Put a Twist on Traditional Turkey Preparation Methods

December 1, 2001

Turkey has long been a holiday tradition; in fact, 95 percent of those surveyed by the National Turkey Federation (NTF) reported eating turkey last Thanksgiving. While most Americans preparing Thanksgiving dinner roasted their turkeys (94 percent), interest and experimentation in non-traditional methods of turkey preparation, such as deep-frying, brining, smoking and grilling, are gaining in popularity. Surprise your family and friends with a new spin on this old favorite.

It's simple to be creative when you cook with turkey because it's easily seasoned and complements any dish on the table. "You can change the flavor profile of turkey by altering the cooking method, preparation or both," said Sherrie Rosenblatt, NTF's director of public relations. "Experiment with different rub and marinade seasonings, then try deep frying, brining or grilling for added flavor." The Lemon Garlic Roasted Turkey recipe can be easily adapted from the roasting method to grilling or deep-frying techniques. The citrus and garlic flavors are quite complementary to the taste of turkey.

Be creative with other dishes on the table too. 94 percent of those who prepared Thanksgiving dinner last year included a stuffing dish. This year, try rice as an alternative to stuffing. Ginger Citrus Rice is both low in fat, easy to prepare and packed with flavor.

Don't forget to use these flavorful leftovers for quick-to-prepare meals. Cooked turkey is an ideal base ingredient for stir-fry dishes, pizzas, frittatas, fajitas, casseroles, chilis, sandwiches, salads and soups. For more ideas on using turkey to create deliciously different recipes, go to www.eatturkey.com for a virtual encyclopedia of cooking and preparation tips.

Marinades are seasoned liquids in which the turkey is soaked both to absorb flavor and to tenderize. Most marinades contain an acid such as vinegar, citrus juice, wine and herbs or spices. One of the easiest ways to marinate a turkey is by using a needle-like injector. Injectors can be purchased at kitchen supply stores and range in price from $10 to $15.

To marinate a turkey without an injector, simply use a fork to make random holes over the entire bird. Place the turkey in a large, plastic cooking bag or foodservice grade plastic bag, pour in the marinade, close the bag securely and let it marinate overnight. Turkey should always be marinated in the refrigerator. Before cooking, be sure to scrape off excess marinade and discard. Do NOT re-use marinade to baste the turkey.

Roast until the internal temperature reaches 170ºF in the breast and 180ºF in the thigh. Cooking times are for planning purposes only--always use a food thermometer to determine the correct stage of doneness.

NTF Roasting Guidelines for a Fresh or Thawed Turkey Roast in a 325º F Conventional Oven on the Lowest Oven Rack
Weight Unstuffed Turkey Stuffed Turkey
8 to 12 pounds 2 3/4 to 3 hours 3 to 3 1/2 hours
12 to 14 pounds 3 to 3 3/4 hours 3 1/2 to 4 hours
14 to 18 pounds 3 3/4 to 4 1/4 hours 4 to 4 1/4 hours
18 to 20 pounds 4 1/4 to 4 1/2 hours 4 1/4 to 4 3/4 hours
20 to 24 pounds 4 1/2 to 5 hours 4 3/4 to 5 1/4 hours
24 to 30 pounds 5 to 5 1/4 hours 5 1/4 to 6 1/4 hours

Indirect heat is ideal for grilling a whole turkey or a turkey breast, as these foods need a slower grilling method. With indirect heat, the lid is closed and the meat is placed over a tray or on the unlit portion of the grill. Grill the turkey for approximately 12 to 15 minutes per pound or until the internal temperature reaches 170ºF for a turkey breast and 180ºF in the thigh for a whole bird.


Deep-fried turkey, a concept that started in the south, is gradually rising in popularity nationwide. It's a perfect new twist for barbecues and block parties. In fact, since deep-frying turkey requires special equipment and lots of oil, groups of neighbors often get together to share the costs and the feast. To get you started, click on an award-winning deep-fried turkey recipe. For a Deep-Frying Turkey experience that is fun and produces delicious results follow these guidelines:

You'll need a 40 to 60 quart pot with basket, burner and propane gas tank, a candy thermometer to measure oil temperature and a meat thermometer to determine the doneness of the turkey. For added safety, have a fire extinguisher and pot holders nearby. To add flavor with different marinades and seasonings, you may want to purchase an injector.

Place fryer on level dirt or grassy area. Never fry a turkey indoors, in a garage or in any other structure attached to a building. Avoid frying on wood decks, which could catch fire, and concrete, which can be stained by the oil.

Smaller turkeys, 8 to 10 pounds and turkey parts such as breast, wings and thighs are best for frying. You'll need approximately five gallons of oil; more for larger turkeys. Turkey can be injected with a marinade, coated with a pre-made breading or seasoned with a rub.

Cooking Preparation

  • To determine the correct amount of oil, place the turkey in the basket and place in the pot. Add water until it reaches 1 to 2 inches above the turkey. Remove the turkey and note the water level, using a ruler to measure the distance from the top of the pot to the surface of the water. Pour out the water and dry the pot thoroughly. Be sure to measure for oil before breading or marinating the turkey.
  • Heat the oil to 350ºF. Depending on the amount of oil used, this usually takes between 45 minutes and one hour.
  • While the oil is heating, prepare the turkey as desired. If injecting a marinade into the turkey, puree ingredients so that they will pass through the needle. Even so, you may have to strain the mixture to remove larger portions. Remove skin if desired. If breading the turkey, place the turkey in a gallon-sized storage bag with breading and shake to coat.
  • Do not stuff turkeys for deep frying.

    Frying the Turkey

  • Once the oil has come to temperature, place the turkey in the basket and slowly lower into the pot.
  • Whole turkeys require approximately 3 minutes per pound to cook. Remove turkey and check internal temperature with meat thermometer. The temperature should reach 170ºF in the breast and 180ºF in the thigh.
  • Turkey parts such as breast, wings and thighs require approximately 4 to 5 minutes per pound to reach the proper internal temperature.

    Additional Safety Tips

  • Never leave the hot oil unattended and don't allow children or pets near the cooking area.
  • Allow the oil to cool completely before disposing or storing.
  • Immediately wash hands, utensils, equipment and surfaces that have come in contact with raw turkey.
  • Turkey should be consumed immediately and leftovers stored in the refrigerator within two hours of cooking.

    The Oil
    The oils used to fry turkey are critical to the success of the product.

    Oil Selection
    Only oils that have high smoke points should be used. Such oils include peanut, canola and sunflower. Peanut oil has abundant flavor and is the top choice of many cooks. Canola oil is low in saturated fats and would be appropriate to combine with peanut oil if fat and cholesterol are a concern.

    Oil Filtering
    These high smoke-point oils allow reusing the oil with proper filtration. Depending on the recipe used, remember to filter the oil...not just strain it. The first step is to strain the cooled oil through a fine strainer. If a breading, spice or herb rub are used in the preparation of the turkey, it will be necessary to further filter the oil through fine cheesecloth.

    Oil Storage
    The oil should be covered and refrigerated to prevent it from becoming rancid. The oil may be stored in the refrigerator for several months or until signs of deterioration begin. The oil will thicken when it is chilled, but will return to its original consistency when reheated.

    Shelf Life
    According to the Texas Peanut Producers Board, peanut oil may be used three or four times to fry turkeys before signs of deterioration begin. Such indications include foaming, darkening or smoking excessively, indicating the oil must be discarded. Other signs of deteriorated oil include a rancid smell and/or failure to bubble when food is added.