Turkey Options: Outdoor Roasting and Frying

If you’re planning on cooking your turkey someplace other than the oven, you might want to learn more about two popular methods — deep frying and outdoor roasting. We took a close look at these a couple years ago in our Thanksgiving preparations. It’s worth another look.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about getting ready for the harvest feast we call Thanksgiving. We’ve looked at planning, roasting, stuffing versus dressing, side dishes and turkey carving. But if you’ve got a crowded oven and just can’t figure out a good plan for getting everything to the table hot, there are other options to consider. However, it means being able to cook outside.

In recent years, deep fried turkey has become very popular. I’ve heard people rave about it. Plus it frees up a lot of valuable oven space. But there are problems. Many of these outdoor fryers are not very stable and can easily tip over, spreading scalding hot oil all over the place. Many people don’t use them properly and overflow them, leading to a dangerous fire, painful burns and a visit from the local fire department. And those guys won’t be happy about having their dinner interrupted to respond to your own stupidity.

I know thousands of people successfully deep fry their Thanksgiving turkey without any problems. But I often think Thanksgiving is to cooking what New Year’s Eve is to drinking: amateur hour. Too many people don’t read the directions. Too many people consume too much alcohol during the cooking process, affecting their judgement and coordination. To me, there are two problems with this method:

  1. It’s fried. I know many people claim it’s not greasy, but it’s still fried.
  2. It’s dangerous unless you really know what you’re doing.

But there are other options. Before modern ovens, such large meats were roasted over an open fire or in front of a hearth. Too bad so few homes these days have fireplaces equipped for spit roasting.  You could also roast your bird in an outdoor grill. But that takes a lot of attention and can easily dry out the meat.

A new device has come on the market. Some people call it an oil-less deep fryer. What it really is a propane powered outdoor vertical roaster. It looks a lot like a turkey deep fryer and consists of two cylinders into which a “fry” basket for the turkey fits. The heating element is in the outer cylinder, which heats the air between that and the inner cylinder.  Just as with the deep fryer, this thing gets hot and care should be taken in handling it. But unlike the deep fryer, there’s not gallon or so of oil to spill or cause a grease fire. Like the deep fryer, the skin all around the turkey gets crisp, unlike the oven roasting method which leaves some skin flabby and unappealing.

But does it work? Yes. It’s easy to handle the turkey and as I already mentioned, the fire danger is reduced. Testers found the turkey as juicy as with oven roasting, less prone to drying out and evenly cooked. They found the skin crispy but not as crispy as with deep frying. Char-Broil is the leading producer of these things and the cost is about $99.

Drawbacks? A 12 pound turkey barely fits, so this method is out if you’re feeding a large crowd. Although you could probably use it to roast other large, whole meats, there’s a good chance it might sit and collect dust the rest of the year.

It might be a little late to go out and spend all that money on this appliance. On the other hand, it’s something to keep in mind for the future if you have a place to cook outdoors. Us apartment dwellers will just have to stick with the oven.