How Vivian Howard Fries a Foolproof Turkey

The chef and G&G columnist reveals all the juicy details on how to master the Thanksgiving method

A fried turkey on a stand

Photo: Adobe Images

It’s that time of year: the moment we collectively turn our backs on petite, well-proportioned chickens and lovely marbled hunks of beef to focus our attention on a big bird that, any way you slice it, is a real turkey to cook. And you have to chase the often-dry breast meat that results with gravy—something we Americans have done so many times, it’s become something of a national joke. 

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If turkey duty falls to you, you get it—the instant it enters the kitchen, the turkey is a chore. It’s too big to fit in the fridge. It commands the entire oven on the oven’s busiest day of the year. If it’s brined, the skin is flabby. If it’s not brined, the flesh is flavorless. (Plus, if you’re not into pink turkey thighs, it will need to roast long enough that it will dry out the breasts.) That’s why at Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that somebody, somewhere, sometime I presume in the 1980s, decided they should just deep fry the whole thing. 

Frying your Thanksgiving turkey addresses a number of its issues. First, it frees up your oven and cuts the bird’s cooking time in half. Second, because it gets exposed to heat for much less time, the meat will inevitably be juicier. Third, when you fry something, it gets crispy, even if it’s been brined. And last but not least, cooking the turkey outdoors gives your loved ones who usually loiter in the kitchen an actual job to do outside. 

photo: Josh Woll
Vivian Howard.

The only thing a hot vat of fat will not fix is where to store your turkey before you fry it. Fingers crossed it will be really cold this year and you can keep it under the carport like my Grandma did. Otherwise, here’s how I manage to pull off the often-intimidating process.  

Note: Theoretically you can do this without a proper “turkey fryer” setup, but I never have, so do yourself a favor and pick one up. The set includes a propane burner and base, a pot with a lid, and a mechanism for lowering the bird into the oil. (These also work great for steaming oysters or Lowcountry boils.)


  • Vivian Howard’s Fried Turkey

    • 1 13-to-15-lb. turkey

    • 1 gallon water

    • 1 lb. kosher salt

    • 1 quart maple syrup or dark brown sugar

    • 20 or so sprigs of rosemary and thyme

    • 20 garlic cloves, smashed

    • Zest of 3 oranges, removed with a vegetable peeler

    • 1 tbsp. ground black pepper

    • 5 lb. bag of ice

    • 4 to 5 gallons peanut oil


  1. While still in its package, place the turkey in a 28-to-30-quart pot and add water to just cover the bird. The water and the turkey should be 4 to 5 inches below the lip of the pot. Remove the turkey and pour out the water into a measuring cup to determine the precise amount of peanut oil you will need later in the process.



  2. Return the water to the pot and add the salt, syrup, herbs, garlic, zest, and black pepper. Bring to a boil and hold there for a minute or two. Let the mixture cool for roughly a half hour, and then add the bag of ice. Stir until the brine is chilled.

  3. If you have a 5-gallon drink cooler, put the turkey in it upright and pour the cooled brine over top. A large stock pot works, too. If necessary, weigh down the turkey so it is fully immersed in the brine. Store it in a cool place overnight.

  4. Take the turkey out of the brine. Rinse and pat it dry. Let it sit at room temperature while you heat up your oil or for at least 30 minutes.

  5. Place the oil in the pot and set it on an outside propane burner that is protected from wind. Bring the temperature of the oil up to 250°F. Then, carefully lower the turkey into the oil.

  6. Bring the oil up to 350°F and maintain that heat for 35 minutes. You will likely have to lower the heat of the burner in order to do this. Just make sure you continue to check the temperature of the oil. It can get away from you.

  7. After 35 minutes, check the temperature of the turkey using a probe thermometer. Once the breast reaches 155°F, carefully remove the turkey from the oil and allow it to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes before carving. The bird will continue to cook as it rests and will eventually reach an internal temperature of 161°F.