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Friday, November 21, 2014

The Manly Art of Turkey Frying

For the Manly Art of Turkey Frying, Goggles, Sobriety Are Recommended




For David Zima, there's nothing that spices up Thanksgiving dinner like a

little danger.


Come Thursday, he'll be standing outdoors on his suburban North Dallas

driveway, dropping the carcass of a raw turkey into a vat of boiling oil. As

the searing oil contacts the turkey's moist flesh, the pot will become a

caldron of churning, spewing grease and steam.


Mr. Zima, an emergency-room nurse, knows that getting splashed could mean

third-degree burns and a trip to the hospital. "It's too much fun," says the

38-year-old father of three.


Tasty and Thrilling


The practice of deep-frying a whole turkey has been a growing culinary trend

in recent years. Devotees swear that the cooking method yields an unusually

tender, juicy bird. Now it's drawing an especially passionate following

among male suburban thrill seekers.


Just the trappings -- propane gas burner, wire racks and hooks, eight-gallon

cooking pots, 10-inch syringes for injecting marinades and heavy-duty

thermometers -- cause an adrenaline rush in men who regard turkey frying as

an outdoor sport. They move their cars for fear of melting tires and banish

children and pets. Two people lower a huge bird suspended from a hook, amid

spattering and spitting, while the chief fryer cranks up the flame. "It's

like power-cooking," says Mr. Zima, who fried his first turkeys last year

before 50 awed relatives and friends.


Michael Markham, a university psychology professor in Miami, fried his first

turkey four years ago with a friend's help. The two men set up a new,

135,000-BTU propane burner in the backyard and donned goggles. Each took the

end of a 10-foot-pipe, with the turkey lashed to the middle, and slowly

lowered it into the frying pot. "There's something that just tickles your

testosterone when you have massive flames shooting out of a propane burner,"

he says.


Hog Fat and Lard


The suburbanites' embrace of an old Cajun tradition amuses Samuel Pickett,

71, who grew up in Louisiana and for years ran a fried-turkey catering

business in Jacksonville, Fla. The tradition, he says, started in

Louisiana's back country in the 1920s and 1930s. As a boy, he would pitch in

to help with the annual hog butchering. And as hog fat being rendered into

lard boiled away in a giant tub over a wood fire, someone would occasionally

toss in a chicken, goose or turkey, says Mr. Pickett.


"When it floated to the top, they'd pick it out and eat it," he recalls.


It works basically the same way today. In a typical setup, about five

gallons of now-trendy peanut oil is heated to 350 degrees or more. The

turkey is then slowly lowered into the pot. Recipes generally call for

frying three to four minutes per pound, or about 45 minutes for a 12-pound

bird that could take three to five hours to roast the old-fashioned way.

Then you take it out, drain off the oil and eat.


Some chefs favor precautions like fireproof gloves, long-sleeved shirts,

face shields, and even steel-toed boots. When the moisture inside the turkey

hits the hot oil, there is an eruption of steam and hot grease. If you

immerse the turkey too quickly, an oil splash can burn you to the bone. The

cook must pay constant attention to the temperature of the oil lest it catch

fire. Last year a man left his backyard turkey pot unattended for a few

minutes. "When he came back, he noticed the back of the house was on fire,"

says a New Orleans Fire Department spokesman. The department now dispenses

safety tips for frying turkeys. And in St. Louis, Florence Bockhorst

remembers the Christmas Eve two years ago when a neighbor's house burned

down as they tried to fry a turkey on their front porch. In all her 89

years, Ms. Bockhorst says, she hadn't heard of cooking a turkey that way.

"Everybody thought it was very peculiar. And we weren't about to try it,"

she adds.


Jimmy Merriweather fries dozens of turkeys each year for family and friends

at his radiator shop in Littlefield, Texas, near Lubbock. One year a crimp

in the propane-gas hose caused a leak -- and a fire. "It really started to

blazing, and we all started to run, and then I figured I better go back and

turn the burner off," he recalls. Disaster was averted, the hose was fixed,

and the turkey fry resumed.


As the popularity of fried turkey has spread, Sherwood Golemon, proprietor

of the Cajun Shoppe in Lake Charles, La., has fielded more and more strange

calls from all over the country.


"Down here in south Louisiana, we just assume that everyone knows how to

cook outside. This is not true," says Mr. Golemon, who remembers one caller

from New York City who wanted to buy one of his $179 turkey-frying rigs. Mr.

Golemon refused to sell it to him when he found out the man wanted to fry

his turkey in the living room of his 14th-floor apartment.


Mr. Golemon rarely hears from women, though "they occasionally call and ask

silly questions, about nutritional value and that sort of thing." And he is

a little scornful of men who dress up like firefighters before facing their

fried turkey. Common sense is all most people need to fry a turkey safely.

His golden rule is simple: "I recommend a little bit of sobriety."


But frying turkeys is such a social event that many a cook has ended up more

marinated than a bird injected with everything from Coca-Cola to tequila. In

lieu of watching the clock, a friend advised tax attorney Jim Hall, 37, of

Eagen, Minn., to "heat the oil for one beer, then drop the turkey in the oil

for about two beers."


Mr. Hall approached his first backyard turkey fry two years ago with extreme

caution, wearing protective gloves and making sure somebody was tending the

pot at all times. After two years' experience under his belt, he is more

relaxed about the procedure this year, though he still describes it as "a

very violent cooking method."


The men, he says, take care of the turkey frying. "And the women, well, they


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