From the USADEEPSOUTH article archives

by Don Drane

[Note from Ye Editor: "Yum! Don Drane shares this blow-by-blow method of cooking the best dadgum turkey you'll ever put in your mouth. Print this article off. Follow the instructions. Hooo, boy!"]


If you have never participated in or watched a whole turkey being deep-fried, you are probably one of the doubters. Most people who haven't actually done it say it can't be done and that only a fool would suggest that it could be done. At least they say that until they get their first slice of the finished product between their fingers.

Whole deep-fried turkey is some of the tastiest, moistest meat you will ever eat, if the job is done correctly.There are no short cuts.The process can be relatively costly, preparation is demanding and time consuming and the timing and temperature absolutely cannot be guesswork. You can spend between $75 and $100 frying a turkey, not including your equipment.You'll be buying propane, turkey, injector liquid, minimum 5 gallons of oil, plus side dishes and cheap beer.

Even if you consider yourself accomplished in the art, you might find something of benefit here, perhaps just one useful hint that might improve your own next one. Incidentally, there is absolutely no reason to wait all year until Thanksgiving or Christmas to heat up your turkey grease. Those long, open coolers back toward the meat market, the ones you hardly ever notice, are filled with turkeys all year long.

Turkey frying should never, ever be attempted indoors. Never consider doing this in any indoor structure, nor an outdoor shed with any dollar value.


You will need a fish-fry rig consisting at least of a sturdy iron burner assembly and a propane bottle. The ideal pot is a large stainless or aluminum pot--the type that comes with a basket insert and lid. However, the insert and lid need not be used in cooking a turkey. Never cook with the lid fully on. This can cause an explosion. The pots can be purchased at hardware stores, home & garden centers, military surplus type stores and larger sporting goods stores. Buy one that will hold at least 7 gallons of oil, capacity 26-34 quarts. Some turkey fry pots are slim and tall. These can limit the size bird you can fry. The all-in-one rigs available now will seriously limit you to a particular weight bird. And half the fun is in being able to move the turkey around while the hot oil is rolling.

You will be using between 4-6 gallons of oil and you need a minimum of 4-6 inches of pot wall above the grease to control boil over. A lifting hook is required. You can purchase one or you can make one using a strong pegboard hook. Bend the end of the 8-10 inch metal hook into a J-shape. This is the end of the hook you will use to lift the bird.

I recommend buying the 26-34 quartpot with basket-insert and lid because of its versatility. You can also use it to boil crawfish and shrimp or to simmer a huge stew for 30.

You also need at least half a roll of paper towels, your favorite 20-year-old Holiday Inn towel with the green stripe and some kind of tabletop surface to lay your stuff out on. This will be impressive. You'll look just like a surgeon with stainless steel instruments and sponges laid out on a tray.

Site Preparation

Locate a level, shaded spot outside. The process will take a while, so be sure the weather will cooperate. If rain is expected, a wind is blowing or it's the dead of winter, you can cook in your garage with the door UP.

Be sure the burner is level. Avoid burners set on tall, spindly or unstable legs. The pot full of oil and turkey will be very heavy, so it's essential that you not use unstable or unleveled equipment. If the burner is unstable or can be bumped over during cooking, you can absolutely ruin your shoes, as 6 gallons of hot grease will not wash out. If you cook in a carport or garage, place newspaper or a large busted-down cardboard box under the cooker because there will be some minor bubbling over, drips and spills that will stain the concrete. If your carport has years of accumulated oil and transmission fluid stains already, you may skip this step.

Dry Run

There is no substitute for the dry run. Some people will recommend that you fill the pot with water and put your bird inside to gauge the right amount of oil needed. If you do that, you'll have to thoroughly dry the pot and the turkey or it will result in hot, popping grease later.

Here's a better method. This is failsafe: Put your prepared bird in the empty pot and then add oil until the bird is totally submersed. Put in only enough oil to totally cover your bird plus 1/2 inch. Now lift your bird with your hook, drain the oil back into the pot from the bird's body cavity and place your bird in a large pan lined with paper towels. This is the perfect "no-guess" way to know exactly how much oil to heat. If you base your oil need on guesswork or some estimate you got from a friend and you have too much hot oil rolling at 350 degrees, and you lower a 20 pound turkey into it, what will you do to solve that problem? It's too late then to recover safely. You don't want a half-gallon of oil running over the side of the pot and into the flame. If you insist on guesswork, you should either have a nurse for a neighbor or have 911 on speed-dial.

Bird Preparation

You can use a turkey weighing between 12 and 22 pounds. Store bought or road-kill birds are equally appropriate. Always remove gravel from road-kill. Thaw frozen turkeys as you normally would, about 3 days in the refrigerator. Injection of spices is not essential, but is recommended. Inject him the night before and let him sit in a plastic garbage bag in the refrigerator overnight.

You can mix your own spice injection or buy a jar with needle at the grocery. The most popular one is Cajun Injector. Experiment with all the flavor varieties. Each glass bottle of liquid spices comes with instructions and a loading syringe if you need one.You can also buy your own needle from a veterinary supply house, or where you bought your pot, and create your own liquid. Inject a needle full into each breast, same hole, at three different angles, and in each leg. Some people use a dry spice rub on the outside. That will look pretty and impressive, but I think it just dissipates into the grease as soon as the turkey is lowered.

Be sure to trim most of the fat from the neck end, which must remain open and unobstructed for the grease to boil through the entire bird. Don't cut off all the excess fat though. It will fry great and everyone will want to snap off a fried crunchy piece and try it. Be sure to remove giblet sack and neck from inside the store-bought turkey and remove head and feet from road-kill (optional in Arkansas).

If the turkey has its legs bound together with plastic, remove the plastic. Melted plastic doesn't blend well with the spices. If your turkey's legs are bound with wire, don't count on the wire binding to lift or lower the turkey. This wire will invariably slip off while you're lifting the turkey out of the hot grease. I recommend running a strong piece of wire (15-18 inches) through the entire body cavity from one end to the other and twist-looping it three times tightly against the breast. Use a strong wire much thinner than a coat hanger. Then make a 2-inch loop, at the point where you twisted the wire, for your lifting hook to grasp. Commercially sold kits include an upright rod on a round base to position the turkey on during frying. If you use one of these kits, you won't need to run the wire.

Do not even think of using tongs or forks to lower or lift the bird. If you let a 15-pound turkey slip and fall into 5 gallons of hot oil, the party is over precisely at that point! Some people say they clip off the wings before frying a turkey. This is insane. Although the wing tips do turn dark and fry quicker than any other part of the bird, there is only one thing better than a crisp fried wing, and that is a crisp fried wing with a cold beer.


Turkeys should be fried at 325 degrees for exactly 3 1/2 minutes per pound. Recipes vary and I have gone with 350 many times and messed around with the minutes per pound part too.I find the best combination to be 325 @ 3.5 minutes per pound. If you threw away the plastic wrap the bird came in, go to the garbage and retrieve the weight/price sticker. Don't guess at the weight unless it's road-kill. Multiply the exact weight, including ounces, by 3.5 to determine the exact number of minutes to fry. Don't round numbers up or down. Get it right. Write it down and lay it on the table beside your cooker. Otherwise, 30 minutes into the frying, you'll forget your exact time.

Write down the time you plan to lower the turkey into the grease, add the exact cooking time and that's your lifting-out time. If the formula says 52.5 minutes, cook the turkey 52.5minutes, not an hour. Some recipes say cook until golden brown. That ain't right! It'll be golden brown long before the meat is done at the bone. Always use a deep fry grease thermometer. Try to purchase one with shaft about 10 inches long with a clip to snap onto the side of your pot. Don't use one with any plastic cap or clip on it. You want to bring your grease up to 340-350, not a degree higher. Your turkey is much cooler than the grease and it'll reduce the temperature to the desired 325. Regulate the temperature very closely to stay right on 325 the entire time. Letting your temperature rise and fall uncontrolled for more than one minute throws your entire cooking time off.

Lowering the turkey into the grease requires patience and safety. Never do it with bare arms. Wear an old long sleeve shirt plus a cooking mitt. The mitt is absolutely never optional. The grease will always pop when you lower the turkey. This is why you're out in the back yard. Lowering the turkey will take somewhere between 15 to 20 seconds. Take it as slow as the popping requires. Rushing to lower the bird will increase boil over and popping grease.

Feel free, if you can't resist, to shift the turkey around using your J-hook and the wire circle you formed when you ran the wire through the bird and looped it. Part of the art is being able to twist and roll and reposition the bird while cooking. The turkey will come to rest at a stable floating spot and won't require any attention until time to lift it out. This will impress all the guys standing around in loafers sipping Southern Comfort. All the while you're cooking, they'll be thinking, "Man, I can do this. And I've got some shortcuts figured out."

Give them a copy of this before they leave your house. And remind them that there are no shortcuts.

Ding! When the bell goes off, it's time to get your sleeve and mitt back on. Turn off the propane bottle. Lift the turkey with your J-hook hooked into the wire ring. Raise the turkey above the grease and stop right there. With the turkey just above the grease, use a long fork in the other hand to tilt him so the hot oil will run out of the body cavity back into the pot.

Now, lower the turkey into your large pan or cookie sheet that you have lined with paper towels. Use wire pliers to clip the wire, slide it out of the bird and discard it. Move to the kitchen or picnic table. You may think the turkey is burned or overcooked; however, it absolutely is not if you followed the instructions. It will be unbelievably crisp and moist, with all the juices sealed inside. No grease isinside the turkey. You're about to become a very popular man.

Carve the turkey as usual. He's still very hot. Break off a crisp piece of skin or wing and fight over it, savor it and see if you can keep from breaking off another piece. Right about this point is when you say, "I will never eat another baked turkey!" And the naysayer will say, "I don't know if I want any of that or not." Yeah, right.

Notes: Try frying a whole chicken first and pulling it off the bone for snacks while your turkey is cooking. The chicken will fry the same way and is out of this world if you inject it. Chicken requires an adjustment to the cooking time. It must be fried for 9 minutes per pound instead of 3.5 minutes. Also, you can flour, salt and pepper livers and fry them at the same time the chicken or turkey is frying, using a wire-ladle or fry-basket to remove them.

It is absolutely essential that you not try to find shortcuts. If you want an overcooked or undercooked turkey or a fire or sloshing grease or a burned forearm, use all the shortcuts you want. If that's your plan, go ahead and invite the nurse over early. Otherwise, go with the instructions.

Some people insist on peanut oil or canola oil. Neither is mandatory or better for that matter. Any good quality vegetable oil will do. If your friends are impressed with peanut oil, you might want to buy peanut oil initially in a 5 pound jug, use it the first time, and then, after you've fried 2 or 3 times in the peanut oil, use cheap oil and pour it up in the peanut oil bottle so your friends will think you cook with peanut oil. I just use cheap oil.

It is not necessary to remove the cooled-down oil from the cook pot. You can store it right in the covered pot and use it for 6 months, not to exceed 4 turkeys. The grease will not have food particles or other impurities in it and it'll be fine left right in the securely covered pot. Optionally, you can pour up the grease strained through a cheesecloth or filter, but then you'll have to thoroughly clean out the pot each time.

Leftovers (if any)

You remember that leftover baked (dry) turkey that sits in the refrigerator for days unless you absolutely force the kids to eat a turkey sandwich? Those days are gone! If you have any fried turkey slices left over, you'll be returning to the refrigerator off and on all afternoon long, relishing the moist, flavorful meat and crispness.

Soup: If you're really into it, you can now boil down the turkey carcass, wings and chipped leftovers in a large soup pot. Add everything to a large soup pot, add about 2 quarts of water, cook this all down for about 20 minutes on a slow boil, then turn off heat and set aside to cool for 30 minutes. When cool, discard all bones and skin. Freeze in a large container with water/brine.

Then, a couple of months later, when you're ready for turkey-vegetable soup: thaw, add one 16-oz package frozen vegetables, two cans of small potatoes, half a cup of chopped onions, two cloves fresh knife-flattened garlic, one cup diced celery and simmer for 30-45 minutes, covered. Everything is already cooked. Great soup.

Like with anything else worth doing right, the preparation and cleanup take more time than consuming the delicacy you've produced.

The best way to lose points with your wife is to leave your 10-inch thermometer, the J-hook, the fried liver dipper-basket, your pan or cookie sheet, your long meat-fork and the injection syringe lying beside the sink for her to wash. Wash them yourself, dry 'em off and store in a large cloth sack hanging on a nail in the garage. Next time you don't have to hunt for them.

If you have comments, positive or negative, after you try my suggestions, let me know at 106 Aspen Drive, Madison, MS 39110, or email me at [email][/email]

Good luck. Enjoy!


Dear Don,
I tried your recipe for deep frying turkey. I am in San Jose, Costa Rica, and everybody here--locals and gringos--were telling me that it could not be done. After a week of trying to find all the stuff I needed "kind of quick for Costa Rica time," I went to work. I had a 12 pound turkey and I had the oil at 345' when I put the turkey in; brought the heat down to 275 and it stayed there and would not go up. I was not going to take it out, so I gave it 20 more minutes at that temperature. I was not able to follow your recommended 3.5 per lbs at 325, but it was out of this world. Thank you so much for having that recipe over the internet.--M. Hernandez


QUESTION: from Bob in Dallas
Great site. I just fried my first turkey, it was great. A question about oil storage -- my family insists it cannot be safe to store the oil unrefrigerated after it has been used to fry a turkey. How did you reach the conclusion that storing the oil in the pot, unrefrigerated, is safe? Thanks.

Re: Shelving used oil. You might want to check with your county extension service if your state has one. In MS, the Extension Service is connected with Miss State University. Their advice is that it is perfectly safe to store used oil or grease once used and to reuse it. The cautions they issue are:
* It should not be stored in open containers (duhh).
* It should not be stored at temperatures above 80 degrees.
* It should be discarded after 3 months storage.
* It is recommended that it be reused no more than 5 times.

Do you think fish houses, McDonalds and other restaurants throw out oil after each use? Did your grandmomma not pour up grease after she fried chicken and reuse it at least twice more? Commercial restaurant supply houses sell special filters to remove meal from used grease so the meal won't burn the next time the grease is used? In the South, nobody would marry a girl who insisted on throwing out the grease each time she fried minute steaks or chicken-fried steak.

Now, if the oil had stuff like flour and meal and such in it, I would not think of retaining it. My grease, once used and poured through a filter screen, appears unused and I always (for at least 17 years now), have used it at least 3 more times before discarding it. Of course, most of my turkey frying activity is November through January so the temp is obviously in a great range for storage. If it would make one feel safer, I would recommend pouring it up through a strainer, back into the gallon jugs and placing it in the refrigerator in the garage purchased especially for beer.

I wash out ziplock bags in hot water and reuse them too.


Hi, Don,
Great article. I've just gotten into deep-frying and it is a tricky deal. Hadn't seen your piece before my maiden voyage. Wish I had if for no reason that clipping the neck fat to let the oil into the body cavity. Duh!!! We're doing two chickens today (first time). Will try your recommendation of 9 min/lb.
FYI, my wife and I recently had "Cuban fried snapper" in the Florida Keys. The fish was whole with scales, cross-hatched with fairly deep knife cuts into which were rubbed some mighty fine seasonings . . . and then deep fried. You eat the whole thing, crispy scales included. Best fish we've ever had. Have you tried this or something like it? Any thought on how long to keep the fish in the oil? Temperature? Keep on fryin', bro!


  • 17 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
  • My husband and I have fried turkey the past few years for Thanksgiving and other get-togethers. (ok, really my husband has done the actual frying of the bird but I do help with clean-up and other food preparations)

    You are right - once you've had fried turkey you will never go back to baked turkey!

    Even tho' we're (ok, he's) not a novice I still printed out your tips because you offered some good, sound advice. He always filters out the oil each time and that is probably the number one reason we don't eat fried turkey/chicken more often. It is such a pain to clean!! Now knowing we can safely store the oil in the pan and re-use I know we'll enjoy this meal more often!

    Thanks! And Happy Thanksgiving!

    For those non-belivers, try it just the way Don suggested - it will be the best turkey you have ever eaten, guaranteed.
  • Don, my SO lets the oil cool off, strains it a bit, and puts in our chest freezer. Lasts a long time. Just did one during our recent sojourn to Phoenix International Raceway for NASCAR. They are so good!
  • Shuuuuuuut Uppppppp! I don't want to hear about that trip since I could not be there. Hope you propped up my picture so I could enjoy it. #####, that sounds like fun! Haven't tried freezing the oil, but will look into it. As long as it's not getting /weather/hot, it's not going to get rancid. Between Thanksgiving and maybe March, I fry between 10 and 20 turkeys in maybe 4 oil changes. Since it's cold here during those months, I leave the oil in the garage in a container. I have a strainer, but never get anything in it. I have just bought my quart of Wild Turkey 101 proof for Thanksgiving frying and also my 120 proof Wild Turkey Special Blend for Christmas frying. The question is, can I wait?
  • Sounds like an awful lot of work for a turkey. Isn't fried not good for ya anyway? The way my ma and dad cooked it growing up, it was always juicy, as long as ya baste it every so often.

  • HRgalME, it sounds like a lot of work reading it, but after you've done a few it's so easy. Really, the indoor preparations take much longer. I boiled the gizzard, heart and neck, saved the broth for gravy, made the giblet stuffing and green beans with onions and bacon, peeled and sliced the potatoes all before the race. All the SO had to do was rinse out the turkey, hand me the inside package with the stuff, and pack it back away in ice. After the race I heated all the stuff up, made the mashed potatoes and gravy, and got all the acoutrements out. He heated the oil and dropped the bird in. Less than an hour later we were having a great meal and the only person being told how wonderful and delicious it was was HIM! Hmmmph.

    And Don, I did think of you all, especially that can your name NOT come to my head when I'm sitting at NASCAR drinking a Miller Lite eating fried turkey!

    I think the bottle you bought for the Thanksgiving turkey is safe, but I'd have my doubts about the bottle you bought for the Christmas turkey!
  • Don -

    Wanted to add a couple of "tips" from my experience with deep fried turkeys. We have been doing turkeys for several years and have always saved the oil as well. It's amazing how many people DON'T know about deep fried turkey but it only takes one taste to make someone a convert!!!

    When it comes to injecting the turkey, my favorite is italian dressing. We strain the dressing to remove the little bits of seasoning so they don't get stuck in the injector. This gives the turkey a really nice flavor without the "heat" you get from some of the other injectable marinades.

    The other issue involves the skin. I know this may sound crazy and most people think I'm crazy when I mention it...until they taste it but we use mustard on the skin of the turkey. Nothing fancy just regular old yellow mustard, slathered all over the skin of the turkey. This seems to hold the marinade in the turkey better and gives the skin a fantastic taste. My family is not fond of mustard as a whole but we fight over who gets the skin on the turkey. Give it a try!!

  • I'll try that. I'm frying three, maybe four, Thursday. I've found that whatever spices are rubbed on the skin, just disappear into the grease. But, the mustard, now you have something there! To the post which questioned frying being 'bad' for you. The grease doesn't get into the bird. The skin immediately seals like the fried skin on a chicken. What can I say...the doubtful will not change until they actually bite into a piece of crispy skin or a slice of that wonderfully tender and juicy white meat. Now, if I can just get you to listen to this cork when it pops out of the Wild Turkey bottle. Shhhhsssh. Pawwwppp. There, did you hear it? Hand me your glass.
  • Sounds awesome and certainly fun to read, but can you stuff the bird? My favorite part of turkey day is the stuffing/dressing that is made inside the bird.
  • You could NOT stuff the bird with standard dressing. I am going to try a fried turducken though. I've had them baked and am anxious to see how they are fried. It's a deboned hen, stuffed inside a deboned duck, fried inside a turkey. I'm afraid the fry calculus would be screwed up since a chicken takes 9 minutes per pound compared to the turkey's 3.5 minutes per pound, but I'll have to put a pencil to the math. I have also read that it's not a good idea to contaminate dressing by stuffing it inside the turkey. We always have fixed the dressing in a large rectangular pyrex dish anyway. Enjoy whatever you do and make your husband clean up!
  • Don we did a four legged turkey twice - chicken stuffed inside a turkey. Fried it based on total weight and it came out just fine!
  • And it had two nuggets, right? That's Miller Lite, right?
  • Don,
    Thank you for such detailed instructions! There are a couple of guys here at work that swear by their fried turkey but their directions for cooking same leave a lot to be desired. Now I know what I want Santa to bring me: the "proper" equipment for Southern Fried Turkey.
  • I wrote this some years ago before the turkey frying kit became really popular. Most people use the fry kit now with the skinny pot and the rod you place the turkey on in the pot. If you go that route, you must use a relatively small turkey (10-12). I do absolutely guarantee you that if you follow my instructions, the turkey will be safely cooked and come out marvelously. I just injected three.
  • Here's the best article and recipe! Well worth the reading.


  • I've printed it out to use if we buy a deep fryer. Happy Christmas Everyone!!!

    Cheryl C.
  • Thanks, Don.

    Made my first fried turkey this year.
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