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The MacValley blog
Editor: Tom Briant
Friday, November 21, 2014
For the Manly Art of Turkey Frying, Goggles, Sobriety Are Recommended
By SUSAN WARREN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
For David Zima, there's nothing that spices up Thanksgiving dinner like a
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,"
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,"
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