How to Fry a Turkey Without Burning Down the House

Little Dom’s chef Brandon Boudet gives dos and don’ts for the DIY frying crowd

If you wanted one of Little Dom’s deep-fried turkeys for your own holiday table, it’s too late. Sorry. Since chef Brandon Boudet and his steady crew fry only 60 a year, they go pretty fast. But Boudet, who’s known for rustic Italian (and a few Cajun-inflected) dishes at the Los Feliz restaurant, has been deep-frying turkeys since the late ’90s, and he’s been frying them at the Los Feliz restaurant for years. He’s a master. One who’s willing to share a few tips for anyone willing to try the frying their own birds for the holiday.

 

“When I started doing this, I was just messing around with it. Later we shot a video on how to do it,” says the chef. “We decided to do it for Little Dom’s because it’s really just the most efficient way to do a lot of turkeys at one time.”

Plus, it’s delicious.

“It’s based off of backyard country cooking,” says Boudet. “Like that one-pot thing. People would just have a vat of oil in their backyard and use it for cracklings, shrimp, anything.”

Deep-frying turkey has roots in Cajun cooking, probably made popular by the chef Justin Wilson, who took to frying them for the public in the 1970’s. It gained popularity in the late ’80’s and ’90’s, when even Martha Stewart jumped on the trend.

But as its popularity grew, so did the cautionary tales of people burning down their houses, burning the dog with hot oil, and general turkey-based explosions. But with if you take your time, Boudet says, it’s one of the best ways to enjoy the holiday and the full-spread turkey dinner. In case you didn’t get one of the Little Dom’s birds (or others found around town), and want to do it yourself, here are a few tips from the chef.

Why is frying great for Thanksgiving turkey?
It cooks so quickly, and if you do it right, it won’t dry out. You get a nice crispy skin and nice juicy bird.

First piece of advice is…?
Get all the proper equipment. It’s not that costly. You can get the propane burners online for $45 or something. A decent heavy-gauge pot, and it doesn’t need to be stainless steel. The basket that rests inside. You want a nice deep-fat fryer thermometer that clips on the side of the pot. .The whole set up great to use every year. You can also use it for other things like boiling crawfish or a clam bake. I’ve fried chicken in that thing.

Is this safe to do in Southern California drought-stricken yards?
Best to do it on concrete, if you can. Outside, of course. And I like putting cardboard around the area to help with splatters. And it will splatter. But not necessarily under the burner. You don’t want it to catch on fire. It’s also helpful to have a cardboard box with paper towels in it to set the turkey when it comes out of the oil.

What size bird is best to fry?
I like to do 10-12 pound birds. Nothing bigger because…well, if you had an 18-pound turkey, you’d obviously have to cook it longer. The bigger the bird gets the more risk you have of burning the oil. The skin of the turkey will get really dark. If you have a large group, you can fry two or three turkeys per one batch of oil.

What is the best oil to use?
Peanut because it has the smoke point. If there is a nut allergy, you can get away with canola, but you will only be able to use that oil for two turkeys. The oil gets pretty funky after awhile.

Can you keep using the oil?
You can do about two or three birds per batch of oil. If you’re frying a turkey and then some potatoes right after, that would actually be pretty tasty with all that turkey fat added to the oil.

Do you brine or add marinade to the turkey?
No. We rub on a little salt and pepper and different spices—cayenne, paprika—the night before.

Why are there so many deep-fried turkey disasters? What are the most important dos and don’ts?
People either put too much oil in the pot, don’t heat it up enough, or the turkey is too wet. To make sure there’s enough oil, put the raw turkey in the pot and cover it with water, and then take the turkey out. The water left is how much oil you need. Make sure the oil is up to 375 degrees. Let the turkey dry out overnight in the refrigerator, and use paper towels inside the cavity to absorb the rest of the moisture before hitting the oil. Place the turkey in the basket and carefully lower it in. We actually wrap towels around our hands and wear long sleeves to avoid splattering hot oil on our skin. Slowly, though. People just drop it in and the oil jumps.

Do you think it’s the flavor, the gimmick or the danger that’s most attractive to home cooks?
Maybe a combination of all three. Ha. It’s one of those things you can do quickly, so you can kind of enjoy yourself on Thanksgiving. You can get all the other stuff done ahead of time, and the oven is free to bake or rewarm food or whatever. Plus, it’s a fun communal thing. There won’t be people hanging around the oven in the house so much, but with this there will most likely be people having a cocktail or drinking around the pot and watching the bird fry.

Little Dom’s is sold out of deep-fried turkeys (although call…sometimes there are extras), but you can still order sides to pick up for Thursday. Info and menu here.

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