Deep-frying makes everything taste good, including Thanksgiving turkey. But which oil should you choose?
The makers of the Bayou Classic turkey fryer recommend peanut oil, because its high smoke point of 450°F allows the oil to reach the correct temperature to fry the turkey properly without giving it a burnt flavor. Canola, another popular frying oil, has a smoke point of only 400°F and will turn your turkey to charcoal if you’re not careful. If peanut allergies are an issue, corn oil also has a 450°F smoke point, but its flavor is somewhat less neutral than peanut oil’s. Whatever you do, don’t use extra-virgin olive oil: Aside from putting you in the poorhouse, five gallons of it at 350°F will create a raging inferno—its smoke point is only 320°F.
After you fry your turkey, what do you do with the oil? First, let it cool. Don’t try to move the fryer until it’s pretty close to room temperature. If you strain the oil through cheesecloth to remove all the particles, you can reuse the oil. Just put it back in the original container and store at room temperature. You might not want to use it for deep-frying again, however—when oil is heated to frying temperatures multiple times, its smoke point goes down.
But if five gallons is more peanut oil than you’ll ever use, there are ways to get rid of it that don’t involve pouring it down the drain or putting it in your trash can. Bayou Classic recommends bringing used oil to your local recycling center—after calling to make sure they accept food-grade oils. From there it will be turned into all kinds of things.
You can also use your oil to power a car. There is a grass-roots movement of people who modify their cars’ engines to run on straight, unprocessed waste vegetable oil (WVO). Or you can give it to somebody who can make biodiesel out of it—a nontoxic, biodegradable, and clean-burning fuel made from vegetable oil or animal fat that needs to be processed a bit first, and then can power a diesel car.
Drivers of cars with WVO-burning engines usually score their oil at small restaurants but would probably gladly take a donation from you. Call your local biodiesel co-op to find people running their cars on straight vegetable oil or making their own biodiesel at home. Peanut oil is highly coveted by WVO drivers because it is less viscous than other vegetable oils, meaning it flows better and combusts more easily in engines. We gave our 10 gallons of used oil to San Francisco writer James Nestor, who said it would take his vegetable-oil-powered 1978 Mercedes 300D from San Francisco to Big Sur and back—almost 300 miles.
So what do restaurant kitchens do with their used oil if they aren’t giving it to WVO motorists? They have to pay to have it carted away. Rendering companies, of which Darling International Inc. is the largest in the United States, charge about $50 per 55-gallon drum. The used oil is filtered and processed into tallow, which is then sold and broken down into other chemicals for soap, animal feed, or any of a range of other products, from soap to shampoo to dynamite.