How To Safely Deep Fry a Turkey This Thanksgiving, According to the Experts

What's better than spending Thanksgiving Day peering into a hot oven, turkey baster in hand? Just about anything, really. To those responsible for getting a fantastic spread on the table this year, cooking a bird might present the largest culinary challenge of the day. Done correctly, deep-frying provides a fast and tasty alternative to roasting or baking.

Washed and marinated the day before, a crowd-pleasing fried turkey can save a chef of any experience level hours of hassle. The key to success is preparation, as careless frying can lead to burns, grease fires or even all-out explosions.

Read on for ways to safely prepare a delicious, deep-fried turkey as the centerpiece of your Thanksgiving table.

fried bird
Thanksgiving Dinner Getty

"Do not ever attempt to deep-fry a frozen turkey," read a seasonal warning from fire department of Tempe, Arizona. "It can cause an explosion and burn anyone near the deep fryer."

The firefighters recommended allowing plenty of time for the bird to thaw and cited the United States Department of Agriculture's guidelines for thawing a turkey in the refrigerator:

  • 4 to 12 pounds: one to three days
  • 12 to 16 pounds: three to four days
  • 16 to 20 pounds: four to five days
  • 20 to 24 pounds: five to six days

Other safety precautions include cooking the turkey outdoors, making sure to use a deep fryer with a thermostat control to keep the device from overheating, never leaving the unit unattended, wearing safety gear to prevent burns in the event of a grease spill and keeping a fire extinguisher at the ready throughout the process.

Once the appropriate safety measures have been taken, it might be a good idea to turn to one of America's most renowned culinary guides—chefs Paula Deen, Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart have each offered their own take on classic fried turkey.

Deen's three-step instructions include prepping the bird by washing and coating it in a dry rub and submerging the turkey in peanut oil heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit before removing it to drain on paper towels.

"To measure the amount of oil needed to fry the turkey, place turkey in fryer, add water to top of turkey, remove the turkey and the water line will indicate how much oil will be needed to fry your turkey," Dean suggested on a Food Network tip sheet. "Having too much oil can cause a fire. The pot should not be more than 3/4 full or the oil could overflow when the turkey is added."

While Deen's rub recipe listed traditional ingredients, Lagasse's called for more (branded) zest:

  • 2 cup Emeril's Creole Seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon liquid Zatarian's Concentrated Crab and Shrimp Boil (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • pinch ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup apple cider

Stewart also shook things up in her 1996 deep-fried turkey recipe for Martha Stewart Living:

  • 25 medium whole bay leaves
  • 3 1/4 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
  • 3 tablespoons Konriko brand, or other hot Creole seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 4 gallons peanut oil

"This recipe should be made outdoors, on flat ground, and at least 10 feet from any structure. Don't leave your deep fryer unattended and keep children and pets well away," Stewart instructed, also referencing important safety precautions in her cook's notes.