11 Points

11 Lessons My Friends and I Learned Frying a Turkey
written by Sam Greenspan

On Friday, home in suburban Cleveland and looking for adventure, my friends and I decided to fry a turkey.

For years, we've all heard about fried turkey -- Southerners blowing off fingers in turkey frying accidents but swearing they wouldn't be discouraged from frying again the following year, because the result is just that delicious. The mix of danger, deliciousness and dumbness was just too much for us to pass up.

Of course, we are not Southerners. Not even close. We're hardcore, city-dwelling Yankees, and, on top of that, we're all Jews.

So here are the 11 lessons that six Jews learned while frying a turkey for the first time.
  1. Read all of the warnings... then choose two and only two you're going to ignore. The instructions for our fryer were hilarious, in that it's just page after page after page of warnings. Then every page with actual instructions also contains warnings. It reminded me of the paperwork I signed back before I went skydiving earlier this year -- paper after paper saying "You're about to do some cool shit, just remember you're unnecessarily risking life and limb to do it."

    Unlike the rest of the crew, I decided to read the warnings, so I could come at this from an informed place. So I read the entire thing. And while some of the warnings made sense to me... a few of them didn't. And that's the thing about epic strings of warnings. As long as you follow most of them... especially the bolded ones... you're probably gonna be OK. So that's what we did.

    The two rules we chose to ignore: How much oil to use... and whether or not it was cool to fry with a blood-alcohol level above .08.

    Just three of the many, many, many pages of warnings.

  2. Paper towels won't get it as dry as it should . You've got to get the turkey as dry as possible or you'll start a grease fire. We'd tried stuffing it with paper towels, but those only partially accomplished the job. The magic happened when we took my friend Rob's mom's hairdryer to the turkey. Dried it right up. Perfect for frying sans massive grease fire.

    I take a hairdryer to the turkey. And yes, when I go back to Cleveland, I wear at least four layers at all times.

  3. The max fill line is just a suggestion. We had a 16-pound turkey and wanted to use about 14 liters of oil. Unfortunately, the max fill line clocked in around 11 liters of oil.

    We decided to plow past the line. Here was my reasoning: When you're driving and you come up on a wicked curve and the sign says "35 mph max," you can really take that thing at 50 or so. They just set the max really low to keep you from taking the curve at 75. It's also why the government says that a 5-foot-10 man should have the ideal weight of 132 pounds.

    So we flaunted the max fill line, put in our 14 liters, and let it ride. And when we finally dunked the turkey, it came close to overflowing... but didn't. We won.

    Rob dumps gallons of oil into the fryer, blowing past the max fill. Craig laughs at our flaunting of the warnings.

  4. Checking the nutritional info on the oil will ruin your fun. About that oil... it's bad for you. When you order fried food at a restaurant, you know it's not healthy... but you can kinda fool yourself into forgetting just how unhealthy it is because the nutrition facts aren't staring you in the face.

    In the home frying experience, you are not afforded this luxury. So I found myself starting down the nutrition information: One tablespoon of the oil has 130 calories and 14 grams of fat. There are 744 tablespoons in the jug. That calculates out to 96,720 calories and 10,416 grams of fat. And we used about one and a half jugs.

    Now, granted, a lot of the oil is left over after you pull out the turkey. But some of it's not. Plenty of that oil is going directly into your body. Ignorance is so, so clearly bliss.

    The nutritional info (it's a little blurry because the camera wasn't focusing right).

  5. Bring more beer than you think you need. Frying a turkey takes a while. Not even counting all the prep time the night before, it took more than 45 minutes to heat the oil up enough, and then another 45 minutes to fry the turkey. Then at least 15 minutes to let it cool down and suck up all the juices.

    This cooking time is extremely frustrating, because you're hungry. And you want to eat. So you need something to do. In our case, that something was drinking Cleveland's best beer, Great Lakes Brewing Company Christmas Ale. But we ran out.

    So before you fry a turkey, if you, like us, plan to disregard the "sober frying only" warning, stock up on beer.

    Our Christmas Ale keg. I get the feeling this photo is going to come up in a lot of people's Google image searches.

    Me, Matt, Jared and Rob pose with the turkey, some Wild Turkey, cigars and our requisite cups of Christmas Ale.

  6. Heat the oil more than you think you should. We heated the oil to 350, mostly because the warnings boldly said: DO NOT HEAT OIL TO MORE THAN 350. This is another rule we should've disregarded.

    Because as soon as we lowered in the turkey, the temperature plummeted 50 degrees, well below optimum frying temperature. So we had to crank up the gas to get the oil back near 350... that lead to flames shooting out of the side... and that is dangerous.

    If we'd heated the oil closer to 400 before we dropped in the turkey, it would've dropped to a better temperature and we could've avoided the dangerous flame shooting portion of the evening.

    The oil, before it got so hot that I was nervous to photograph it up close.

    The turkey, after it was in and we were trying to keep it cooking at the right temperature.

  7. Figure out a creative way to lower the turkey into the pot. The fryer comes with a hook system that you can use to lower the turkey into the boiling oil. But you don't want to place it in with your hand on the hook, because little, scalding specks of oil are flying around and you could end up dropping the turkey in and splashing 350-degree oil everywhere.

    So we got creative. [This next line is for the sake of my Cali-for-life friends, readers and well-wishers.] In winter, in suburban Cleveland, every driveway has wooden stakes outlining it, so your snow plow guy knows where your driveway is.

    We grabbed one of those stakes and found it to be the perfect length to lower in the turkey. Was using wood the smartest plan? It wasn't the stupidest! (Using a dead tree branch stuffed with fireworks would've been the stupidest.)

    Rob and Matt prepare to lower in the turkey. Still not relinquishing the Christmas Ale.

    They actually lower the turkey in. Notice Jared in the back with the fire extinguisher handy.

    Despite everyone screaming about how the fryer was about to overflow, it didn't. And the turkey goes in successfully.

  8. Plan ahead for goggles. My friend Rob, who took lead on this project, realized last second that he should probably have goggles on when he monitored the turkey in the fryer. Unfortunately, he didn't have any.

    So he grabbed his old ski goggles from high school. Which would've worked, except that the extreme heat seemed to melt the padding around his eyes and nose, leaving his face covered in foam remains.

    Rob in his goggles, and then his face with the aftermath.

  9. You need a distraction after you pull out the turkey. So you've fried your turkey. You pull it out of the oil. It's golden brown and looks incredibly delicious. You carefully carry it inside, put it in a pan... and realize you still have to wait at least 15 minutes for it to cool down and soak up all of the oil and juices before you can carve it. This period is nothing short of excruciating.

    And my friends could not resist the temptation. They picked at the skin. They messed with the legs. Everyone at some point decided it was ready to carve.

    Sensing disaster, I realized: You need a distraction. So I went to the last vestage of the desperate: I suggested keg stands.

    That happily preoccupied everyone for the 15 minutes necessary, and the turkey remained unmolested while it dried and sucked.

    The just-out-of-the-fryer turkey looks delicious.

    Keg stands prevent premature carvation.

  10. It's delicious, but not as delicious as you think... but, that may be because we overcooked it. So what do I think of deep fried turkey? It's delicious. But... I wouldn't say it's lose-a-finger-worthy or third-degree-burns-worthy.

    This may be because we overcooked it, though. We let it go 56 minutes in the fryer -- that's three-and-a-half minutes per pound. It would've been far better if we'd only gone three minutes a pound. The skin was delicious. Better than non-fried skin could ever be. But the breasts were just a touch too dry.

    That's why lessons are learned. And next Thanksgiving, for our second annual fry-day (which we are tentatively titling "Next Fry-day", to be followed in 2010 by "Fry-day After Next"), we know to pull the turkey earlier for even more deliciousness.

    Craig carves the turkey.

    Matt, Rob, and my dad who swung by to see the madness all enjoy the turkey.

  11. It's only truly dangerous if you're an idiot. So now that I've fried a turkey, the main question people have asked me is: Is it really as dangerous as people say? And the answer, honestly, is no, it's not. Unless you're an idiot.

    If you cheap out and buy crappy oil with a low flash point, you may cause an explosion or a fire... and someone may get hurt. If instead of drinking beer the whole time, you only take shots until the point when you're stumbling drunk... someone may get hurt. If you ignore more than a few minor warnings and have a wet turkey, far too much oil, an unattended fryer, a fryer indoors, an eight-year-old as your primary cook... someone may get hurt.

    But as long as you're reasonably competent, no, you won't hurt yourself frying a turkey. And even if you do... there are millions of Americans out there who will totally understand.

    Is it idiotic to hold up the turkey to make its wings flap?

    Is it idiotic to put a cigar in the turkey's "mouth" and suggest the turkey drinks Wild Turkey?

I'll be sure to do this again next year, after Next Fry-day, to see what we all learned the second time around.

This post was originally published on Monday, December 1, 2008 at 12:01:00 AM under the category Food & Drink.

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