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The Case of Fry vs. Fry

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A bird in hot oil still beats two in the oven, or so goes America's passion for deep-fried turkey at holiday time.

Cookbook author John Martin Taylor, a man deeply committed to frying, says "no kind of roasting can make the bird more delicious, especially if that bird's been brined first."

In dozens of cooking classes and demonstrations on television shows, Taylor has measured, then poured gallons of oil into large, drum-shaped turkey fryers, produced perfectly done specimens and poured out even more oil (as the bird's fat has been rendered) to prove that the technique is not as unhealthful as it seems.

Using the contraptions can lighten an oven's to-do list on Thanksgiving, giving cooks a hand for less than the cost of a stand mixer. And turkey is not the fryers' only purpose. Depending on the power source and design, the drums can handle several smaller birds at once, or big meats, or they can be used for boiling and steaming as well as frying up to three pounds of French fries at a time.

For those without back yards or access to cooking outdoors, the practice got an upgrade in 2007 with the introduction of an electric big-drum oil fryer specifically for kitchen use. (Features such as a maximum-fill line that is halfway up the inner pot and a spout for releasing used oil or liquid make it safe and non-intimidating.) Last year we also saw the release of a device that uses infrared or thermal heat to "fry" without oil; the unit is for outdoor use only. (Does anyone besides us find it ironic that the no-oil approach is used outdoors and the hot-oil approach is for indoors?)

So we pitted indoor unit against outdoor unit: Masterbuilt's Electric Fryer, Boiler and Steamer vs. Char-Broil's Big Easy Oil-less Turkey Fryer (1600 series). Both are available at big-box stores and online, with pre-holiday price tags of $130 to $140. There are helpful instructional videos online:

· http://www.bbqguys.com/video_list_132-133.html?item=12354

· http://www.charbroil.com/Consumer/viewKnowledge.aspx?KnowledgeID=1889

Each unit has its pluses and minuses, yet both produced nicely cooked birds. Cooking time per pound is about three minutes for the electric fryer vs. 10 minutes for the oil-less fryer, but that time advantage can be offset by the fact that it takes close to an hour for the oil to reach the proper temperature.

If a cook had the means to operate either fryer, we'd recommend the Big Easy oil-less model because of its ease of use and because aromatics can be employed in the turkey cavity. If that same cook had cause to boil, steam and fry in large amounts, then we'd recommend the Masterbuilt Electric Fryer because of its multi-tasking ability.

In that vein, we submit the following cooks' profiles that best match the units:

AN INDOOR-FRYER COOK:

· Has enough counter or heat-safe floor space to accommodate the unit, which is about 18 inches high and 21 inches wide.

· Doesn't mind spending more on the cooking oil than on the turkey (about $45 for three gallons).

· Doesn't care that there will be no drippings for gravy.

· Doesn't mind having a kitchen that smells for a few days like a beach boardwalk fries stand.

· Doesn't want to cook a bird larger than 14 pounds.

· Has good marinade or brining recipes (spice rubs tend to burn off in the hot oil).

· Has the wherewithal and storage space to deal with the used oil.

AN OIL-LESS FRYER COOK:

· Owns basic hand tools and is patient enough to put the unit together, which takes about an hour (or is fortunate enough to have a designated engineer on hand).

· Already owns a full-size propane tank (which costs about $48 empty and $18 to $28 to fill) and isn't afraid to use it (or has a designated propane engineer on hand).

· Is prepared to sit outdoors and monitor the cooking, which, for example, can take 1 1/2 to 2 hours for a 14-pound turkey (or has a designated sitter).

· Can accommodate the cleaning (by hand) of the 12.5-inch-wide-by-17-inch-high interior pot.

· Isn't squeamish about using the drippings, which the fryer directions recommend reheating "in order to kill bacteria" (from juices released during cooking).

· Doesn't mind neighborhood dogs and cats stalking the perimeter of the back yard as the wafting aromas of hot turkey fill the air.

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