Fried Wild Turkey

Fried chicken is usually considered the southern dish. Sarah Rutledge included three recipes in her 1847 Charleston cookbook. The Junior League’s recipe (1950) calls for panfrying the chicken, covered. The chicken steams as it fries; it is very moist. I prefer deep frying, which, strange as it may seem, is a dry cooking technique. A whole wild turkey is deep-fried in this recipe, which I’ve never seen outside the South. You may find it more manageable to fry a domestic turkey breast (see Note).

Wild turkey is so delicious; it has a fuller, nuttier flavor than the domesticated birds. If you have an outdoorsman in your family who occasionally brings home a wild turkey, then you probably also have an outdoor gas burner and huge 10-gallon pots. This is one of the easiest and most unusual recipes in the Lowcountry, and it’s particularly delicious. I prefer fried turkey to smoked.

Wild turkeys usually weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. Cleaned, they are smaller than the modern hybrids, and their breasts are not nearly so large in comparison to the rest of their bodies. Begin the recipe a day in advance. Do not attempt these recipes indoors.

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  • 1 wild turkey, dressed for cooking
  • 6 lemons salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons Herbal Mix or Italian seasoning
  • cups vegetable oil
  • 20 pounds potatoes
  • 5 gallons vegetable oil or lard for frying


Rinse the turkey well in water, pat dry, then place in a large roasting pan. Halve the lemons, then rub them all over the turkey, both inside and out. Squeeze all of the juice out of the lemons over the bird. Season the bird well, inside and out, with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Mix the herbs with the cups oil and pour all over the turkey, using your hands to rub the bird well with the oil and mixing the oil and lemon juice together. Cover the bird with aluminum foil and marinate overnight in the refrigerator, shaking the pan occasionally and basting with any of the oil mixture that sits in the bottom of the pan.

One-and-a-half hours before serving, remove the pan from the refrigerator and place the turkey on a rack to drain and to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Peel and roughly chop the potatoes and place them in the marinade. Over an outdoor gas burner, heat the oil or lard in a 10-gallon pot, preferably one with a removable fry basket. The grease should be very hot, about 365°.

Make sure the turkey is well drained, then slowly and carefully lower the entire bird into the oil. Cook for about 3 minutes per pound or until it floats on the surface and the entire surface is crispy and browned. A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the bird, not touching a bone, should register 180°. Carefully remove the turkey from the grease, then slowly and carefully add the potatoes to the hot grease, cooking them while the turkey rests until they are browned all over and semisoft in the center.