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The Best Turkey Fryers

By Miye Bromberg Published

Frying a turkey is a high-stakes operation. Step one: Get the right fryer.

The best turkey fryers produce excellent fried turkey and are durable and powerful. We prefer outdoor cookers to countertop models, which can be used inside. Our favorite is the Bayou Classic Stainless Steel 32-Quart Turkey Fryer and Gas One High Pressure Burner. This kit produced great crispy-skinned turkey in its large stainless-steel pot, thanks to a powerful burner that heated oil quickly and maintained temperatures well. It comes with a large steamer basket for boiling seafood and steaming tamales.

What You Need to Know

There are three good reasons to fry your turkey. First: the results. At its best, a fried turkey is spectacular, with bronzed, crackling-like skin and tender, juicy meat. Second: It frees up your oven. Without the turkey hogging the oven for hours, you can rotate in your sides and desserts more efficiently. Finally, it’s fast. Budgeting 3 to 4 minutes per pound, a 12-pound bird will be done in 48 minutes, tops. You could fry two turkeys in the time it takes you to finish making your sides. (Some folks do!) There are two types of fryers: outdoor and countertop. Outdoor cookers are pretty simple—just a large stockpot and a burner that you hook up to a propane tank. Countertop fryers are powered by electricity and are essentially extra-large deep fryers.

Three turkeys rest after being deep-fried.

Regardless of type, turkey fryers usually come with a steamer basket so that you can also do seafood boils or steam tamales. Most outdoor cookers also include a rack for holding the turkey, a hook for lowering the rack, and a thermometer for monitoring oil temperature. 

You can also use your turkey fryer to steam or boil seafood, as with the crawfish boil pictured here.

What to Look For

• An Outdoor Cooker: Outdoor cookers are more expensive than countertop models, require the additional investment of propane, are a little more work to set up and maintain, and must be used outside (although this can also be a plus—while the weather has to be dry and calm for you to fry, any frying odors dissipate quickly outside). They’re still the best option for home cooks because they make the best fried turkeys. The two we tested had pots that were roomy, safely accommodating birds up to 18 pounds and plenty of oil for frying them. Their powerful propane burners heated the oil quickly and maintained proper frying temperatures, ensuring that the turkey cooked evenly, with crispy skin.

A turkey sits before and after frying.

Outdoor cookers hold plenty of oil for frying—slightly less than 4 gallons in both of the models we tested.

• A Stainless-Steel Pot: Outdoor cookers come with either stainless-steel or aluminum pots. Stainless steel takes a touch longer to heat, but it’s far more durable than aluminum. Aluminum will get the job done, too. But it’s also softer and more vulnerable to damage; our aluminum pot dented when we accidentally dropped it while cleaning it, though it was still functional. And as our science research editor explained, aluminum also has lower tensile strength than stainless steel, so it’s also more prone to developing cracks or pinholes, which could leak oil and lead to fires. (This is very rare but can occur if the flame’s too high for too long.)

• A Simple, Easy-to-Regulate Preassembled Burner: Our favorite cooker was paired with a burner that was almost entirely preassembled. While it wasn’t difficult to put together the other cooker’s burner, we’d prefer not to have to fuss with such an important and potentially dangerous piece of equipment. Our favorite burner was easy to control, too; you change the size of the flame by twisting a valve to regulate the flow of gas into the burner.

The best propane burner was simple and easy to set up and use.

• A Flat-Bottomed Turkey Rack: Both of the outdoor cookers in our lineup came with a special rack to hold the turkey. We slightly preferred the rack with a flat, perforated bottom; it held the turkey more securely than the rack with three upturned hooks at its base.

• A Big Steamer Basket: The bigger the basket, the more crawfish, shrimp, fish, or tamales it can hold—our favorite had a capacity of 17 quarts.

A big steamer basket (pictured here) simply holds more crawfish, shrimp, and anything else you care to boil or steam.

What to Avoid

• Countertop Fryers: Countertop fryers are cheaper than outdoor cookers and promise superior convenience and ease of use. You can use them inside, and you don’t need to buy propane. A built-in thermostat regulates the temperature of the oil or water, and at least on the model we tested, the temperature was accurate once set. Unfortunately, it just didn’t do a great job of frying turkeys. It took almost 30 minutes longer than the outdoor cookers from start to finish and yielded a bird that was evenly cooked but had steamed, soggy skin. Why? The countertop fryer uses less oil, so it loses heat faster when you lower the cold turkey into the oil. And the countertop fryer just wasn’t as powerful as the propane burners, taking longer to heat the oil and struggling to maintain the proper frying temperature. As a result, the turkey cooked, but there wasn’t enough energy to evaporate excess moisture—thus the soggy skin. In addition, condensation also built up under the fryer lid, cascading into the oil when the lid was opened and sending hot spatters everywhere.

Condensation built up under the lid of the countertop fryer, flowing not only into reservoirs designed to hold that extra moisture, but also into the hot oil, sending up spatters.

• Complicated Burner Controls: The burner control panel of one of the outdoor cookers was a pain to use. To light the burner, we had to hold down two buttons simultaneously to allow the gas to flow through. Once the gas was lit, we had to continue holding the buttons in place for a few seconds before slowly easing off them. If we released the buttons too quickly, the flame went out, forcing us to start over—an incredibly finicky process.

• Burners with Safety Timers: Worse, this particular control panel came with a “timer”—a safety switch that automatically shut off the gas flow after 15 minutes to prevent us from accidentally keeping the burner on too long. This turned out to be a huge annoyance, requiring us to relight the finicky burner repeatedly during use.

One outdoor cooker had a safety timer that turned the gas off every 15 minutes, requiring us to lift the pot off the burner and relight it periodically.

Other Considerations

• Does Burner Output Matter? Nope. While the heat outputs of the two outdoor cookers were different—33,000 BTU versus 65,000 BTU—in practice, they didn’t vary much. Set to a medium flame, they heated similar volumes of oil at similar rates, and both were far more powerful than the countertop fryer.

FAQs

How to Fry a Turkey Without Burning Down Your Neighborhood

Know the risks—and take the proper measures—before you begin.

How to Check Your Propane Gas Grill or Fryer for Leaks

A simple test ensures your safety while grilling or frying with propane.

5 Things You Can Cook in Your Turkey Fryer (Besides Turkey)

If you’re cooking for a crowd, the turkey fryer is your new best friend.

How We Tested

• Fry turkey, timing how quickly the oil came up to temperature in each model and how quickly the turkeys cooked
• Make a crawfish boil (winner only)

Equipment Review Turkey Fryers

Frying a turkey is a high-stakes operation. Step one: Get the right fryer.

I Fried Turkeys with the Lexington Fire Department and Lived to Tell the Tale

You don’t need to be friends with the fire department to fry a turkey. But it sure doesn’t hurt.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.