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Fry a Turkey Without Starting a Fire

Char-Broil Big Easy
oil-less turkey fryer
We're coming close to turkey time -- and for a growing number of home chefs, that means it's also time to take out the turkey fryer.

The school of thought goes something like this: fried chicken, yum; fried turkey, double yum.

But for all the advantages to the method -- a bird that's crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside and cooks in a fraction of the time it takes to do one in your oven -- there's also the risk factor.

Who wants to spend their Thanksgiving tempting fate with what amounts to a cauldron of scalding, slick lipids? Indeed, turkey fryers are a known cause of many fires, so much so that the National Fire Protection Association advises against their use. In turn, demand for an alternative has emerged.

Hence, the Char-Broil Big Easy oil-less turkey fryer ($149; www.charbroil.com).

The Pitch: "Just like a turkey fryer, minus the boiling, hot oil and visits from your local firefighters," claims Char-Broil of its newly unveiled outdoor cooker. On the surface, it looks like your standard turkey fryer, replete with a propane burner (you supply the tank) and a big stainless-steel pot and wire basket that's designed to hold the bird upright.

But there's no oil involved. Rather, the cooker works by infrared heat. The science is a bit confusing, but let's just say the double-walled cooking chamber's construction supposedly creates an environment in which the heat "penetrates" the turkey evenly, resulting in a quick cooking time and a bird with crispy skin and moist meat -- in other words, exactly what you'd expect from a fryer. (By contrast, conventional ovens, which rely on dry air to do the cooking, have a tendency to, well, dry out the meat.)

The Reality: Truth in advertising, with one caveat. The "oil-less fryer" -- talk about an oxymoron! -- does live up to its promises in terms of the incredibly speedy cooking time (I did a 10-pound bird in less than an hour, which may even be faster than a fryer) and the seal-in-all-the-juicy-goodness factor (this bird oozed its essential turkey-ness with every slice of the knife).

And the caveat? I didn't think the skin got as crispy as it could with a fryer, but that's a reasonable tradeoff given the other problems a fryer poses. Plus, you can use a dry rub on the skin -- something that's not possible with a fryer. (Either method, however, allows you to inject the bird with a marinade.) Cleanup is easy, too: The drippings collect in a bottom tray (you can use them for gravy, but make sure to cook them for safety's sake). Assembling the cooker is a bit of a pain, but that's a one-time task.

Competing Products: In somewhat the same vein as the Char-Broil is the Orion Holiday Turkey Cooker/Smoker ($79 at Home Depot (HD); www.orioncooker.com), a product that appears to employ a similarly speedy "oil-less" technology ("a great alternative to deep frying turkeys," the company boasts), but that uses charcoal for its heat source. Charcoal does add a bit of mess to the equation, but the product is cheaper and leaves room for the possibility of imparting some smoky taste to the bird, so it may be worth checking out. Otherwise, the only solid option for doing a turkey outside the oven -- hey, you need room for all those side dishes -- may be a traditional smoker, but that's a decidedly slower (though very flavorful) cooking method. I tried it once and my family enjoyed the turkey -- the day after Thanksgiving.

Where to Find It: The oil-less fryer is widely available through many retailers, online or in stores. Char-Broil's Web site directs you to a few sources, the cheapest of which is home improvement giant Lowe's (LOW). It has it available online for $129.

Bottom Line: The Big Easy may not be a fryer in the truest sense, but it's a winner of a way to cook your holiday turkey. And it can be used for a variety of other meats -- lamb roasts, chickens, you name it -- so it's worth having around well beyond Thanksgiving.

Charles Passy is a Florida-based writer who covers food, travel, entertainment and consumer culture and products.

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