Is it Safe to Deep Fry a Turkey? (Safety Tips)

Every year at Thanksgiving we oven cook our turkey, which can leave it a bit dry. Frying is another option we’ve never tried, but is this safe?

It is safe to deep fry a turkey, but only if you use a specially designed turkey fryer and never deep fry it from frozen. Peanut oil is ideal for frying a turkey but has to reach 350 degrees fahrenheit before cooking. Ensure you turn off the fryer after use and keep a fire extinguisher nearby too.

Let’s dive down into the subject of deep-frying a turkey in more detail, and discover how to do it safely so you have a perfectly cooked thanksgiving bird without burning the house down…

Is it Safe to Deep Fry a Turkey?

Can You Safely Deep-fry a Turkey? (Inside or Outside?)

Yes, you can safely deep-fry a whole turkey, provided you follow certain safety measures (and we’ll look closely at those in this article). You can buy dedicated turkey fryers specifically for this job, and there are both outdoor and indoor (countertop) models.

Frying a turkey is definitely worth the effort: think of that beautifully crispy skin and succulent meat! However, frying on this scale can be tricky, so it’s worth reading up on how to cook it safely and correctly before you go ahead.

Why Should You Never Deep-fry a Frozen Turkey?

We all know what happens when hot oil and water meet, right? Deep-frying a frozen turkey can even cause the turkey to explode when the wet meat hits the oil.

So if you have a frozen bird that you want to fry, make extra sure that it’s 100% thawed before you lower it into the oil.

Check its temperature to make sure it’s defrosted, then dry it thoroughly before cooking it. Even a small pocket of moisture remaining in the cavity can cause a real problem.

Can a Deep-fried Turkey Explode?

Yes, unfortunately, this isn’t an urban legend: turkeys can explode in the deep fryer. Why is this? Well, you know what it’s like when a splash of water gets into a hot skillet?

There are sizzles and splashes and hot oil spits out of the pan. Imagine that ten, twenty, thirty-fold when an enormous, wet turkey comes into contact with 350 degree fahrenheit oil.

The easiest way to prevent exploding turkeys is never to deep-fry a frozen bird. Even just a small remaining frost pocket in a defrosted bird can cause big problems when it’s plunged into the turkey fryer.

What Are Some Safety Precautions for Deep-frying a Turkey?

We’ve looked at making sure that the turkey is defrosted and dry, but what other safety precautions do we need to take? The following safety tips apply to both indoor and outdoor cooking.

  • Always set up your fryer as per the manufacturer’s instructions, and make sure the surface is flat and away from anything flammable
  • Get the right oil. The oil has to reach 350 degrees fahrenheit, so pick an oil with a high smoking point, such as peanut oil. Make sure you fill the fryer on or below the marker as you don’t want it to spill out
  • Keep kids and pets well out of reach of the fryer
  • Use tongs with a good grip, and you may also want to wear gauntlets and a pair of eye goggles
  • Never leave a deep-frying turkey unattended
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case oil overtips onto the burners (yes, this sounds dramatic and hopefully you’ll never need it, but it’s always best to be prepared!)
  • When the turkey has had its time, check it with a meat thermometer (it must be at least 170 degrees fahrenheit everywhere to be safe to eat)
  • When the turkey is cooked, switch off the fryer and make sure that the oil cools safely
  • When the fryer has cooled, transfer the oil into a container ready for next time, and thoroughly wash and dry the fryer, ready for next time

Do You Deep-fry Turkey With Lid on or Off?

We’d say always leave your turkey uncovered. This prevents the risk of condensation building up on the underside of the lid, risking water splashes (definitely not something you want!).

You can also see the progress of the bird cooking with the lid off, and your home or yard will smell amazing.

Should I Inject a Turkey Before Deep-frying?

Absolutely, as injecting a turkey introduces wonderful flavors to the meat, and you can’t exactly baste the bird while it’s in the fryer.

Inject the turkey at least 12 hours before you cook it, so that the flavors have the chance to really penetrate the meat. If you can, we’d suggest starting this process around 36 hours before you cook the turkey.

If you’re looking for a new recipe for your deep-fried turkey, try John Lovick’s zingy cajun spiced turkey recipe. We guarantee that your mouth will be watering by the time you’ve watched this short cooking film!

What Causes Turkey Fryer Fires?

We’ve already mentioned that the turkey needs to be bone dry, because hot oil and water don’t mix. If you plunge a wet turkey into boiling oil, the oil can sizzle up and over the top of the fryer, potentially landing on the burner.

According to the FDNY, hot oil spilling onto the burner is the biggest cause of turkey fryer fires. They also caution against fryers that easily tip over, hence the importance of a flat surface and setting up the fryer correctly. 

There can also be problems with the oil becoming too hot. Most turkey fryers are pretty simple machines and don’t have thermostats, so you have to control the temperature manually.

This is one of the reasons why you mustn’t leave the fryer unattended: you have to keep adjusting the temperature to keep the oil at a steady 350 degrees fahrenheit.

How Big of Turkey Can You Deep-fry?

Well, this really depends on the size of your turkey fryer. The rule is that the turkey has to be completely submerged in the oil, and if it’s too big to do this, it can’t be deep fried (or at least, not in one piece).

Generally, you can easily deep-fry a bird that weighs up to about 14 or 15 pounds, if you want to cook it whole. If you’re cooking a bird for a holiday feast, naturally you want to present it whole, so bear this in mind when you’re choosing your cooking method. Larger than this, and you’ll have to fry the legs separately in many frying machines.

How Do You Prepare a Turkey for Deep-frying?

As we keep saying, the most important thing is to make sure your turkey is completely dry before deep-frying it. So, completely defrost it if you’re using a frozen bird, and even with a fresh turkey, pat the skin dry before submerging it in the oil.

Because you can’t baste a frying turkey, inject it with marinade at least 12 hours before cooking it. You could also soak it in brine for 18 to 24 hours before cooking it (again, dry it thoroughly).

Untie the turkey’s legs, remove anything that you don’t want to cook, and unless you need to take off the legs, the bird is now good to go. Keep it simple, as the frying process will impart wonderful flavors and create the best skin you’ve ever tasted.

Deep frying a turkey

What Should You Not Fry a Turkey in?

Some people say “your kitchen!” Indeed, because you want to avoid frying near anything flammable, the yard can be a good option.

Stick to using a proper turkey fryer, which is designed for this specific job, and will easily take a good-sized turkey. It’s best not to adapt anything else, as it might be less stable.

How Do You Fry a Turkey Without Catching Fire?

There are several simple precautions you can take to deep-fry a turkey without it catching fire. The main bing you are trying to prevent is oil spilling out and splashing onto the burner, or the whole unit falling over. Stick to these rules:

  • Use a proper turkey fryer, and assemble it as per the maker’s instructions, on a level surface
  • Don’t fry the turkey near anything flammable (including overhead cupboards)
  • Use a high-smoking oil and fill the fryer to the correct level
  • Make sure everything is dry: bird, fryer, and tongs
  • Don’t leave the fryer unattended, and keep checking the temperature
  • Make sure kids and pets can’t get near the fryer

Final Thoughts

So it looks like if you take the right precautions and do it properly (like anything else worth doing well), then deep-frying a turkey is nothing to worry about.

I think we’ll definitely give it a try this year, as last Thanksgiving I virtually cremated the turkey by oven cooking it – and my father-in-law and wife were both less than impressed! 🙂