house. Never try frying a turkey inside a building unless you want to see fire trucks up close and personal.

The turkey is patted as dry as possible with paper towels before frying. Season the turkey inside and out with your favorite spices. If the turkey has one of those pop up things, get rid of it. It could cause an unusual taste if it gets too hot. Make sure the openings at the front and rear of the bird are open so the oil can get inside and drain out when its done. Use a thermometer and heat the oil to 400 degrees. Use a thermometer; dont guess at it. A candy thermometer will work just fine.

Now that you have a dry turkey mounted on the dipping apparatus and the oil is the correct temperature, cut off the burner. Get an assistant to help you dip just the bottom part of the bird in the hot oil. The oil is going to sputter and bubble. Raise the bird and let the oil settle down. Dip the bird a little farther again raising and letting the oil quiet down. Do this until you have completely submerged the bird and the oil is not acting up too bad.

Now you relight the burner. If the temperature has dropped below 350 degrees, turn the burner on "High" until the oil comes up to 350 to 365 degrees, then cut the burner back to maintain the cooking temperature.

Cooking time for the turkey is 3-1/2 minutes per pound. A 15-pound turkey will be done in 52.5 minutes if I have the math correct. You dont want to try to fry a turkey larger than 15 pounds. Ten to 12 pounds is ideal. If you need a lot of turkey, fry two or three. Trust me.

When you are ready to remove the turkey from the oil, cut the burner off. If you drip oil on the hot burner it WILL CATCH FIRE. Again, trust me. It wouldnt hurt a thing to have a good fire extinguisher on hand in case something goes amiss.

I cant stress this enough, but again, be careful! You are dealing with oil twice as hot as boiling water. Keep the kids and clumsy adults way away from the cooker. Keep the pets away. Use good common sense and youll have a great fried turkey.

Smoked turkey

Smoked turkey is about as good as it gets. There are just a couple of things to pay attention to. You want indirect heat at about 250 degrees. For smoke flavor, oak is hard to beat. For something a little sharper, mesquite or hickory. Some prefer mild pecan or fruitwood, apple, pear, etc.

Make sure the bird is completely thawed before starting the cooking process. Wash him real good inside and out with cool water. Pat him dry with paper towels. Add your favorite seasoning inside and out. Its not a good idea to try to stuff a smoked turkey. At the low temperature, it takes too long for the stuffing to come up to the 140-degree safe temperature. You can put a peeled apple or a big onion in the body cavity to promote moisture and flavor. Make sure the neck opening and the rear opening are not blocked so that the heat can enter the bird.

The bird will need occasional basting with an oil based baste. Just plain old Italian dressing is hard to beat.

You can start checking for doneness after about five hours. Use a thermometer in the thickest part of the thigh. You need 160 degrees there.

There we have it. Everything you need to know to have the best roasted, fried and smoked turkeys on your block this holiday season.

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