When Is a Fried Turkey Done? (The USDA Weighs In)


More and more people are learning how good fried turkey is. However, there it’s easy to under or overcook it. After the bird has been prepared, the oil is heated, and the turkey is deep-frying away, how can you tell when it is done and ready to eat? The internal temperature is the key.

According to the USDA, a fried turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches at least 165˚F (73.89˚C). The temperature of the oil should be 350˚F (176.67˚C). A turkey needs three to four minutes of frying time for every pound (0.45 kg).

When you go to all the work of preparing and frying a turkey, you want it cooked thoroughly without burning to a crisp. Our guide will take you through the process of checking the bird’s temperature, what to do if you don’t have a thermometer, and what kind of oil to use.

How Do I Check the Temperature of a Fried Turkey?

To check the temperature of a fried turkey, I recommend using an instant-read meat thermometer. The thickest portion of the thigh cooks the slowest, so the rest of the turkey is thoroughly cooked once it has reached the correct temperature.

An instant-read thermometer is worth its weight in golden-fried turkey. Here is the one I recommend, found on Amazon.

The meatiest part of the thigh needs to be 165-170˚F (73.89-76.67˚C), so when the thigh reaches those temperatures, the turkey is ready to be removed from the oil.

Deep-fried turkeys cook quickly, but you don’t want to check every five minutes. A general guideline would be helpful to keep you from doing that.

Luckily, there is.

The guidelines are that a turkey needs three to four minutes of frying time per pound (0.45 kg). A 10-pound (4.5 kg) turkey, therefore, should be ready in 30-40 minutes. So multiply your bird’s weight by three, set the timer, and check the temperature when the timer goes off.

How to Place a Thermometer in a Turkey for Frying

If you have never used a meat thermometer before, it can be a bit tricky to do correctly.

Insert the thermometer into a thigh so it’ll be parallel to the turkey’s body. You’ll know if you hit a bone if you can’t push the thermometer in any further. Pull back enough so that the tip is in the middle of the thigh then check the temperature.

Pro Tip: If the thermometer suddenly slides in easily, you’ve pushed it into the bird’s cavity. Pull it back and reinsert.

One good thing about measuring the temperature of the deep-fried turkey is that you don’t need to close the oven door. The oil will stay hot while an oven quickly loses heat.

Safety is paramount when deep-frying a turkey. Be sure to carefully lift the turkey out of the oil before checking the temperature. A sudden slip of the thermometer or turkey, and you could’ve severe burns.  

Also, when checking the temperature, use heat-resistant gloves to avoid oil burns.  It’ll be a wise idea to avoid skin exposure. If you’re responsible for the fried turkey, don’t wear shorts and sandals!  

Smoked Turkey Temp When Done (Is it the Same?)

You might decide that you don’t want to deal with the hot oil or realize you don’t have enough oil. Smoking a turkey is a good backup, especially if you’ll use your oven for various baked goods.

The temperature for smoked turkey when done should be 165-170˚F (73.89˚ to 76.67˚ C), the same as for a fried turkey. Count on 30 minutes per pound of smoked turkey. A 12-pound (5.44 kgs) bird will take about 6 hours to finish smoking.  

However, there’s a difference.

Since it takes much longer to smoke the turkey, it needs to be in a 40˚-140˚F (4.44˚ to 60˚ C) range within 4 hours of the smoking process.  If not, you run the risk of spoilage. For that reason, your bird should be 10-12 pounds (4.5-9.07 kg).

How Do You Fry a Turkey Without a Thermometer?

You can fry a turkey without a thermometer by setting a timer for the high range of suggested cooking times, 4 minutes per pound of turkey. Check for doneness by cutting slits in the turkey and pressing down on the meat. Clear liquid means the turkey is done; red means it needs more cooking time.

What if the fryer doesn’t have a temperature setting? Here are three ways to tell if the oil is hot enough:

  • The Popcorn Hack- Drop a kernel of popcorn into the oil. When it pops, the oil has reached 350˚F (176.67˚C).  Remove the popcorn and add the turkey.
  • Use Wood- Oil that’s hot enough for frying will bubble steadily when you dip a chopstick or a wooden spoon into it.  None or only a few bubbles mean the oil isn’t hot enough, and vigorous bubbling means the oil is too hot.
  • The Bread Method- A one-inch square (6.45 cm-square) of bread should take 60 seconds to brown at 365˚F (185˚ C).

What Is the Best Oil for Frying Turkeys?

Peanut oil is the best for frying turkeys because it has a smoke point above 400˚F (204.44˚C), making it less likely to catch fire. You can also use other types of oils low in saturated fat. 

Since peanut oil, like this kind, is only one of half a dozen oils with a smoke point above 400˚F (204.44˚C), why do recipes almost always recommend it?

  • Vegetable and Canola oils contain healthier omega-3 fatty acids and less saturated fats than peanut oil. Still, if you plan to eat a fried turkey, omega-3 fatty acids aren’t a top priority.
  • Vegetable and peanut oils have a light flavor (although some people claim that peanut oil has a slightly nutty flavor).  
  • Peanut oil is more expensive, so that should give vegetable oil the edge. However, cooks often reuse it because they claim it does a better job of not taking on the flavor of the food. If you deep fry repeatedly, you can come out even when it comes to cost. 

Perhaps the best answer is tradition—recipes call for peanut oil, friends use it, and you grew up eating turkey fried in peanut oil. 

Choose Oils Based on Smoke Point

When it comes to oils, you need to know their smoke point.

A little smoke from oil isn’t always a bad thing, such as in a wok pot or on a skillet. And many deep-fried foods may not be healthy—but sure are delicious. Think fries, fried chicken, or fried veggies.

When the oil stops shimmering and begins to smoke, it has reached the smoke point. At temperatures where it smokes, the oil starts to break down, affecting the food’s flavor.  

The unpleasant taste and aroma of burned oil come from the chemical acrolein. Commercial use of acrolein includes an aquatic herbicide, the manufacturer of plastics and perfumes, and poison gas.  This isn’t stuff you want in your food.

Since the oil temperature for a fried turkey should be 350˚F (176.67˚C), the oil you pick should have a smoke point of 350˚F (176.67˚C) at minimum.  Most chefs recommend that the oil should have a minimum of 50˚F (10˚C) higher.

My Thermometer of Choice

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When an ingredient such as a turkey is put into the oil, the temperature will drop, and it’s easy to get the oil above 350˚F (176.67˚C) to offset the drop. Therefore, use oils with a 400˚F (204.44˚C) or higher smoke point.

To add one additional complication—how the oil was processed makes a difference in whether it should be used in frying. For example, some olive oils have a smoking point of 465˚ F (240.56˚ C), and others have a much lower range of 325-375˚F (162.78-190.56˚C). Why’s that?

In the case of olive oil, the processing is the distinguishing factor. Cooking oils labeled raw or “virgin” have a lower smoke point because they’re freshly pressed and bottled without being refined. This leaves components like minerals and vitamins that have a lower smoke point in the oil.

However, oil processing extracts those components. The result is a milder-flavored oil with a higher smoke point. Clarified butter, ghee, is another example of the extracting process raising the smoke point.

Here is a chart showing which oils to use and which to avoid. Stick to oils in the left column:

Oils 400˚F (204.44˚C) Smoke Point or HigherOils Under 400˚F (204.44˚C) Smoke Point
Safflower 510˚F (265.56˚C)  Grapeseed 390˚F (265.56˚C)
Rice Bran Oil  490˚F (254.44˚C)Avocado 375-400˚F (190.56-204.44˚C)
Light/Refined Olive Oil 465˚F (240.56˚C)Vegetable shortening 360˚F (182.22˚C)
Soybean Oil 450˚F (232.22˚C)Sesame Oil 350-410˚ (176.67-210˚C)
Peanut Oil  450˚F (232.22˚C)Coconut Oil 350˚ (176.67˚ C)
Corn Oil 450˚F (232.22˚C)Extra-Virgin Olive Oil 325-375˚F (162.78-190.56˚C)
Sunflower Oil 440˚F (226.67˚C)
Vegetable Oil  400-450˚F (204.44-232.22˚C)
Canola Oil  400˚F (204.44˚C)

Beef tallow’s smoke point is 400˚F (204.44˚C), but the fat will resolidify, and your friends and family might not want the greasy feel as they eat.

How Much Oil Do I Need? (By Turkey Weight)

Determining how much oil you need depends on the size of your turkey and the size of the pot.  

Weight of turkey in poundsSize of pot in quarts
14 (6.35 kg)24 (22.7 L)
16 (7.26 kg)26 (24.6 L)
20 (9.07 kg)30 (28.4 L)

These guidelines are general rules of thumb. Turkey weights can sometimes be deceiving as some producers add water to the birds to increase their weight.

To get a more accurate idea of how much oil you’ll need, follow these steps:

  1. Put the turkey into the pot you’ll use.
  2. Add enough water to cover the turkey.
  3. Check that you have four to five inches (10.16 to 12.7 cm) from the water to the rim of the pot.  
  4. Take the bird out—that’s how much oil you’ll need.
  5. Dry the pot thoroughly before adding oil.

Warning: If you can’t get four inches (10.16 cm), you should use a bigger pot or smaller bird to prevent oil from splashing out and resulting in burns.

How Many Times Can I Reuse Peanut Oil for Frying Turkeys?

Most cooks suggest you can reuse peanut oil for frying turkeys as many as three to five times for richer flavor, but you should toss it at some point. If you’re not using it again immediately, cool oil completely, strain into its original container, and store in a cool dark place. 

If it’ll be a month or more until you use it again, put it in the refrigerator or freeze it.  (And yes, you can freeze it safely.) 

The next time you deep fry, add some fresh oil.

Here’s how you know the oil shouldn’t be used again—taste it. It shouldn’t taste bitter or sour.  You can also take the sniff test—rancid olive oil will have a crayon-like smell.  Although it probably won’t make you sick, it’ll ruin the taste of your turkey.

How Long Does It Take to Fry a 15-Pound (2.27 kg) Turkey?

Fried Turkey over a Fryer in the Yard
Courtesy of Christina Telep

It takes approximately 55 minutes to fry a 15-pound (2.27 kg) turkey when the oil temperature is at 350˚F (176.67˚C). The formula for checking a turkey is approximately 3 to 4 minutes per pound. 

Deep Frying Turkey Time Chart

The following are the general cooking times for deep frying a turkey based on its weight.

WeightMinutes
10-12 pounds (4.54-5.44 kg)30-40 minutes
13-15 pounds (5.9-6.80 kg)40-55 minutes
16+ pounds (7.26 kg)50-60 minutes

These numbers are based on an oil temperature of 350˚F (176.67˚C). If your oil is hotter or colder, adjust accordingly.

And remember that what counts is the temperature of the meat, which should be 170-175˚F (76.67-79.44˚C).

When To Inject Turkey Before Frying?

You can inject a turkey anywhere from 5 minutes to 36 hours before flying it. Typically, injections should be allowed to sit for up to 12 hours so the flavor can fully penetrate all the meat. Inject the needle in the legs, thighs, and breast, and pull it out slowly so the marinade spreads widely. 

When Frying a Turkey Which End Goes In First?

When frying a turkey, the breast is the end that goes in first, with the legs sticking up or the turkey will pop up, lower the turkey into the oil slowly and then pull it back out a little. Repeat until the turkey is submerged. This stop-and-go method will reduce the amount of oil bubbling.

And please wear heat-resistant oven mitts and an apron.

Do You Leave the Lid on When Frying a Turkey?

Manufacturers suggest you leave the lid on when frying a turkey because their products are made to use a lid. Yet some argue that a lid allows steam to condense and drop back into the oil, and suggest you leave enough room at the top of the rim so most of the bubbling oil remains in the pot.

The lids of some deep-frying kits come with holes, typically used to check the bird’s temperature, which could be a compromise to consider.

Bottom Line

To prevent disaster when frying a turkey, make adequate preparations, such as not overfilling or overheating the oil, ensuring the turkey is dry before you place it in the oil, and wearing clothes that’ll prevent you from getting burned.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss Does Apple Pie Need to Be Refrigerated? | Storage Guidelines.

Main photo courtesy of Christina Telep, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia

Anne James

Hi, I'm Anne but my grandchildren call me Jelly Grandma. I have over 50 years of experience as a Southern cook and am a retired librarian. I love sharing what I have learned. You can find me on YouTube as well! Just click the link at the bottom of your page. I hope your visit here has been a sweet one.

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