|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 8 to 10|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 29g||37%|
|Saturated Fat 5g||26%|
|Total Carbohydrate 51g||18%|
|Dietary Fiber 3g||10%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||5%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|
If you love fried chicken, then you’ll want to try this crispy, flavorful, and moist fried turkey for Thanksgiving, or for any special occasion when you need to wow a crowd. This fried turkey recipe calls for buying cut-up turkey parts, which get brined in a flavorful buttermilk marinade, coated in seasoned flour, and then fried until golden brown in a cast-iron skillet—just like you would with classic fried chicken. Although it doesn’t have the iconic look of a whole roasted holiday turkey, no one will complain when you set down an enormous platter of deep-fried crunchy goodness on the table.
Using smaller pieces of turkey means that you can introduce more flavor and season the meat more effectively. The buttermilk marinade helps to tenderize the turkey and keep it moist, and the addition of salt means it also acts as a brine, seasoning the turkey pieces thoroughly.
The spice blend is a mix of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, ground ginger, and poultry seasoning. The ground ginger might seem a little unusual, but it was inspired by a leaked KFC recipe and contributes a subtle warmth and earthiness without overpowering the flavor of the turkey.
To get that signature crispy crust, baking powder is added to the seasoned flour. When the baking powder combines with the wet marinade on the turkey pieces and comes in contact with the hot oil, it creates tiny air pockets that help give the coating a crunchy lightness. To further enhance the texture of the coating, a little bit of the buttermilk brine is drizzled and stirred into the seasoned flour, creating little clumped bits of flour that cling to the turkey and produce maximum cragginess.
This fried turkey goes well with all the sides on the Thanksgiving table and would be especially delicious with cranberry sauce, a simple turkey gravy or Southern cream gravy, and mashed potatoes.
"There are so many reasons to make this crispy deep-fried turkey. The buttermilk makes the turkey very juicy. The instructions are easy and the cooking times worked. The coating is well seasoned, crunchy and craggy. I made this for Thanksgiving last year but it's an amazing way to enjoy turkey year-round." —Heather Ramsdell
For the Spice Blend:
3 tablespoons paprika
5 teaspoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt-free poultry seasoning, such as Bell's
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
For the Turkey:
2 boneless and skinless turkey breasts (about 3 pounds)
2 turkey thighs (about 2 pounds)
2 small turkey drumsticks (about 2 1/4 pounds)
For the Brine:
2 large eggs
3 cups buttermilk
5 teaspoons kosher salt
For the Seasoned Flour:
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
5 teaspoons kosher salt
4 cups vegetable oil
Steps to Make It
Brine the Turkey
Gather the ingredients.
Make the spice blend: Whisk the paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, poultry seasoning, and ground ginger in a medium bowl until evenly combined and set aside.
Prep the turkey: Pull the skin off the turkey thighs and drumsticks. Remove the bones from the turkey thighs with a sharp knife (see Tips for more instructions). Cut each thigh in half or in thirds if large. Slice each breast across the grain on a diagonal to yield 1-inch thick “steaks.” You’ll get about 5 to 6 steaks per lobe.
Make the brine: In a bowl large enough to hold all the turkey pieces, whisk the eggs first, then add the buttermilk, 2 tablespoons of the spice blend, and salt; whisk until well combined. Note: If your turkey is pre-brined (check the packaging label), then omit the salt from the buttermilk.
Submerge the turkey pieces in the brine and gently stir to make sure each piece is completely coated. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 16 hours.
Fry the Turkey
When ready to cook, preheat an oven to 325 F. Remove the turkey from the fridge and let sit for an hour to take the chill off. Prepare 2 large baking sheets with racks set inside them.
Fill a 12-inch or larger cast iron skillet halfway up with oil and heat to 350 F. Be careful not to fill it higher, as the oil will get displaced when you add the turkey.
Mix the seasoned flour: Whisk the flour, remaining spice blend, baking powder, and salt in a large baking dish, such as a 9 x 13, until evenly combined.
Drizzle about 1/2 cup of the buttermilk brine all over the seasoned flour, a little at a time, and stirring with a fork after each addition. This creates little clumps in the flour that will give the crust a craggy texture.
Since they take the longest to cook, remove the 2 drumsticks first from the buttermilk brine, letting any excess drip off. Roll them in the flour mixture until completely coated, pressing well to adhere.
Fry the drumsticks until golden brown and crisp all over, about 10 minutes per side, adjusting the heat to maintain a temperature of 325 F. Remove to one of the prepared baking sheets with a rack and transfer to the oven to finish cooking, 20 to 30 minutes. They should reach an internal temperature of 165 F.
Meanwhile, allow the oil to come back up to 350 F. Coat the thighs next and fry until browned and crisp outside and no longer pink inside, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the thighs to the rack with the drumsticks in the oven. Fry the breast pieces in batches and remove them to the second prepared baking sheet with a rack.
When the drumsticks are cooked through, reduce the oven temperature to 200 F. Allow the oven to cool down enough, then transfer the second rack of cooked breast pieces to the oven to keep warm.
Arrange the turkey pieces on a large platter and serve.
- To remove the thigh bone: Place the thigh on a cutting board with the bone-side facing up. Using the tip of a sharp knife, such as a boning knife, cut closely along the length of the thigh bone on either side of it. Once the bone is exposed on both sides, carefully slide the knife underneath the bone and cut along the length of it to release the bone. Trim any pieces of cartilage or sinew left on the thigh.
- Some supermarket brands pre-brine their turkeys. Be sure to check the label for any mention of salt or a salt solution. If your turkey is pre-brined, skip the salt in the buttermilk marinade, but keep the salt in the flour coating.
- A deep-fry thermometer is key for frying turkey or chicken, especially with the temperature fluctuations of frying in batches. Be sure to bring the oil back up to 350 F before each batch and maintain a temperature of 325 F during frying.
- Avoid overcrowding the skillet, which can cause the oil temperature to drop too low and result in a soggy and greasy crust.
- The best way to check for doneness is to use an instant-read thermometer. The minimum safe temperature for turkey is 165 F. For the drumstick, make sure the thermometer isn’t touching the bone or you won’t get an accurate reading.
- If you’re starting with a frozen whole turkey or frozen turkey parts, the safest method to thaw the turkey is in the refrigerator. You will need 24 hours of thawing time for every 4 pounds of bird. Be sure to plan ahead, especially since you’ll need to factor in the time to brine the turkey.
- If you have any leftovers, use the fried boneless turkey pieces for the ultimate turkey club sandwich or try one of these tasty leftover ideas.
- You can mix the spice blend a week ahead of time and store it in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Make the seasoned flour in the baking dish the day before. (Don’t stir in the buttermilk mixture until you’re ready to cook.) Cover and keep at room temperature.
- Cut and brine the turkey the day before since it requires an 8 hour to overnight brine. Keep refrigerated.
- If you can’t find certain turkey parts or prefer to use one part over another, it’s easy to make replacements that will yield the same number of servings. You can replace:
- 2 thighs with 1 boneless breast or 2 drumsticks
- 2 drumsticks with 1 boneless breast or 2 thighs
- 2 breasts with 4 thighs or 4 drumsticks
- This recipe uses the convenience of already butchered turkey parts, but you can start with a whole turkey and break down the turkey yourself into the required pieces. A turkey’s anatomy is similar to a chicken’s, and this article on cutting up a whole chicken is helpful. Make a stock with the leftover carcass, and then make a gravy ahead of time.
- Change up the spices to suit your taste. Replace the spice blend with Cajun seasoning, lemon pepper, dry adobo, or your own custom mix. And sometimes just good old salt and pepper are all you need for a tasty, fried turkey
- Add cayenne to the spice blend for a peppery kick, or try Aleppo pepper or ancho chili powder for a more subtle heat. You can also add hot sauce to the buttermilk brine for a tangy, spicy element, though you might want to consider reducing some of the salt if you're using a lot.
- If you don’t have buttermilk, you can substitute it with these buttermilk replacements.
- For a lighter crunch, replace about a quarter of the flour amount with cornstarch.
- You can also deep-fry the turkey in about 2 inches of oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot. The turkey pieces might cook faster with this method, so check for doneness earlier.
How to Store and Freeze
- Transfer any leftover turkey into shallow, airtight containers and refrigerate within two hours. Store in the refrigerator for up to four days.
- To reheat the turkey, remove it from the fridge and bring it to room temperature. Heat the oven to 400 F. Put the turkey pieces on a rack set in a baking sheet and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes until heated through and crisp. The minimum safe temperature for cooked leftovers is 165 F.
- To freeze, place the turkey pieces in a shallow, airtight container or in a zip-close freezer bag. Label with the name and date and freeze for up to four months.
Why do you remove the skin from the turkey pieces?
While you would normally keep the skin on for fried chicken, turkey skin is thicker and more rubbery and might not result in the best texture for fried turkey.
Can you taste the baking powder in the seasoned flour?
Using the ratio in the recipe, you should not be able to detect any flavor from the baking powder. If you are concerned about the baking powder, try using one that is aluminum-free.
Why are there eggs in the buttermilk brine?
The eggs help the coating stick to the turkey.