If the prospect of choking down tasteless, dried-out turkey for Thanksgiving makes you want to protest, give your oven the pink slip this year and invest in a deep fryer.
Story: Shemir Wiles Photos: Fred Lopez
I hate dry turkey. It’s tough. It’s stringy. It’s bland. And no matter how many globs of gravy you slather on it, that cardboard carved-up bird is still as dry as a bone in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
For years I have heard people rave about deep-fried turkey, and I thought to myself, “They’ll deep fry just about anything in the South.” But I also thought I wanted to — no — I needed to try it. If there was even a sliver of a chance I could savor moist, flavorful turkey, I was going to look for it. And thank goodness, I found it popping and sizzling in a stainless steel fryer behind Carroll Jaskulski’s Mount Dora home.
Carroll calls himself a “confident amateur” when it comes to his skills in the kitchen. His love of food stems from his childhood. Growing up with a Sicilian mother meant food was synonymous with love and family. Moreover, she showed him how to be safe around the kitchen. As a young boy in the Boy Scouts, Carroll learned the intricacies of cooking over an open flame. When he found himself a single parent to his children, he refused to be a “drive-thru dad,” opting instead to prepare fresh, well-balanced meals.
For Thanksgiving, Carroll explains it has been family tradition to always have two birds: a large one roasted the traditional way and a smaller one cooked with a theme in mind (Cuban-style and Jamaican jerk-infused turkeys have been favorites of the past). However, one year, Carroll’s son Chris, who has been frying turkeys since his college days, suggested having fried turkey as an option. And from the very first bite, Carroll was hooked.
“I love food anyway so this is just one more item in my repertoire,” he says. “So many people complain about turkey being dry, but frying it keeps it moist on the inside with a nice crunch on the outside. Plus, it’s a fun process.”
1. If you want to draw out the natural flavors of your turkey while keeping it super moist, brine it. Carroll suggests soaking it in the solution for about an hour per pound. While he also likes to inject marinades into turkeys, Carroll explains it’s much harder to keep the taste consistent. “Sometimes you end up with pockets of intense flavor,” he says.
2. Make sure your turkey is patted dry before you submerge it in the oil. Water and oil don’t mix and can result in lots of popping — and possibly a fiery mess.
3. Give the turkey a light spray with olive oil and season your turkey to taste. Carroll chose a bit of coarse kosher salt, onion powder, and ground black pepper.
4. If you love turkey wings, cut off the wings before frying the entire turkey. “My son and I love the wings, but because they are less meaty they are almost inedible when you fry them with the whole turkey,” Carroll says. “So we cook them separately by themselves.” In fact, Carroll loves wings so much, he buys extra to fry. When the wings are done, he paints them with either a homemade barbecue sauce or buffalo sauce.
5. Make sure the oil is at the right temperature: between 350 and 375 degrees. And slowly lower your turkey into the oil. Just dropping it in can cause the oil to bubble over, which is extremely dangerous.
I felt like one of Pavlov’s dogs as I watched the turkey transform into deep-fried excellence. And while the nearly hour wait seemed torturous, the end result made it all worth it. The turkey was succulent, full of flavor, and perfectly palatable without the need for gravy. However, the giblet gravy Carroll prepared was too heavenly to pass up.
As much as I thought the hype surrounding deep-fried turkey was possibly exaggerated, I now understand why so many people swear by it and won’t even touch an oven-roasted turkey for Thanksgiving. If it wasn’t for my fear of burning down my house (and everything within in a five-mile radius), I would attempt to fry a bird myself this year. However, if you are braver and less accident prone than I am, here is a foolproof recipe for deep-fried turkey you can try with your family this year.
- 1 (13- to 14-pound) fresh turkey, with giblets removed
- 1 1/2 gallons water
- 1 gallon apple cider
- 3 large onions, sliced
- 12 garlic cloves, chopped
- 6 whole bay leaves
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups kosher salt
- Place the water, apple cider vinegar, kosher salt, and brown sugar into a container large enough to hold the turkey and brine. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve completely. Add chopped garlic, onions, and bay leaves to mixture. Gently lower the turkey into the container. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure that it is fully immersed in the brine. Cover and set in a cool dry place for 8 to 14 hours.
- Remove the turkey from the brine, rinse, and pat dry. Place the turkey onto the fry pot stand, breast end down and legs facing up. Allow the turkey to reach room temperature 30 minutes before frying. Invert the wing tips and tuck them in tightly to prevent burning, or remove the wings and fry separately.
- Place five gallons of peanut oil into a 30-quart turkey fryer and set over high heat on an outside propane burner with a sturdy structure. Using a candy thermometer to check the temperature, heat the oil to 375 degrees. Once the temperature has reached 375 degrees, slowly lower the bird into the fryer. Keep the oil temperature between 350 to 375 degrees. After 35 minutes, check the temperature of the turkey using a meat thermometer. Once the breast reaches 150 degrees, gently remove the turkey from the oil and allow to rest for 30 minutes. Carve as desired and serve.
Southern Broccoli Slaw
Recipe courtesy of Carroll Jaskulski
- 2 (12-oz.) bags broccoli slaw
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup canola oil
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 1 cup golden raisins
- Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Maple Pecan Sweet Potatoes
Recipe courtesy of Carroll Jaskulski
- 4 sweet potatoes
- 2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 6 drops pecan extract
- A dash of salt
- Mix butter, pecans, syrup, extract, and salt in a bowl. Bake potatoes at 375 degrees for one hour. Slice open potatoes, top with butter, and serve.
FIVE TIPS FOR FRYING TURKEY SAFELY
- Stay away from the house – Set up the fryer more than 10 feet away from your home and keep children and pets away. Never leave it unattended.
- Find flat ground – The oil must be even and steady at all times to ensure safety. Make sure to place the fryer on a flat, level surface and carefully gauge the amount of oil needed.
- Use a thawed, dry turkey – Extra water will cause the oil to bubble furiously and spill over. If oil spills from the fryer onto the burner, it can cause a fire.
- Monitor the temperature – Use caution when touching the turkey fryer. The lid and handle can become very hot and could cause burns. Also, be sure to keep track of the oil’s temperature as many fryers do not have their own thermostats.
- Be prepared – Have a fire extinguisher (multipurpose, dry-powder) ready at all times in the event that the oil ignites.