Best Size Turkey for Frying (with Pictures)

One of the delights of Thanksgiving is having a delicious fried turkey with all the trimmings.

Although fried turkey might not be as good for you health-wise as an oven-roasted turkey, it certainly ticks all of the flavor boxes, and as an annual treat, most people don’t get too caught up in calorie counting and instead focus on producing a wonderful tasting meal for their family.

Here we look at the best size of turkey to buy if you intend to deep fry the bird whole.

Turkey Sizes

The best size of turkey to cook for your Thanksgiving meal is going to depend on the number of people you want to feed and the size of your fryer.

Fryer Types and Sizes

There are many options when it comes to frying a turkey, with various different pieces of equipment you could use.

If you’re a backyard chef, then there are many propane-fueled turkey fryers available which work in a similar way to a grill. These are typically larger than indoor turkey fryers because storage space or user space isn’t such an issue when the product is used outdoors. Propane-fired turkey fryers can typically handle extra-large turkeys which weigh up to 22 lbs.

Classic Stove Top Fryers

Classic Stove Top Fryers

Classic stove top fryers are a more traditional option. These are large pots, usually made from stainless steel, which are set on the stovetop and filled with cooking oil which gets heated up and cooks the turkey.

Pots as large as 30 quarts are available, which would be able to handle a turkey of around 20 lbs in weight, but more typically, stove top fryers are designed for smaller turkeys of around 12 to 14 lbs in weight.

Electric Deep Fryer

Electric Deep Fryer

Another option is an electric deep fryer which is plugged into a mains outlet. These tend to be among the safest fryers to use, and although extra-large versions are available, they are typically designed for small to medium turkeys. Electric deep fryers are very versatile and can also be used to fry lobster, prime rib, and other produce.

Air Fryers

Air Fryers

Finally, air fryers designed for cooking turkeys are a great way to prepare the whole bird without using any oil. This presents a safer way to cook because no hot oil means no danger of fires, spillages, or burns. The lack of cooking oil required also means that the resulting turkey will be significantly healthier and lower in fat and calories.

Take note when shopping for a turkey fryer that the advertised cooking size does not equate to the size of the turkey.

For example, an 18lb cooking pan will not fit an 18lb turkey in it whole but would need to be portioned up. If you want to keep your turkey intact, you’ll need to scale down slightly. For example, an 18lb fryer would fit a whole 14lb turkey in it.

Guest Numbers

Turkey Sizes by Guest Numbers
Turkey Sizes by Guest Numbers

The amount of turkey meat you need, and therefore the required size of your turkey, will depend on the number of guests you want to feed at your family meal. A 10lb turkey will serve enough portions for 8 or 9 people, a 15lb turkey will feed around 12 people, and a 20lb turkey should feed 16 people.

Extra-large parties of 18 or 20 people will need a turkey that weighs at least 22 to 24 lbs. Of course, if you don’t have a pan big enough to accommodate an extra-large turkey, you could fry two smaller turkeys in two pans, for example, two 10lbs turkeys to feed 16 guests.

Tips for Frying a Turkey

If you have a frozen turkey, you should thoroughly defrost it before putting it in a deep fryer. A medium-sized turkey should be defrosted in the refrigerator for three days prior to cooking, and a bigger turkey will need even longer.

This is a very vital step to maintain safety when frying a turkey because any ice particles which get dropped into the hot cooking oil will cause the oil to explode and for flames to rise. If you were to insert a frozen turkey into a hot deep fryer, you could expect the flames to reach as tall as 10 feet high.

To know how much oil you need in your fryer, do a test run with water. Put your turkey in the fryer, cover it with water, and then remove the turkey.

Make a note of the water level; this will be the point to which you need to fill the fryer with cooking oil. This is an easy measure you can take to make sure you don’t overfill the fryer and prevent hot oil from spilling over when you add the turkey.

The temperature of the oil needs to be over 300 degrees before you put the turkey into the fryer, and this temperature needs to be maintained throughout the frying time. A temperature of between 350 and 375 degrees is ideal. You’ll need to adjust cooking time depending on the size of the bird, allowing for three and a half minutes of frying per lb in weight of the turkey.

This means a 10lb turkey will need to be fried for 35 minutes, a 12lb turkey will need to be fried for 42 minutes, a 16 lb turkey will need to be fried for 56 minutes, and a 20 lb turkey will need to be fried for one hour and 10 minutes.

Fried turkeys are delicious when they have been injected with a marinade before cooking, and this also helps to keep the meat moist and prevent the frying process from drying the turkey out.

You can inject the breast and leg meat with a mixture of melted butter and herbs and spices, or just melted butter alone.

This can be injected at any time from 24 hours before cooking right up until a few minutes before you put the turkey in the fryer, though many chefs recommend injecting the turkey two to three hours before you intend to fry it.

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