Thanksgiving Day has become a holiday of celebration, one of massive food consumption and football-watching, traditional family gatherings and fires. Although the latter might seem incongruous among the other Thanksgiving descriptors, it is nonetheless an accurate one. And since deep frying turkeys is still a relatively new way for many to prepare their main Thanksgiving Day entree, it sometimes becomes the source of the many fires that occur on the national holiday. Although delicious, the Niles Daily Star points out that deep frying a turkey can be dangerous and the decision to have a deep-friend turkey for one’s Thanksgiving meal, especially one prepared at home, should not be entered into lightly.
With the constant cooking; the growing tradition of the deep frying of turkeys; the unattended stoves, deep-fryers, and grills; and the prevalence of early applied Christmas lights, fires have become an unfortunate part of the Thanksgiving tradition. U.S. Fire Administration statistics note that approximately 2,000 Thanksgiving Day fires occur in U.S. homes each year. Those fires result in an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $21 million in property loss. A portion of those fires are caused by the mishandling, inexperience, and carelessness shown by those attempting to prepare a deep-fried turkey.
The results of those fires become part of the local news reports later in the day. Some make it to YouTube, as do some of the videos of deep frying mishaps that are more entertaining (but still reflect the dangers).
Some of the fires are caused by inattentiveness, or leaving the deep fryer unattended while the turkey is cooking. Deep fryers are notorious for tipping over, the oil catching fire. Some are caused by carelessness (sometimes mixed with the consumption of alcohol), where the cook collides with the deep fryer, spilling its contents. And then there are the fires that are caused by inexperience, where frozen turkeys are dropped into the roiling hot oil, causing a violent eruption of oil that at times results in injury, property damage, and death.
So what to do to make one’s deep frying experience a safe and enjoyable occurrence?
Never prepare your deep-friend turkey indoors. Always keep fryers outside, away from buildings and anything that might be flammable. This would include keeping them off of decks and out of garages and carports. Never leave the deep fryer unattended while in operation.
Keep all children and any pets away from the cooking area at all times.
The preparer should outfit himself with mitts and safety goggles and attempt to cover all bared skin as a precaution.
Carefully measure the oil being placed inside the deep fryer. Never overfill it. When placing the turkey into the oil, always do so with care and be mindful that spilled oil can cause a fire by running or spilling onto the burner.
Never place a frozen turkey in hot oil. A frozen turkey added to heated oil causes an intense and violent reaction as the frozen water particles reacts with the heated oil. Prepare by thawing the turkey, preferably inside a refrigerator, for at least 24 hours before deep frying begins. Water (and frozen water — ice) reacts unfavorably with oil, so extra care should be taken when placing the turkey into the oil. Patting down the turkey with something absorbent beforehand to remove excess water is optimal. Also, marinades and sauces applied to the turkey should be taken into consideration as well, because their water content could cause a dangerous reaction or potentially harmful spillage.
Be mindful that the oil remains hot for a considerably long time (possibly hours), even after the heating source has been extinguished. Although it may not cause a fire if spilled, the oil is still dangerously hot and can cause severe burns.
When deep frying a turkey, a fire extinguisher should be kept readily available.
Of course, one could forego all of the above and order a deep-fried turkey from a caterer or grocery store (or any other outlet) that provides prepared turkeys for Thanksgiving meals.
For a look at the potential dangers that could occur when deep frying a turkey, the Cobb County (Georgia) Fire Department prepared a humorous public service announcement that can be found on YouTube.
“Deep frying turkeys? State reiterates precautions,” NilesStar.com
Cobb County Fire Department, “Turkey Deep Fat Fryer Public Service Announcement,” YouTube.com