Fried turkey is not as unhealthful as it sounds Ė if you donít eat the skin of the bird, according LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames. In fact, experts recommend not eating the skin no matter how a turkey is prepared.
"Frying a turkey in oil does not necessarily increase the amount of fat in the turkey," Reames says. "Frying correctly helps to prevent a greasy turkey. The high heat of the oil sears the skin quickly, preventing the oil from being absorbed and keeping the juices inside."
According to the National Turkey Federation, the oil temperature should be maintained at 345-350 degrees. If the oil temperature falls to 340 degrees or less, oil will seep into the turkey meat, adding to the fat content. Therefore, the oil should be preheated to 375 degrees. After the turkey has been lowered into the cooking vessel, immediately check the oil temperature and if necessary increase the flame so the oil temperature is maintained at 350 degrees.
The U.S. Department of Agricultureís nutrient database doesnít include per-serving calorie and fat nutrition information on deep-fat-fried whole turkey. However, a 3 1/2-ounce portion of fried turkey from a recipe posted on the National Turkey Federationís website has 230 calories, 12.6 grams of fat and 3.6 grams of saturated fat for a whole turkey including the skin.
For comparison, Reames cites USDA nutrition information for a 3 1/2-ounce portion of roasted, young hen turkey:
• Light meat with skin: 207 calories, 9.4 grams of fat, 2.6 grams of saturated fat.
• Light meat without skin: 161 calories, 3.76 grams of fat, 1.69 grams of saturated fat.
• Turkey breast with skin: 194 calories, 8 grams of fat, 2.2 grams of saturated fat.
• Dark meat with skin: 216 calories, 11 grams of fat, 3.3 grams of saturated fat
• Dark meat without skin: 185 calories, 6.98 grams of fat, 2.34 grams of saturated fat.
The nutritional information for 3 1/2 ounces of roasted turkey skin is 482 calories, 44 grams of fat and 10.34 grams of saturated fat, Reames says.
Because skin is a major source of fat in the turkey, nutrition and health experts recommend removing poultry skin before eating. "Even cooking your turkey in a turkey fryer or roaster that doesnít use oil wonít conserve calories and fat if you eat the skin," Reames says.
Calorie and fat content differ in turkeys depending on the type of bird and meat, she says. Light meat has less fat and fewer calories than dark meat and skin.
Turkey is low in fat and high in protein. It is an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins, Reames says.
The USDAís nutrition calculator recommends 5 1/2 ounces from the meat and beans group daily based on 2,000 calories. A 3-ounce portion of meat and poultry is often compared to the size of a deck of cards.