11 Points

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

First off, I recommend taking a quick gander at last year's list, 11 Lessons My Friends and I Learned Frying a Turkey, to get added context for this list. As you'll soon read, if you check out the list from last year -- well, you'll have done better prep work for this year than my friends and I did.

Now, on to the story.

Last Thanksgiving, my high school friends and I decided to fry a turkey. We'd heard all the hype -- it's delicious! it'll change the way you look at food! it's incredibly dangerous! -- and had to give it a try. After much prep work we ended up overcooking the turkey, learning some lessons and having a good time.

This year, we held our second-annual Turkey Fry-day and... well... let's just say I wish that overcooking the turkey had been our only problem this year. Here are 11 new lessons we learned in year two.
  1. Don't just write down the previous year's lessons -- actually read them. So after last year's fry I put together my 11 Points about it and, in that post, I made some key observations about what worked and what didn't.

    Unfortunately, no one -- including me -- bothered to re-read them in advance of this year's fry.

    We had some serious sophomore-itis this year. Last year my friends Rob and Jared had acquired the turkey the night before, injected it with beer, dried it out. This year, 18 hours before the fry we still didn't even have a turkey... or a location. We also had the fryer... but the instructions had gotten lost somewhere along the way.

    Still, we pulled it all together and, on Friday afternoon, we were ready to go. We lit the fryer an arguably-safe distance from Jared's house and had the fire extinguisher on hand...


    We were stocked up on Cleveland's finest seasonal beer, Great Lakes Christmas Ale...


    And we even had our friend Bruce in town this year. Let's just say that if our lives were an episode of "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia", Bruce would be a LANDSLIDE winner to be named the group's "wild card."


    Despite the lackadaisical pre-planning, we were ready to go. And this year, we were armed with knowledge and experience. Or so we thought.

  2. You don't just need diversions for post-cooking, you need them for pre-cooking too. Last year, I mentioned the period after the turkey is done frying. It comes out of the fryer, looking golden-brownishly delicious... and then you have to wait. It takes 15 good minutes for the juices to soak in.

    Your second year, you also need diversions for the pre-cooking period. It's no longer fun just watching the oil bubble. Or checking the thermometer. Or drying the turkey. You've done all that. So we found ourselves needing some activities besides, ya know, actually having to talk to each other.

    I passed some of the time by taking photos, including this one of our turkey, a bottle of Wild Turkey, and a map of the country Turkey...


    I also took this photo of Great Lakes Christmas Ale next to a Cleveland Browns cup, which I've entitled "The Best and Worst of Cleveland"...


    And when taking dumb photos by myself got to brutally anti-social, I found myself wholly entertained by my friend Craig tossing bits of stuffing into his mouth...


  3. Pre-plan other foods to fry. After last year, we realized: We had a deep fryer at our disposal and didn't have the foresight that we'd want to fry anything besides turkey.

    Unfortunately, we forgot that this year. So we didn't really have anything exciting to fry this time around either.

    We still tried... we fried marshmallows, potatoes, and, as pictured below, bundt cake. But, really, we should've planned better. I mean -- at the Texas state fair they fry Oreos and Twinkies... they even fry Coke. We tried bundt cake. Yikes.

    Craig and Rob fry bundt cake.

  4. Find a way to keep the ladies entertained. Last year, there were no wives and girlfriends (WAGs, if you will) present at the fry. This year, there were two. My friend Matt brought his girlfriend, Jeri, along, and I brought my girlfriend, Angie.

    And here's the thing about women. (I love sentences like that. So wonderfully hacky.) No matter how fun they are... there's no way they can be as excited about a group of guy friends frying a turkey as said guy friends. Women universally possess that common sense switch that says: "I'll be supportive of my boyfriend while he and his friends giggle around a boiling turkey, but I'm going to stay at least 20 feet away and smile and wave when he looks over."

    We quickly realized this and, fortunately, they both found something to do to stay entertained (thus absolving Matt and me from being guilty about doing whatever it was we were doing). Jeri decided to peel and cut up potatoes to deep fry...


    And Angie decided to start "taste testing" the different stuffing and cake in the room.


    One of those jobs was more important than the other. I won't say which is which.

  5. When you start to get cocky, things go wrong. Last year, I made a point in my list that I think was valid: Read all the warnings and pick two -- and only two -- to ignore. I thought this was a fair safety measure.

    This year we didn't read the warnings (the instruction manual is long gone)... but if we had, we'd have realized we were breaking tons of them.

    Here's Rob getting ready to put the turkey in. He's drinking whiskey (warning violation #1) and just wearing glasses, unlike the goggles he wore last year (violation #2)...


    When we submerged the turkey, oil started violently splashing out of the fryer. This wasn't so much a violation as a red flag we just plowed on past...


    We heated the oil to 375, not 350 like it tells you (violation #3)... used far too much oil (violation #4)... yet still, somehow, when we put in the turkey, part of it was just, well, sticking out of the top of the oil (violation #5). It never got cooked...


    Bottom line, we got cocky. Much, much too cocky.

  6. Just because no one died last year doesn't mean you should do foolishly risky stuff... like, say, smoking cigars next to 400-degree oil. Of all the violations, though, this might've been the biggest. Matt brought some cheap cigars and we decided to smoke them while the turkey cooked.

    Someone said, "Go pose by the fryer." We did. None of us thought, "Hey, there's 400-degree oil splashing out of this thing and a tank of gas that's feeding this open flame, maybe we shouldn't take these lit cigars nearby." I did realize this, by the way, eventually... not until long after this photo was taken though...

    Matt, Craig and me with our cigars by the oil and gas. So stupid. Also notice that even with almost no snow on the ground I'm still bundled up like I'm in the Arctic.

  7. Um... don't stick the thermometer in the turkey. The entire time the turkey was frying, Rob and Jared couldn't get the temperature up to 350. It just wouldn't go. They'd kick up the gas and it would barely budge.

    Finally, after the cooking time was up, they pulled out the turkey and realized why the temperature was so low -- somehow, the thermometer had gotten stuck in the turkey. So it wasn't giving them the oil temperature, it was giving them the turkey temperature.

    This is so dumb it doesn't even count as a warning violation. The people who make the fryer don't think you'd do this. No one would do this. We did this.

    In retrospect, we're lucky this didn't lead to disaster... how the oil didn't hit its flash point is beyond me. It must've gotten up into the 410s, minimum. This should've been a disaster...


    But, in lieu of blowing up Jared's house, it had an arguably-worse effect: Ultra-dry turkey. In fact, the turkey was mostly bone dry and inedible. It was even missing patches that peeled off, like the leathery skin of someone in who tanned for too long...


  8. Eventually, you'll forget one too many warnings... and karma will set in. In the famous softball episode of "The Simpsons", Mr. Burns believes the only way his team will lose the game is if all nine of his Major League ringers suffer separate misfortunes.

    He says, of course: "That will never happen. Three misfortunes, that's possible. Seven misfortunes, there's an outside chance. But nine misfortunes? I'd like to see that!"

    Well, at our second annual Turkey Fry-Day... we had our nine separate misfortunes.

    After ignoring all those warnings... sticking the thermometer into the turkey not the oil... almost blowing up ourselves with cigars or the house with oil... and drying out the turkey -- after all that -- we still had hope of salvaging what we could and having our delicious dinner.

    But we'd pushed it too far. Rob ignored one of the biggest tenants of turkey frying -- letting it sit for 15 minutes after frying to let the juices soak in -- which was just too many for karma to let us get away with. Here, he started carving the turkey...


    Which seemed to cosmically lead to the sweet potatoes instantly starting to SMOKE in the oven and a Christmas Ale overflowing on the counter...


    Which then caused the biggest disaster of all -- the turkey toppled over and fell on the floor...

    That's Angie's turkey-stained glove... she saw the turkey falling and tried to catch it. She did not, and ruined her glove. But you gotta appreciate the moxie.

  9. Have some "real" adults around in case things do go really wrong. About then we realized: We were in over our heads. And we instantly reverted to guilty, helpless little kids.

    Which is when the parents stepped in. Sure, we're all 30 and 31 years old. But it took the parents in attendance to (1) pick up the turkey and figure out what part of it was still usable (2) fix the sweet potato mess and (3) have the wherewithal to move the exploding Christmas Ale and clean up the counter.

    I'm not proud of this. I don't think we did it on purpose. Yet when I look at this photo, there's barely a fake adult in site. It's all real adults, coming in to do what real adults do. Help out when their stupid-ass kids (of any age) screw up.

    I blurred their faces because (1) I didn't ask for permission and (2) because I don't want to besmirch my friends' parents reputations by showing photographic evidence they attended this debacle.

  10. Turkey shooters -- gross but entertaining. Between the turkey being either grossly overcooked, grossly undercooked (the part that was sticking out), or on the ground... well, there wasn't much edible turkey left.

    So we decided to make lemons out of lemonade... if by lemonade I mean "awful, awful whiskey shots."

    We decided to use the turkey for turkey shooters -- that is, take a bite of turkey, do a shot of Wild Turkey with the turkey in your mouth, then chew, and swallow both.

    Here, I demonstrate how to do this when shot glasses are not readily available...


    And here, Rob, me, Craig and Bruce do one where we drop the turkey into our shot glass (a much worse way to do these, by the way)...

    Sure, it's not as good as actually eating fried turkey. But it sure did keep us entertained. And, ultimately, isn't that what this is supposed to be about?

  11. Because things always go wrong, make sure to go heavy on side dishes. So everything went wrong. Two years of turkey frying down and we still haven't had perfect, delicious turkey. Year two went infinitely worse than year one.

    But I will never, ever call this a total loss. We had fun, drank plenty, avoided burns and explosions... and ended up having a great meal. Thanks to the side dishes. So we'll call that the REAL lesson of this year's fry: Always, always have side dishes ready.


    We did this the day after Thanksgiving and a few people brought leftovers. Next year everyone will bring them. That way, no matter how we screw up the turkey... we'll still eat well.

    Who's really into Thanksgiving for the turkey anyway?


This post was originally published on Monday, November 30, 2009 at 07:00:00 AM under the category Food & Drink.

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