Editor’s note: Sean M. Peters is of no relation to chef Jesse Peters.
There are safer, more efficient and arguably better ways to prepare a turkey than deep frying, but because of the inherent appeal of an outdoor culinary spectacle that involves propane tanks and buckets of oil — along with a quicker cooking time — people are always going to try this method no matter the risk or date on the calendar. If there’s a holiday then the probability is high that someone in your area code is going to deep fry a turkey for their first time, which means things could potentially get a bit flammable for the neighborhood.
Deep frying a turkey is a dangerous pursuit if proper precautions are not taken. Beginners would certainly benefit from some solid advice, so CityBeat sees it as a civic duty to allow a professional to explain how to do it safely and deliciously. Of course, if you’d rather go vegan this year at the holiday table, a PETA activist would thank you for it.
Jesse Peters is currently executive chef for the Fort Mitchell Country Club after running the kitchen at Belterra Park Cincinnati, among others. Throughout his 22-year career Peters prepared Thanksgiving dinner for thousands of guests and, while it’s not the first way he’d make it, he’s no stranger to a crispy deep-fried turkey.
CityBeat: What’s the most important thing to know before you fry a turkey?
Jesse Peters: You should buy the proper equipment. The kit they sell at Home Depot [a 30 quart pot with a propane burner] is pretty good. Cook with propane fuel and never do it inside. Make sure the turkey is completely thawed out, no ice inside at all. If you do it wrong you can set a big fucking fire.
CB: You don’t want anything too cold or wet to hit that hot oil.
JP: Yep, it’ll bubble up. Next thing you know, you’ve got a fire.
CB: Do you do a dry or wet brine for the deep fry?
JP: Either way would be fine. Preferably, for me, is a wet brine and that’s a cup of salt to every gallon of water that you need to keep the turkey underwater. Use plates on top to keep everything underneath for a couple days. If you want to, throw in whole peppercorns and you can always throw in some extra sugar. I mean, you could throw anything in that brine, but keep it simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves.
CB: Do you do any flavor injections into the bird?
JP: No, I think that’s gimmicky. When it comes to turkey the best seasoning is salt. If you want to, you can do rosemary, sage, thyme, butter. Put that underneath the fat and, yeah, that’s if you want to go the extra mile in the oven, but, if you’re deep frying, all that stuff’s going to burn.
CB: So, flavor aside, how do we safely deep fry this turkey?
JP: Get everything set up outside. Not in your garage, no overhang. One big thing that’s going to help: before you fill your pot with oil, drop your turkey in it, fill it up with water and then mark where that water goes to because it’s kind of hard to guess how much oil displacement the turkey is going to have. If that hot oil comes out of the sides while you’re there lowering it in you’re not going to have a good time.
CB: That’s practical, it tells you how much oil to add to cover the bird without making a mess.
JP: Once you figure out that displacement line, empty it and dry the turkey because, as always, water and oil are not friends when that oil is hot. Then, get a probe thermometer, something with a cord. Stick that right in the middle of the thickest part of the turkey breast. If it was your own body, you’d be going in from, like, the collarbone down.
CB: Oh, geez.
JP: Yep. Next, the kits should come with some kind of coat hanger-like lowering device, but, if not, just make sure you’ve got a really safe device to lower the turkey into the oil slowly. Also, don’t forget to take out the plastic thermometers that come with a lot of turkeys.
CB: Oil temp?
JP: 350 degrees [fahrenheit]. Once the oil gets up there, monitor that temperature. And then drop the turkey in slowly and let it fry until the turkey reaches 170.
CB: People like to cook stuffing in their birds, would you ever try that with a fried turkey?
JP: I couldn’t imagine it not just falling out of the cavity. The biggest problem with stuffing a turkey is now you have this big massive turkey but it’s got a hollow center that lets the heat flow through it so that it can cook quicker, but with stuffing you’re trying to get the heat all the way through and it just makes the cooking process super long and then gives it a good chance the breasts are going to dry out.
JP: Yeah, that’s all cooking really comes down to. Get the oil up to about 350 and try to manage that as best you can. Cut it off once it gets a little high, put it back on when it’s getting low. Stay ahead, you want to stay as close to 350 as you can.
CB: Do you save the giblets and neck for gravy?
JP: One of the big drawbacks to frying a turkey is you’re not going to get that leftover juice that you would normally make the gravy with from roasting. You’re always going to have to doctor it up with a little bit of chicken base or turkey base because, unless you’ve got a lot of time and a lot of turkey necks, you’re just not going to get that strong flavor.
CB: What’s your favorite Thanksgiving side?
JP: White Castle stuffing.
CB: Is that what I think it is?
JP: Go to Kroger and buy the freezer White Castles — not the cheese ones, the hamburger ones. Lay them out overnight, let them get dry throughout and almost crispy, like stale, on the counter. I would even separate the meat and the buns all out as much as you can, okay, and then chop up a thing of celery, and a little bunch of sage and thyme. Mix it all together with chicken stock or chicken broth until it’s just a little moist and you bake it off. That was my wife’s family thing. When we first started dating I went to her family thanksgiving and they had it. Her family’s from Pendleton County, Kentucky — middle of nowhere. It’s super good.
CB: Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions?
JP: I typically don’t get Thanksgiving off, so most of mine are Friendsgivings. I think we’re hosting it this year in December.
CB: So, how will you prepare the turkey for that evening?
JP: Brine it overnight and do it in the oven. First do it high in the oven to color it, then lower to finish it.
CB: What’s the best use of leftovers?
JP: Soup, usually. Or, you could do something like a KFC Famous Bowl with all of the ingredients, just throw it all in one bowl when needed.
CB: We’ve kind of ragged on deep-fried turkey since it seems to be overly risky and excessive with oil… so, do you even like this method?
JP: It’s super easy, but I’d say it’s not the best way to cook your turkey.
A delicious turkey is properly brined and fried
Using the deep frying method, a turkey that weighs between 12-14 pounds will only require 30-45 minutes to fully cook, compared to the 3-4 hours needed to instead roast it in the oven. Three gallons of vegetable oil was needed to fill the fryer when CityBeat prepared a turkey following chef Peters’ method.
The drier the skin, the crispier it will cook. If properly brined and fried, the meat will not dry out or feel gummy between your teeth as you chew (if you’ve had a dry bird at Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll remember the sensation). After around 35 minutes in the pot, the end result was a succulent, juicy and perfectly cooked turkey that will provide many meals worth of leftovers.
Ensure your propane valve is turned off after cooking and let the bird rest on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. Serve with your favorite sides and resist the urge to deep fry everything you eat (but this is a great opportunity to fry blooming onions after the turkey cooks). Let the oil cool completely outside before attempting to clean up.
Three gallons of cooking oil can be quite expensive, so factor that into the equation if you decide to fry a turkey; it can be reused for other applications if you don’t mind an inherent turkiness, just filter the oil back into their bottles with a sieve or cheesecloth once it’s reached room temperature. Don’t be surprised if your neighbors poke their heads in while you cook — your yard will smell amazing as long as you don’t accidentally set yourself or your yard on fire.
For more information about chef Jesse Peters and the Fort Mitchell Country Club, visit fortmitchellcc.com.
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