Why Fried Turkey Isn’t a Calorie Bomb

Thanksgiving meal set up on a tableNov 21, 2023

By: Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD

While you’ll rarely find a registered dietitian advocating for fried foods, there are actually some surprising facts that make turkey that’s been fried in peanut oil a pretty reasonable option.

The first surprising fact about fried turkey is that the calories and fat content are very close to those in turkey that’s been roasted. Once you remove the skin, which I recommend for either roasted or fried poultry, the calorie difference is small. When turkey is fried in very hot oil (>375 degrees), the skin forms a barrier that keeps most of the fat from being absorbed into the bird, while creating tender, juicy meat by steaming from the inside out. This article does a great job of explaining how high-heat frying ensures less oil absorption.

Even though a properly fried turkey shouldn’t absorb too much of the peanut oil, some of it will be absorbed. Removing the skin before eating makes a big difference, since much of the oil is absorbed there. Also, it’s important to remember that the fat in peanut oil is mostly the good-for-you kind. An article from the Harvard School of Public Health serves as a reminder that if you choose to fry foods, the right oil makes all the difference. Since poly- and monounsaturated fat are the kind we should be eating more often, you can feel better about using peanut oil for frying. Just remember to get the oil good and hot before frying by using a thermometer.

The final point to remember is that special occasions aren’t every day events. While you shouldn’t stop thinking about health altogether, it is okay to enjoy some foods that might not make it to the table every day. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and alcohol to help keep calories in check. Load up on vegetables (especially those that aren’t covered with sauce and cheese), add a salad, and choose a reasonable portion of turkey (3-4 ounces).

Bottom line: Fried turkey makes for a delicious meal and can fit into a healthy lifestyle by choosing the right oil, like peanut oil, using high heat and portion control. Additionally, highly refined peanut oil used for frying is not an allergen and is exempt from allergen labeling by the FDA.

Ready to give fried turkey a try? Check out this video from James Beard award-winning Atlanta chef Linton Hopkins from our friends at The Peanut Institute. 

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