Sweetbay hopes customers gobble up its deep-fried frozen turkeys
Each Thanksgiving season, a few unlucky Americans manage to burn down their houses trying to deep-fry a turkey. Proving there's almost no cooking hassle the convenience food industry can't solve, one major grocery chain in Florida will start selling pre-fried, frozen, whole turkeys for this holiday season - Sweetbay. Just thaw one out, toss it in the oven for an hour and it's ready, Sweetbay officials say. This, frankly, shocks officials at some rival grocery chains, who say they just won't sell such a thing as pre-fried, frozen gobblers.Undeterred, Sweetbay officials sing the praises of fried turkey. "One of the biggest advantages is the cost," said Sweetbay spokeswoman Nicole LeBeau. By her estimate, a from-scratch frying kit can cost $120 for the large boiling pot, 3 to 5 gallons of peanut oil, a propane kit - not to mention the turkey and a fire extinguisher on hand for mishaps. Plus disposing of the used oil later. One notable point: Turkeys frozen solid and dropped into a hot fryer can explode. By contrast, LeBeau said Sweetbay's fried turkeys will come pre-marinated, flavor-injected, spice-rubbed, wrapped in foil and frozen for $2.99 per pound. The vendor is based in New Port Richey. Compared with roasted turkeys, devotees of fried turkey say the oil-boiled versions take less time to cook and come out far juicier and more flavorful. Turkey giant Butterball this week took a stand on the roasting versus frying issue and gave a hearty thumbs-up to frying. On Wednesday, Butterball sent a text message to its cooking subscriber base saying: "Want 2try something new 4Thnxgiving? Deep fry or grill ur turkey! It opens up oven space & delivers a tender & juicy turkey." Publix says it won't sell anything of the sort. A few years ago, Publix came close and fried some of its own turkeys for slicing and serving hot at the deli counter, said spokeswoman Shannon Patten. Fun while it lasted, she said, but not successful enough to continue. Publix has started to sell large boxes of peanut oil for turkey frying at home, but the stores won't sell frozen, fried turkeys. The HoneyBaked Ham company won't sell pre-cooked turkeys in a fried version, store staff say. Target also does not sell frozen, deep-fried birds. As for other grocery rivals, officials at Wal-Mart and Winn-Dixie had no comment on their plans for turkey this year, fried or not.
Reporter Richard Mullins can be reached at (813) 259-7919.