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Don't Let Your Fried Turkey Be A Bad Memory This Thanksgiving

There are a few things to remember before, during and after you fry a turkey to ensure a safe, delicious bird for your Thanksgiving.


For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving Day has meant a day of getting together with family, giving thanks, and lots of family favorites. It's meant for heading to grandma’s house, and now heading my parents, it is always a day full of memories. Good memories.

For some though, there are deep-frying turkey horror stories. You have likely heard of them, from homes burning down to turkeys skyrocketing into the air.

Safely preparing and frying a turkey doesn’t have to be dangerous or memorable for the wrong reasons. Avoid becoming one of these Thanksgiving Day horror stories, and make sure you fry your turkey safely to avoid foodborne illness.

What do I need to know about frying a turkey?

There are a few things to remember before, during and after you fry a turkey. You will need to allow time for your turkey to thaw in the refrigerator.

If you are running to the store and can only find frozen birds, you likely don’t have time to thaw in the refrigerator.

You will need to use the quick-thaw, water method:

  • submerge the frozen bagged bird in cold tap water
  • change the water every 30 minutes so it continues to thaw

You must change the water every 30 minutes and use only cold water, not doing so, allows for bacteria to grow and rapidly multiply on the surface. For whole turkeys, estimate about 30 minutes per pound. A 12-pound bird will take approximately 6 hours with this method. When thawed completely, the food must be cooked immediately.

What size bird works best for frying?

Smaller birds work best for frying. The turkey should be no larger than 12 pounds, or you can fry parts instead, such as breasts, wings or legs.

Important Safety Tips

Deep frying oil can reach temperatures of over 400°F. When cooking at this temperature, extreme safety measures should be taken to prevent burning oneself or starting a fire. Like other oils, cooking oil is a highly flammable liquid.

To prevent flare-ups and house fires, avoid letting oil contact direct flames. Because of this hazard, it is highly recommended to have a kitchen fire extinguisher available when deep-frying.

Water is a very dangerous liquid when deep frying.

When water encounters very hot oil (about 350 °F) water vaporizes instantaneously turning into super-heated steam. It expands quickly, which can cause oil to splatter and risk bodily injury. Do not let water get into the hot fat while food is deep-frying.

The bird should be completely thawed, dry (pat dry with paper towels) and not stuffed.

Tips to Avoid Grease Fire

If you do have a grease fire, do not try to put it out with water. Water can cause flaming oil to splatter and spread. Put it out with a kitchen fire extinguisher or cover the fryer with a metal lid. Call 911 immediately.

When working with large amounts of hot oil, select a cooking vessel large enough to completely submerge the turkey without it spilling over. The oil should cover the turkey by 1 to 2 inches. Select a safe location outdoors for deep fat frying a turkey. Heat the cooking oil to 350°F. Very slowly and carefully lower the turkey into the hot oil. Monitor the temperature of the oil with a thermometer during cooking. Never leave the hot oil unattended.

How long does it take to fry a turkey?

It will take about 3 to 5 minutes of cook time per pound. So a 12 pound bird will take about 36 minutes to an hour to cook. When reaching approximate time needed, check to see if the turkey is safely cooked by removing the turkey from the oil, draining the oil from the cavity and with a food thermometer, check the internal temperature of bird. DO NOT test the temperature while the turkey is submerged in oil. When the turkey reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165°F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast, it is done. If the turkey has not reached 165°F in all three locations, then return it to the hot oil for additional cooking.

What's the safe internal temperature for turkey?

Once it reaches 165°F, carefully remove it from the oil and place it on a sturdy tray lined with a metal rack or paper towels. The skin can range in color from golden to dark brown to almost black. Let it rest about 20 minutes before carving, to let the juices set. This will result in a moist, flavorful bird.

Tips for Storing Leftovers

Once the big meal is over, remember to follow the 2-hour rule. For safety, do not leave the turkey or other perishable foods sitting out at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Slice leftover turkey and place in a shallow container and store in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or freeze for longer storage.

Clean up the grease once it has cooled by straining through a cheesecloth or sieve back into the container. Store the used oil in a sealed and light-proof container for up to 3 months. For best quality, refrigerate.

If the oil is clouded or if the oil starts to foam or has a foul odor, taste, or smell, discard it. It has likely turned rancid.

For more food safety information, contact the Miller County Extension Office, 870-779-3609.

I hope you and your family have a safe and memorable Thanksgiving.


By Carla Due
Miller County Extension Agent - FCS
U of A Division of Agriculture
Miller County Cooperative Extension Service
400 Laurel Street, Suite 215 Texarkana AR 71854
(870) 779-3609