Home-style Cajun Whole Fried Turkeys

Note: this is my old turkey fryin' page from 1998. Of course, frying turkeys has become all the rage now, but I think this page still offers some good tips. Enjoy!

This recipe comes from my friends Walt and Dottie Ligon who, unlike me, are really from Louisiana.  They used to put on some staggering parties with tons of crawfish and whole fried turkeys when I lived in Atlanta.  When I moved to San Francisco I just had to get a fix of that tasty fried turkey.  Mmmmmm...fried turkeys...

Unlike what you might expect, whole fried turkeys are not greasy at all.  The trick is to fry the damn thing so fast that it seals the skin and the bird never has a chance to soak up any oil.  These things are really a treat, and a great way to impress the folks in your 'hood.

Warning:  frying whole turkeys is a lot of work, a big damn mess, and potentially dangerous, especially if you're engaging in that other great Louisiana tradition, drinking to blindness.  Don't blame me.

Step 1:  Get a pot.  I mean a really big damned pot, like one you see missionaries getting boiled alive in in cannibal movies.  You'll definitely have to search the restaurant supply houses for this thing.  Something around 14 quarts is the absolute minimum.  You'll also need a monster outdoor propane burner.  You can get these from some cooking supply stores, or better-equipped camping places.  Get the biggest one you can find, because you're gonna have a LOT of oil to heat up.  If you have no luck, you can call these guys in Louisiana, or maybe get your favorite restaurant supply house to order from them.  They have complete turkey frying kits with cannibal pots, 135,000 BTU outdoor cookers, hooks, etc., which is the way I decided to go:

    Rapid Distribution, Inc.
    110 Davis St., Suita A
    Lake Providence, Louisiana  71254

I have no connection with them, other than the fact that I use their gear to fry big animals for consumption.

Step 2:  Get a bunch of peanut oil, like 4-5 gallons.  Sam's wholesale club is a good place to try; you might be able to find the big 25 pound size there.  In San Francisco, hit Rainbow Grocery on Folsom, where they have big drums full of oil with spigots on them.  This much oil will cost a lot--around $50 from Rainbow--so be prepared.  You can use vegetable oil, but peanut is better since (1) it's healthier, (2) it'll withstand more heat, and (3) it'll last for more than one bird.  So you really really want the peanut oil.  Trust me.
Put the bird on a lowerer-do-dad.
Raw bird goes in--Carefully lower the turkey into the oil. Note mop handle and protective gloves.
Golden and tasty cooked bird comes out!

Step 3:  Get one or more 12-13 pound turkeys.  Don't get big ones because they won't cook right.  Don't get Butterballs or other weird-ass self-basting turkeys.  Remove all the attachments (plastic stuff, bags, innards, timers, etc.)  Wash it good.  If your turkey is frozen, you'll need to do this early and give it at least a day to thaw properly.  Plan ahead.

Step 4:  Call your local vet and see if you can convince them to give/sell you a horse needle.  I'm not kidding.  You'll need it for injecting that tasty Cajun goodness into your birds.  You can go with a store-bought baster, if you find a really big one.  But be forewarned that it's likely to break so you'll probably want to pick up a few.  The trick is to get one with a big opening on the needle because you're gonna be pumping some thick stuff into that bird.

Step 5:  Mix up some spicy Cajun goodness to inject into your bird.  I usually start with a favorite oil/vinagrette dressing recipe and then throw in a bunch of cayenne.  Make a bunch of this stuff, and spice it up good.   It's hard to overdo it.  (If you are lazy you can mix store-bought Italian dressing and and Alegro marinade.)  Strain the whole thing to get the big chunky parts out.  Fill your horse needle and stick the turkey all over.  Be sure to get ALL the turkey (the wings, the legs, the thighs, the breasts, etc.).  Be creative, be sadistic, stick it all over.  Be sure to stick the needle into the meat, not just under the skin.

Step 6:  Rub seasoning all under the skin.  You can use a seasoned salt like Tony Cacheree's or a Cajun/Creole mixture like Chef Paul's Cajun Magic, but some Old Bay might be funky too.

Step 7:  Put the turkey in the fridge overnight.  (I hope you're reading this BEFORE party day...)

Step 8:  Okay, it's time to risk your life.  Get your big missionary-boiling pot and fill it with peanut oil.  The best way to do this is to put the turkey in ahead of time (before you season it), fill the pot with water to just cover the turkey, and mark the spot.  When you're actually ready to cook you know to fill the pot to this level.  Get yourself one of those big damn thermometers with a BIG dial (it'll be hard to read once the oil and steam start flying).  Put it in the pot and get the oil going to about 350-375 degrees.

Step 9:  Fashion a lowerer-do-dad for the bird.  You can use a hanger and wrap it securely around the bird, and then lower it in breast-down with a broom handle.  Big fireplace gloves are a win here.  Drop the bird in and let it go for about 3 1/2 minutes per pound, uncovered. Try to keep the temperature at 350 (it'll drop drastically at first, then go back up).  When you first lower the bird oil is likely to shoot out, so watch out!  Once it gets going good, oil will bubble up out of the turkey's body cavity like a fountain.  Cool!

Step 10:  CAREFULLY extract your bird from the boiling oil.  Let the excess oil drain off on some newspapers.  Carve, eat, enjoy!  Fry more birds...

Congratulations, you've just got yourself an instant Superfund toxic waste cleanup site!  Typical turkey fries will use about 4 gallons of oil.  How you choose to get rid of it is your problem.

A few more notes...

Thirteen pound turkeys are pretty small, so you might want to do a few at once.  It costs a lot to fry a turkey, and it's a lot of work, so it's probably a good idea to amortize the expense and effort across multiple birds.  Allowing plenty of up-front time is the key.

Finally, you CAN save the oil for future frys.  It's best to strain it--you can buy a commercial grade oil strainer from a restaurant supply store.  Put the oil back into its original container and then freeze it.  It can sit out (covered) for a few days but will start to go rancid after that.

Good luck, and let me know how it turns out!

PS - If anybody knows how to roast a pig, please consider trading me your pig roasting tips for the turkey info above.  I've got a friend who's willing to have her yard dug up for a pig roast... Mmmmm...roast suckling pig...

Copyright 1998-2005, Keith Edwards