How to Deep Fry a Thanksgiving Turkey

A James Beard Award winner teaches us how to deep fry a turkey — with Southwestern and Hispanic flair.

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“The majority of people have only had turkey out of the oven,” says chef Kevin Nashan, owner of Sidney Street Cafe and The Peacemaker Lobster & Crab Co., in St. Louis. Nashan, who was the James Beard Award winner for “Best Chef: Midwest” in 2017, likes to deep fry Thanksgiving turkeys because it’s “a fun way to break up tradition.”

In fact, it’s a pretty big departure from tradition: Unlike most people who cook a Thanksgiving meal, those who deep-fry their turkeys spend their day outside, huddled outside around a burner, making it feel something like a campfire or barbecue. “It’s very communal,” Nashan says. “You sit around, drink beer, talk and just wait for the bird. It brings everybody together.”

Nashan grew up in New Mexico working at his family’s Hispanic and Southwestern-style restaurant, La Tertulia. Today he still enjoys his Thanksgiving turkey spicy and crispy. Before deep frying, he prepares the turkey in a simple tabasco brine. And then just before the turkey is done, he heats up the oil more so that the skin is extra crispy — “like a chicharrón.” Follow his steps and you’ll end up with a tasty bird and a maybe even a new family tradition.

How to Fry a Thanksgiving Turkey

Makes one 15-pound turkey

Tools
Large pot, 30 quarts (preferably stainless steel, not aluminum)
Turkey burner
Poultry rack with hook
Thermometer
Oven mittens
Long matches (or some other fire starter)
Fire extinguisher

Ingredients
One 15-pound Turkey (Nashan prefers Standard Bronze)
5 gallons of peanut oil (4 gallons new, 1 gallon older — once or twice used)

For the brine:
1 cup of salt
1 cup of brown sugar
7-8 ounces of Tabasco
2 gallons of water
4 bay leaves
1 julienned onion

1Make the brine. “I’m a firm believer in doing a brine,” says Nashan. “A lot of times spices and rubs will burn off when you fry the turkey.” Nashan makes a simple tabasco brine, mixing water, salt, brown sugar, onion and tabasco together.

2Brine the turkey a day before. Submerge the turkey in a 30-quart pot filled with brine and leave it in there for at least three hours. Afterward, remove the turkey, wipe it down with paper towels, and allow the meat to dry and warm up. “I like to get the turkey to room temperature before I fry it,” says Nashan. After brining, cover the turkey and place it somewhere (like a garage) that’s approximately room temperature for the night. This way, Nashan says, the turkey takes less time to rise to room temperature in the morning — which is better for frying.

3Set up the turkey burner. It’s important to set up the turkey burner outside in a large, open area. Nashan says that overflow is the biggest problem when people deep fry turkey. And you don’t want hot oil in your house. Nashan recommends having a fire extinguisher nearby. Make sure you have all your other tools, too: large pot, poultry rack, thermometer, oven mitts and some kind of long match.

How to Make Nashan’s Simple Stuffing
Makes stuffing for 8

Ingredients
2-3 hatch chiles (roasted, peeled and chopped)
6 cups of cooked corn bread
1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts
1/2 cup of currants (rehydrated in bourbon)
1/4 cup of sour cabbage
Lime zest from 3 limes
Salt and pepper (as much as you like)

Instructions
1. Mince ingredients.
2. Bake for 20 minutes, at 325°F. Each ingredient should be baked separately.
3. Fold ingredients together after they’re baked.
4. Serve.

4Measure the oil. Nashan recommends using a peanut oil mixture of four parts new and one part old (meaning used once or twice before) because it helps produce a crispier, more flavorful turkey. Fill the 30-quart pot up halfway with oil. Before heating, lower the turkey into the pot and observe how much the oil rises. The idea is that after then removing the turkey, you then add more oil so that it reaches to a quarter or halfway up to that rise line. This measuring method helps ensure that the pot doesn’t boil over during the frying. In the end Nashan says you should end up using about four or five gallons of oil, depending on the exact size of the turkey.

5Heat the oil. The temperature of the oil will drop immediately when the turkey enters, so Nashan suggests initially heating the oil to 350°F. When this temperature is reached, and before lowering the turkey in, dial the temperature back to 325°F.

6Deep fry the turkey. Lower it into the oil, slowly, and fry the turkey at 325°F for an hour and a half. After, remove the turkey from the oil with the poultry rack.

7Test the turkey for doneness. Take its temperature at the thickest section in the leg, near the bone. At this point, if the turkey has reached 140°F, remove it and crank up the oil to 400°F. Pat the turkey dry before it re-enters the oil.

8Lower the turkey back into the oil. Leave it in the heated oil for approximately 30 minutes, or until the turkey has reached about 155°F. The turkey should be nice and crispy on its outside. Remove and let rest for about 15-20 minutes before carving.

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