The Cold, Hard Football Facts are masters of the deep-fried turkey; there's our resident Potentate of Pigskin Kerry J. Byrne with one of his bronzed parking-lot beauties at a recent football game. Behold the majesty! (Photo by our pigskin pal Alan Miller.)
Deep-frying turkey is one of the easiest but coolest tricks in the tailgate trade. When you pull the bronzed bird from the bubbling oil, you're sure to attract a crowd of lesser tailgaters, even a few "we're not worthy" bows from passers-by.
Here's what you need:
A high-quality deep-fried turkey kit. See "Deep-frying for championship tailgating" for more information. But quickly speaking, you can find deep-fry kits online at places like www.turkey-fryers-online.com and at our favorite Web site, www.sausagemaker.com. Everyone from Home Depot to Wal-Mart sells turkey fryers these days, too.
A food-grade hypodermic needle. Sausagemaker.com sells these, too. You'll need one if you want to inject your bird with Cajun spices, which for many is the purpose of having deep-fried turkey in the first place.
A marinade to inject in your bird. Emeril Lagasse has a neat recipe that we've used before. You'll have to rub the skin and cavity of the bird with salt, pepper and any other spices you want to use, and then use the marinade to inject into the bird's breast, thighs, etc. Be generous. And remember, you need to do this the day before frying, to let the spices settle. Put the bird or birds in a tin pan, cover it with foil, and put it in your fridge overnight.
Other spice rubs. If you don't want to go through all the effort of creating a marinade and injecting your bird, you can make a simple, tasty and virtually effort-free bird with a mixture of Old Bay and Bell's Seasoning. Mix a very generous portion of these spices together (about half-and-half of each) and rub it all over the bird's skin and cavity. You can do this the night before, but don't have to. The meat of the bird will taste like ordinary, juicy turkey when done, but that's a-OK to most people. Plus, a lot of people don't like turkey meat that's too spicy. (Of course, you can always make one of each type of bird.) The spice-rubbed skin will taste like bacon, and you'll have to fight people off for the premier pieces.
Oil. A good oil is essential. Peanut oil is the preferred way to go, because it burns hotter and can be reused more often than other oils. The downside? Peanut oil costs more than other oils. Probably worth it, though, when you consider that you can fry a whole flock of birds with one peanut oil purchase. Wholesale club stores like BJ's sell big containers (16 quarts) of peanut oil for about $35. This one purchase could get you through an entire tailgate season. Canola oil costs about one-third as much, but may not last as long.
A bird or two or three. You'll want to purchase fresh turkeys of about 8-12 pounds. Any bigger, and they may not cook properly. Fresh turkeys are not always easy to find early in tailgate season and you may have to pick up frozen birds. Make sure you go the market early enough in the week so that if you need to buy frozen birds, you'll have time to defrost them.
A long oil thermometer. This thermometer needs to be the kind used for oil or candy. A meat thermometer will not work. It has to be long enough so that the tip can reach into the oil and the top will be readable above the side of the fry bucket.
A meat thermometer. You'll need this to know when the bird's done. However, if you don't have a meat thermometer, there is a general rule of thumb you can follow. After the bird has cooked about 3 1/2 minutes per pound, pull it from the oil and make a small incision in the thigh. If the juice runs clean, the bird is done.
Once you have all your equipment, you're ready to fry:
1) You should cook the bird with oil that's bout 375 to 380 degrees, but heat the oil to close to 400 degrees. The temperature will drop pretty dramatically when you put a cold bird in the oil. It may take a while to learn how to adjust your burner to maintain a steady cooking temperature.
2) Cook for three or four minutes per pound. It's done when the meat thermometer reads 170 to 180 degrees or when the juices run clear (as outlined above). Err on the side of an undone turkey. You can always put it back in the oil to cook it longer. You can't undo and overdone bird.
3) Be safe! Deep fryers are extremely dangerous. Cordon off the fryer from foot traffic and make sure no children are in the area. The fry chef might want to get a little space all his own and handle everything himself. Too many cooks can definitely cause problems in this instance.
4) Never deep fry inside your home. This is definitely an outdoor-only activity.
5) Shut off the fuel source before dropping your bird into the oil. The oil can bubble over sometimes; shutting off the flame will prevent a very dangerous fire. Then just turn the fuel source back on and, bang, you're back in business!