How Cajun Deep-Fried Turkeys Became a Holiday Favorite28-Jun-2016
Thanksgiving in the South isn’t complete without Cajun deep-fried turkey on the menu.
It’s a staple here at Copeland’s, as it is for many households during the holidays.
But how did our deep-fried bird become so popular in the first place? While the South has a long, loving history of fried chicken, it turns out that deep fried turkey has only been around for a few decades, and took quite some time for it to become popularized nationally.
It all started with the invention of portable propane cookers in the 1970s. These cookers included a portable propane tank attached to a metal burner that could hold aluminum cooking pots of all sizes. Over time, this regular campsite tool opened up inventive ways of preparing southern favorites such as Cajun boiled crawfish, fried fish, and of course, fried chicken.
It was in the 1980s when some serious Louisiana cooks from the small town of Church Point graduated from deep frying chicken to deep frying whole turkeys for the holidays.
The cooks, Ronnie Robert and Alex Thibodeaux, were inspired by an unlikely group: workers from a chemical company in Baton Rouge, who, in the year prior, ordered a large quantity of lard from Thibodeaux’s lard business in order to deep fry a turkey. Robert and Thibodeaux ran with the idea by using a ten-gallon cooking pot over a portable propane cooker to fry a whole turkey in boiling lard.
Their invention became widespread thanks to an article written in the United Press International by reporter Gary Taylor in 1982. However, it became nationally recognized in 1987 after a deep fried turkey demonstration was given to the members of the Newspaper Food Editors and Writers Association over in New Orleans.
Many of the writers were understandably baffled and intrigued by the experience, but couldn’t deny the delicious result of the moist, tender turkey. The deep fried turkey preparation spread like wildfire, and ultimately marked its place on the map of Cajun country.
Due to its overwhelming popularity in the South that inevitably captured hearts up north, deep fry cookers quickly became an accessible retail product for the everyday shopper. The equipment was even given some updates to appease the masses, including no-oil, infrared heated “fryers” for those who don’t want to use gallons of boiling oil to get the same rich and moist flavor of the turkey. As for the old-fashioned deep fry cooks, perforated inner baskets eliminated makeshift harnesses to dip the turkey into the oil. Some (including Copelands) even use peanut oil rather than lard as a healthier alternative to frying the turkey.
No matter how one prepares it, Cajun deep fried turkey is something people look forward to every year on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and (as we’re seeing more and more) all year ‘round.