You will need an outdoor cooker (mine is 140,000 Btu) and a 10-gallon pot, preferably one with a basket insert (available in hardware stores and stores where outdoor equipment is sold). The insert keeps the bird off the bottom of the pot and facilitates removing it from the oil.
- 4 to 5 gallons vegetable oil
- 1 whole turkey (12 to 15 pounds), at room temperature
- Cayenne pepper (optional)
1. Begin heating the oil in a 10-gallon pot over a very hot propane flame outdoors. Don't set the burner to its highest setting, as you may need to increase the heat after you've added the turkey. It will take about 20 minutes for the oil to heat.
2. Meanwhile, rinse the turkey well, pat it dry inside and out, and set it on end in a sink to drain.
3. When the oil reaches 375 degrees, pat the turkey dry again, and sprinkle it with cayenne, if desired. If your cooker has a basket insert, place the turkey in the basket and set it over a baking sheet; if not, set an oven rack over a large baking sheet, place the turkey on it, and take them outside to the cooker.
4. Check the temperature of the oil. When the oil reaches 390 degrees, carefully and slowly lower the basket with the turkey into the oil; or lower it holding it by its legs or by a long heavy tool such as a clean fireplace poker inserted into its cavity. Be careful! Immediately check the oil temperature and adjust the flame so that the temperature does not dip below 340 degrees. You want to maintain the temperature at 365 degrees. As it cooks, occasionally move the bird around in the oil so that it does not scorch (the oil near the heat source will be hotter). Whole turkeys take only 3 to 4 minutes per pound to fry to perfection: small ones, around 12 pounds, will take about 35 minutes; large ones, around 15 pounds, will take about 1 hour. When it is done, the turkey will float to the surface with a perfectly crispy, brown skin. If you are unsure, you can test the meat for doneness at the hip joint or insert a meat thermometer into the breast; it should register 180 degrees.
5. Using the basket insert if there is one, or by again inserting a long heavy tool such as a clean fireplace poker into its cavity, carefully remove the turkey from the oil and hold it over the pot for a moment to allow any excess oil to drain back into the pot, then lay the bird on the oven rack.
Note: Allow it to rest for 20 minutes before carving.