How We Tested
The best turkey fryers are durable and powerful and make great turkey. 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—some folks do—in the time it takes you to finish making your sides. 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.
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.
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 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
Other Tools You Might Want
- Grill Gloves: It’s important to protect your hands when lowering the turkey into the hot oil and when lifting it out.
- Fire Extinguisher: Because it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
- Large Liquid Measuring Cup: It’s essential for measuring the oil you need for the fryer and for ladling the oil out after you’re done.
- Carving Board: You’ll want this to hold your crispy, golden bird after it comes out of the fryer.
- Use to fry turkey, timing how quickly the oil came up to temperature in each model and how quickly the turkeys cooked
- Use to make crawfish boil (winner only)
Performance: We evaluated how powerful the models were, and how well they fried turkey.
Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy the models were to set up, use, and clean.