Frying up food and family memories – the safe way

Deep fryer wedding gift a gateway to a new way to cook the Thanksgiving meal
By: Andrew DiLuccia, Managing Editor
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Today many of us will be gathered around the dinner table with our families and closest friends to share in the bounty of our lives and good food.
While spending time with, and being grateful for the ones we love is paramount, those moments play a supporting role come dinnertime when, in many cases, that golden bird comes to the table.
I remember growing up, hearing my mother stumble out of her bedroom and into the kitchen to get that big ol’ turkey into the oven as the sun was just starting to light up the sky. We always had a full house on Thanksgiving, so a 20-plus-pound bird was necessary – and so was the longer cooking time.
I relished the moment when I could host my own Thanksgiving in my house, and was excited at the prospect of creating my own traditions. Well my opportunity came a couple of years ago. And we celebrated it in a unique way.
When my wife and I were unwrapping wedding gifts some seven years ago, we came across a large box. Inside, to our surprise, was a deep fryer from friends of ours. No, not the kind you use for doing French fries or something like that in the kitchen, but a big stock-pot sized one for doing things like – you guessed it, turkey.
So we said to ourselves, ‘Well, when we’re in a place where we can use it (we were living in a small apartment at the time), we’ll break it out.” So more than two years ago when we moved into our home we deep-fried our first turkey on our first Thanksgiving in our house, and we couldn’t have been happier.
I’ve had my fair share of turkeys over the years, and they’ve been prepared all kinds of ways – barbecued, smoked and the traditional roasted. But I have to say, the deep fried is one of the best I’ve had, and we’ll be having it again today. There’s something to be said about that visual of the turkey’s crisp golden skin as it’s pulled out of the fryer. And the smell that emanates from the deep fryer as the turkey cooks makes the salivary glands work overtime.
While I’d heard the concerns when I mentioned to friends and family that we would be deep frying a turkey – “Isn’t it oily tasting?” “That doesn’t sound good,” or just plain old “ugh” – I was still determined to give it a shot. And I have to say, they were all wrong. It was one of the moistest and savory turkeys I’ve had. There was no oily taste at all, just great flavor. I was a believer on that Thanksgiving, and now I’m ready to do it again.
There might be some of you out there today who are rookies, but don’t worry, if you follow the directions — this means you fellas — you should be on your way to a great tasting turkey.
Now don’t get me wrong, that first time is an unnerving time. You hear all the horror stories — people who have burned their houses down, or nearly did, trying to deep fry a turkey. And with Thanksgiving being the leading day for home cooking fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (and that usually just involves oven cooking), it can make you feel that same anxiety a turkey feels when it sees a tree stump and an ax.
So here are a few common sense ways I avoid burning my house down, and you can use these, too. First off, I cannot stress this enough, make sure that turkey is defrosted. Ask my wife, I was so incessant on this point that I thought she was going to deep fry me if I didn’t stop asking if the bird was completely thawed. However, there’s nothing worse than mixing hot cooking oil (350 degrees) with a bird that is still frozen. You’ve heard the phrase oil and water don’t mix, right?
There’s a litany of videos on YouTube that will show just what happens when you mix a frozen turkey and hot oil – in a word, firebomb. So, let’s make sure the bird is thawed. Secondly, do it in a well ventilated area outdoors!
Do not try this in your garage or under an awning or anything like that. I don’t know how many stories I’ve read where people’s garages and homes have caught fire because they were deep frying their turkey in confined spaces. If it’s super windy, be cautious. If it’s raining hard, I would say go to plan B.
Another way to avoid flames, fill up your stock pot with water and dip your turkey in and check for water displacement. Most fryers will have fill lines, but at least this way you know for sure how much oil to add so it doesn’t overflow when you put the turkey in. Again, there are plenty of stories out there where people fill the pot to the top with oil and then place the turkey in – not a good call.
Keep a fire extinguisher handy. In fact, have a deep fry turkey team. Along with yourself, get another person to help you put the turkey in, and one more to be on standby with the fire extinguisher in case anything goes awry.
Also, keep the kids and fowl-loving animals (in my case a 150-pound Alaskan malamute with an affinity for turkey) inside when you begin. You don’t want distractions or them getting hurt.
The fire extinguisher is a must. If, unfortunately, you have a fire, do not go for the garden hose. You’ll do a better job of spreading that fire around your yard than you will putting it out.
Those are some the keys when it comes to safety. When it comes to flavor, there’s a whole world of ways to do it. Some folks like to inject the turkey with certain marinades, others like to brine. My family and I fall in the later category. We get ourselves a nice, clean 5-gallon bucket and brine our turkey in it. Again there’s a host of brines, both ready-made and those you can make yourself, out there. We usually give it minimum of 24 hours to let it marinate.
Well you just got a little window into what my day will be like today and I hope yours will be just as enjoyable as ours. Because as we wait for that turkey to cook, it usually takes a couple hours depending on the size or your bird, we’re sitting by the pot talking, laughing and catching up. Then we’re rewarded for our preparation and watchfulness with a sumptuous dinner with family – the way it should be.
Happy Thanksgiving.
Reach the Journal’s Andrew DiLuccia at