Friday, January 13, 2017

On Deep Frying A Chicken

So last night, I used my new Masterbuilt Butterball Deep Fryer for the first time with oil. I had used it previously with water and made a delightful Low Country Boil with shrimp, sausage, potatoes, corn and Old Bay seasoning. This time, I was cooking a 5# whole chicken.

I seasoned the chicken with poultry seasoning, salt and pepper the night before, but did so with some skepticism. I figured that once I dropped that bird into the oil, those seasonings would just boil away. I'm pretty sure that's what most of them did.

The manual warns you not to use an extension cord with the fryer, so I found a plug on the end of the peninsula in our kitchen and plugged the beast into that. I put 2 1/2 gallons of corn oil into it and started it up, preheating to 350.

A promising start!
About halfway through the heating process, a GFI somewhere along the line blew and the outlet went dead. A quick search didn't reveal the culprit, so I switched to a different outlet, but that required the use of an outdoor extension cord. That was a bad idea.

I looked up the specs this morning and this monster puts out 1,650 Watts of heat. That means it draws 15 Amps. That's a lot of electrons sprinting through the wires. When I unplugged the extension cord after cooking last night, it was hot to the touch, particularly at the connections, but also all along its length. We threw the cord away and won't be doing that again.

Back to the cooking. Once the oil hit 350, we dropped the bird into its bathwater using the handy basket that came with the cooker. As an aside, this is a really nice unit. All of the components are well-made and fit together perfectly.

A 5# chicken, fresh from the fridge, brings a lot of cold with it. I would bet that the oil dropped 50-75 degrees immediately. Throughout the 20-minute cooking process, the oil never returned to 350, as indicated by the heating light being lit the whole time. Fiddling with the thermostat and watching where the heating light went off, it looked like it got back to about 325.

3 1/2 minutes per pound of chicken was the consensus on the Internet, but I was suspicious of that when it was obvious the oil wasn't returning to 350. I gave it 4 minutes per pound before pulling it out. Again, the fryer is so well-designed that pulling the basket out is easy and safe. It has hooks on the side that latch onto the top rim of the frying pot, allowing you to drain your food right inside the unit. Wonderful!

That looks done, doesn't it?
My meat thermometer said the chicken was at 175 or so and I figured the oil had done its job. Wrong. When we cut into the meat, parts were done to perfection and parts will still bloody and red. We were able to get enough cooked meat off of it for 3 people, but it clearly needed more time in the oil.

Umm, no.
For all of that, the properly-cooked portions were fantastic. The skin was crispy and the flesh was so moist that it was practically dense with juices. I was too distracted by the undercooked parts to notice if any of the seasonings on the skin survived.

Lessons Learned

First, preheat the oil past your cooking temperature. After you drop your food into the oil, turn the thermostat down to what you really wanted. The food is going to cool the oil, possibly significantly if its got a lot of mass like a chicken or if its really cold like something frozen, so you might as well prepare for that. It's not like an extra 25 degrees at the start is going to burn anything.

Find a circuit rated for 20 Amps and turn off everything else attached to it. The fryer uses power like the Death Star preparing to blast Alderaan to rubble. The lights are going to dim and the GFIs are going to trip if you're not ready for it.

Don't use an extension cord! That was sucker was really hot to the touch by the end. Usually, the safety warnings on products can be ignored as they're written with naughty children in mind, but in this case they were right on the money.

Buy your oil in a 2 1/2 gallon container. You can reuse the oil with a little bit of filtering and you might as well prepare for that by getting a container that fits the whole batch. The fryer is equipped with a really handy drain plug which makes recycling the oil a breeze.

All in all, I'd definitely do it again. Cooking was easy and safe, even given my bungling with the power source. The results were excellent. With a second try, I think I'd be able to concentrate more on the taste of the food than on what I needed to improve.


Tom said...

Frying frozen things? Ummm, no. That's worse than using extension cords.

With my propane fryer you see a temperature drop, but the gas puts out so much heat that it recovers quickly. Electric fryers, like electric stoves, just don't have as much force.

Four minutes a pound should have been sufficient... keep experimenting! We found out through experience that a turkey breast takes about twice as long as a full turkey, per pound.

tim eisele said...

Excellent description, all useful things to know!

I expect the geometry matters quite a lot, the thermal conductivity of meat isn't all that great. I bet that if you had cut it up into pieces there wouldn't have been any undercooked spots.

K T Cat said...

Tom, I know that if you put a frozen bird into hot oil, you'll blow half your house to matchsticks. However, the breaded oysters and tater tots might be a different thing. I will definitely read the directions before dropping them in.

Thanks, Tim! One of the recipes online suggested splitting the bird into halves, lengthwise. That was aesthetically displeasing to me, but in the back of my mind, I was wondering if it would have been a better way to go.

In the end, I suspect that the heat of the extension cord is a strong clue. I doubt it was able to pull the full 15 Amps. Instead, the cord was probably eating current like crazy.

Mostly Nothing said...

The extension cord is probably fine. Hot is ok (not great) it's just the magic smoke inside it that's important. That gets out and your in trouble. You should know that from your MG experience.

When we've done deep fried turkeys, we've always had the bird out for a little while. Straight from the fridge is your big mistake, like Tom said, the electric fryer just can't recover from that temperature drop.

BTW, we've moved to trash can turkeys. They are better than deep fried. Last one, we had trouble as we didn't have enough charcoal, and I messed up the temperature probe. When it's 10 degrees out or less, opening up the trash can and all your heat is gone.

For seasoning, you may want to consider using liquid marinade, and an injector. Those worked well with our turkeys.

Do you have a 20amp circuit? In the fall, I put an electric heater in the garage, and ran a new line for it. Obviously, it's a 220v. Which youtube videos of installing had me a bit scared. Turned out to be pretty trivial. I did switch off the entire breaker box though.

K T Cat said...

MN, you're right. In a previous house, I installed a circuit and ran a line for a hot tub. It's pretty straightforward. I was actually thinking that same thing - running a line into the garage that serves no purpose other than to feed the fryer. A 20A 110V ought to do the trick.

Ilíon said...

The extension cord was probably 16 gauge. You should use at least 14 gauge for that, and 12 gauge would be better.

Ilíon said...

I agree with MN that the extension cord is probably fine. Just don't use it for something that draws such a load.

Tom said...

My electrician friends are big on the code requirements for power runs. So I say DO pay attention to the extension cords since the gauge of wire required is directly proportional to the distance run.

Ilíon said...

I did destroy an extension cord (probably one much like the one K T Cat was using) trying to run my smallish air compressor -- it didn't just get hot, it started to melt. All my "heavy duty" extension cords were 16-gauge, which is to say, not at all "heavy duty". So, after that, I bought both a 14-gauge and a 12-gauge cord.

K T Cat said...

Ilion, you are absolutely right. I didn't look at the cord closely, but I know from the heft and flexibility that it was a lightweight one. 16 gauge is a good bet. As for throwing it away, well, my wife asked me to do it. I didn't think the cord was damaged, but I know wives well enough to immediately choose her over a $9.95 extension cord. Showing her my love at such a small price was an easy, instant decision. Out it went without debate!

I do think the cord was a significant contributor to the failure. It was a long one, 25' at least (I grabbed the first one handy to me when I went into the garage to get it) and it was hot along the whole length. That's a really long heating element. There's no way it wasn't drawing a few Amps itself, starving the fryer.

Tom, amen, brother. Electrical and plumbing are both relatively straightforward things, but both should be treated with fear and respect. Leaks and fires are what we scientists call, "very bad."

ligneus said...

It's best to take any meat out of the fridge for an hour or more depending on size to bring it to room temp, makes for more even cooking. Specially when using high heat.
Two and a half gallons of oil! How many times can it be used?

ligneus said...

PS. I don't like the casual way you say you 'dropped it in'!

K T Cat said...

ligneus, thanks for the visit! The oil can be reused quite a bit. There's lots of information on the web about how to and how long to reuse oil.

I'm unconvinced about the value of bringing the meat to room temperature. I'd think that it's all about the temperature differential. There's not much difference between 350-40 and 350-65. Still, it's worth trying. Every little bit will help.

As for dropping it in, I rather liked that bit of sloppiness. It was selected on purpose to give the thing a nonchalant feel. :-)

ligneus said...

You're welcome! I do drop in from time to time, don't do as much commenting these days as I used to.It takes up a lot of time trying to be diplomatic to my lefty friends! They're really freaking out over Trump winning and Hillary losing, difficult to keep my Schadenfreude in check after putting up with eight years of smugness from their side of the fence.