No matter how much you pre-plan the Thanksgiving menu, there never seems to be enough oven space. If you have a big backyard, and it's not too painfully cold outside, you might consider deep-fried turkey. We were also curious about oil-less turkey fryers, and whether they lived up to their promises. If so, they'd be a great contender for the job and allow you to devote a whole oven shelf to more stuffing. We tested out the Char-Broil Big Easy Oil-Less Turkey Fryer ($99).
First things first. To call it a "fryer" is more than a bit of a misnomer. Frying has nothing to do with what this thing does. It's an outdoor propane vertical roaster, plain and simple. They are totally different from smokers. It's the same as an outdoor turkey roaster though, which is actually a more appropriate name for them, as they are totally unrelated to frying of any kind. The question is, would it produce an evenly cooked bird with crisp skin?
Out of the box, it requires a bit of assembly, but nothing that your average person with a backyard and a Philips-head screwdriver can't accomplish. Essentially a steel cylinder with a second, smaller aluminum cylinder fitted inside it, it works by heating up the space between the outer cylinder and the inner. The turkey is placed in a basket and lowered into the center.
At this point, the documentation implies some sort of newfangled technology that uses "infrared" heat, which is the equivalent of calling something "queso cheese" or saying "with au jus" (redundant). All radiative heat is infrared, whether it's in your oven, your broiler, or from the sun. Pay no mind to their fancy words. Basically, all they're saying is "this thing gets hot." It gets up to around 325°F or so. You'll want to keep kids and pets away, because the outside heats up, and the top definitely gets really hot.
And it does. A couple hours later, once the turkey hits around 145-150°F, you're finished. (It takes about 3/4 of the time it'd take in a standard oven. So a couple hours for a turkey, maybe 45 minutes for a chicken.) All you have to do is fish it out, let it rest, and carve it. As a cooker, it actually does a fantastic job. Dropping a turkey into a hole is a lot easier than the cumbersome lifting, flipping, and turning acrobatics you've got to perform in a regular oven to get a bird to cook evenly. And being cooked simultaneously from all sides means that every bit of skin crisps up, not just the bits on the top and the sides.
As far as juiciness was concerned, it was on par with the roasted bird, the breast meat easily moister and more tender than that of the fried turkey. Skin was great too-better than the roast, though not quite as cracklingly crisp as the actual deep-fried bird.
Is it worth the investment? If you've got an outdoor shed and your kitchen starts hurting for space around the holidays, then by all means. If you hate unitaskers (though this thing supposedly can be used to slow cook ribs and other roasts), then you'd probably want to pass this one up, as I foresee it collecting dust 364 days out of the year.
By J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Serious Eats