Safety officials have two main suggestions for those planning to deep-fry a turkey for today’s holiday or anytime.
First, please reconsider.
Second, if you really are going to deep-fry that bird, there’s a fairly long safety checklist to follow.
The National Fire Protection Association stresses that turkey deep-fryers can cause serious burns and destruction of property. Underwriters Laboratories, which tests and certifies the safety of everything from toasters to lamps, will not certify any turkey deep-fryers, citing the risk of burns, the risk of fire spreading, and how easily the fryers can be tipped over, spilling boiling oil. Also, the lids and handles can get dangerously hot. Most units lack thermostat controls, so they can overheat the cooking oil to the point of combustion. UL advises “extreme caution” for those who do use the devices.
“You have to remember that it’s still boiling grease, boiling oil,” said Eddie Saffell, assistant chief of the Central Jackson County Fire Protection District.
The scenario that officials most worry about is this: The vat of oil – usually about five gallons and heated by an open flame below – is brought to about 350 degrees. A large turkey is lowered into the oil, overfilling the vat and causing oil to spill over. Once it reaches that open flame, fire spreads, possibly injuring the cook and possibly reaching nearby buildings.
Hundreds of incidents are reported across the country every year. Saffell said it’s been four or five years since CJC was called on one.
“So far we’ve been really lucky,” he said.
Those cookers are only made for birds up to a certain size, and Saffell stresses the need to check that before buying a turkey.
The NFPA, Underwriters Laboratories and the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety have some suggestions:
• Cook outdoors, on a flat surface at a safe distance from any buildings or trees. Stay off wooden structures such as patios.
• To avoid the spill-over problem, do this: Put room-temperature oil into the pot, and then lower the turkey into the pot to determine how much more oil is needed. Remove the turkey, heat the oil, and proceed.
• When the oil is hot, turn off the flame when slowly lower the bird into the pot.
• Make sure the turkey is entirely thawed. Oil and water do not mix, and ice melting into water can cause oil to splatter and burn the cook. The National Turkey Federation says that means 24 hours in the refrigerator for every five pounds. Take extra care with marinades.
• Don’t leave the fryer unattended. Keep children and pets at a safe distance. Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts, and consider safety goggles to protect your eyes from splattering oil.
• Remember that the quantities involved in this type of cooking mean the oil can remain dangerously hot for hours.
• Have a fire extinguisher – one rated for grease fires – nearby. Don’t use ice or water to cool oil or to put out a grease fire.
• There are newer outdoor cooking appliances for turkeys that don’t use oil. The NFPA recommends those.
The insurance industry has enlisted the help of celebrities to create videos demonstrating how quickly a fire can start and get out of hand. There are humorous but helpful videos with actor William Shatner at http://ehssafetynews.wordpress.com/2013/11/ and at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETBD0EqQGoU. Underwriters Laboratories – the folks who won’t sanction any of these devices – have a video at www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/offerings/perspectives/consumer/productsafety/turkeys/.