Originally published on Epicurious.com
In late October, we featured the Big Easy Oil-less Infrared Turkey Fryer as one of our Kitchen Editors' Picks. I'd seen it in action at a media event Char-Broil hosted here in NYC and was impressed with the results. (Being from fried-turkey country, I feel, makes me especially qualified to judge.) However, driven by equal parts suspicion (does it really work as easily as Char-Broil makes it look?) and fascination (seriously, does it really work?), I needed to test it for myself--and not just on turkey, either.
The "fryer" (which is to be used outdoors only) is powered by propane, and the flame is enclosed within the double-walled heating chamber (output, 18,000 BTUs). You turn the flame on via a built-in igniter (which we never did get to work) or by inserting a match into a lighter hole. Almost instantly, infrared waves emanate inward from the walls (via a feat of engineering or hoodoo, I'm not sure which), creating a superhot cooking environment that uses what Char-Broil explains to be "100% high-intensity infrared energy" to cook the meat evenly and quickly. From my understanding, the infrared rays push the air out, which is why the meat does not dry out as it does when roasted. (Roasting uses hot air to cook, but it's the air that also dries that food out.) Turkeys (or any other foods) cooked using infrared rays are not technically "fried" as they are when prepared in 5 gallons of scalding peanut oil, but the results most closely resemble their brethren fried the old fashioned way.
One 5-lb ham
One 14-lb turkey
Six 2-lb Cornish hens
All meats, as promised, turned out juicy, tender, and delicious. My husband Bryan and I didn't use any oil or butter to prepare any of the meats (we didn't baste, didn't dab), but they were all brined overnight, the poultry in a herb-white wine solution and the ham in a Coca-Cola brine.
Meats cook at the same rate as they do when fried in oil, approximately 8 to 10 minutes per pound (though the proper way to know when they're done is by checking the internal temperature). The ham took about 40 minutes to prepare; the turkey, an hour and a half; and the Cornish hens were a bit trickier. We first estimated their cooking time by their individual poundage (about 20 minutes), and they weren't quite done by then. However, the cooking time didn't match estimated for the total poundage of the hens. It took about 40 to 50 minutes for them to cook.
The turkey and the hens turned out with beautifully brown and crispy skins, though the turkey skin did stick to the cooking basket. The ham, if you'll excuse the Southernism, turned black as a sinner's soul, due to the sugars in the cola burning in the high heat. Luckily, the lacquered outer layer was mostly skin, and we were able to peel it off, revealing a remarkably tender and juicy hunk of ham underneath. Every one of our 14 Thanksgiving guests said the turkey was the best they'd ever tasted, and it was still juicy days later. The hens fared as well.
What We Learned
* You can use spice rubs on the turkey because there's no oil to wash it away.
* We placed our turkey in the cooker basket breast-down, which was a mistake for a few reasons. First, the crispy skin stuck to the bottom of the basket and ripped, marring what would have otherwise been a gorgeously browned bird. And, with the heaviest part of the bird sitting on the bottom, the breast became the perfect canvas on which the target-shaped rings of the cooker basket to impress itself. I also later learned from reading the Char-Broil-run site sizzleonthegrill.com, that it's better to place the breast up because the heat and infrared rays radiate inward from the sides and not up from the bottom, so the middle is where most of your cooking power will be.
* Place a heavy duty baking sheet pan or some other tray next to the fryer to rest the basket on when you pull it out for testing or to rest. The turkey will be juicy and dripping, and you don't want all that grease (from the meat fat, not from any added oil) getting on your concrete or wood deck.
* Actually pull the turkey or whatever you're cooking out of the fryer to test the temperature. It is so hot inside the frying chamber that your temperature will read significantly hotter if you do your tests inside.
* Wear long heatproof gloves. The fryer is open and seems tempting to stick your arm in to pull out the basket or test the temperature. Even with taking the cooker basket out with the provided hook, Bryan sustained several forearm burns--because he wasn't wearing mitts.
* Since there is a tray for drippings, you can use them to make gravy (unlike regular frying). However, the tray is apparently not food safe, so use aluminum to line the pan.
* The Big Easy Infrared fryer is designed to cook large cuts of meat (turkeys, loins, etc). And while it will cook a group of smaller portions (six Cornish hens, say), it doesn't do so as efficiently, so make adjustments. Bryan devised a system to hang the hens (using wire coat-hangers shaped into a W) so they rested in the middle of the cooking chamber, where the infrared cooking power is concentrated. The hens sat next to each other, breast to breast, and they weren't cooking well in the spots where they touched because the rays could not penetrate there. If you do fry a group, it's probably best to leave space between each item.
Big Easy Oil-less Infrared Turkey Fryer seems best suited for homes with a good amount of space (for operating and storing) and with lots of hungry mouths to feed. It's more versatile than just a Thanksgiving turkey cooker (though other meats may take some finagling to get the results you want). We were happy enough with the to buy a couple as Christmas presents for our parents. And though I'm usually wary of company-run "editorial" product sites, do check out Char-Broil's sizzleonthegrill.com, as many Big Easy users have posted their own recipes and trails and errors.