[Editor's Note: Lest you think that Fairfax County CERT Instructor Mike Forgy's annual "don't burn down your house trying to deep-fry a turkey" post is holiday-themed fire safety puffery... well, it happened again this week: A Tennessee man accidentally torched his house while deep-frying a Thanksgiving turkey in the garage:
If that's not enough to make you reconsider the good old oven, check out this compilation of the 12 greatest deep-fried turkey disaster videos of all time.
Also, turning 180 degrees from fire, in case you haven't been paying attention, we're getting wintry weather on the East Coast on one of the busiest travel days of the year, so please be sure to stay safe this Thanksgiving holiday! Now, here's Mike...]
Here we go again, the turkey fryer post! Did you know that, according to the US Fire Administration, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, and frying food brings the biggest risk of cooking fires? Throw in a propane-powered turkey deep fryer filled with hot cooking oil, and you've got a real recipe for disaster.
Please make sure if you are planning to fry a turkey this Thanksgiving, you do so safely. Turkey fryer fires are extremely dangerous and I would like everyone to enjoy their holiday, not have it end in tears, or worse.
Check out this short demo showing what happens during a fryer fire:
How are you cooking your Thanksgiving turkey? What the heck does this have to do with CERT, safety or anything other than a cooking class? Frying a whole turkey has become popular in the past few years, but if not done correctly, the effects can be devastating. Unfortunately, if you are novice, or even have experience frying a turkey, it is a serious and dangerous prospect.
There are many reasons using a deep fryer to cook a turkey can be dangerous. Since using the typical pedestal-type turkey fryer SHOULD NEVER BE DONE INDOORS (this includes a garage or barn, even if is not entirely closed in), making sure you have the space and equipment to do this outdoors is important.
Also bear in mind what the weather is doing; if it is windy, raining or snowing, this could affect your fryer. In order to fry your turkey you will need to get the oil in the fryer up to at least 350 degrees ...350 degrees, which, if you did not know, IS REALLY HOT!
Working with an unstable product such as blazing hot oil over an open flame is dangerous, even if you know what you are doing. Other safety issues include:
* If the burner is not on level ground, the units can easily tip over, spilling hot oil (3-5 gallons of hot oil at 350 degrees!!!) onto the burner and creating a LARGE, FAST fire.
* If the pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill over when the turkey is lowered into the pot. Oil will hit the flames on the burner and engulf the burner with fire. There are ways to measure out the right amount of oil, which is imperative to ensure you do not have the pot overfilled.
* Water and hot oil do not go together. Partially frozen turkeys contain water of course, so if you lower a partially frozen turkey into a fryer, expect an extensive fire. Heaven help you if you place a frozen turkey in the fryer to try and defrost it....this will cause an explosion as the water expands in the hot (350 degree) oil. DON'T DO IT.
* The outdoor fryers have no thermostat controls, so they can overheat quickly and cause the oil to boil over the sides of the pot faster than you can react.
* The pot and handles get EXTREMELY hot (remember, 350 degrees of boiling oil), posing severe burn hazards.
I am sure there is someone out there saying to themselves, "I'm going to fry a turkey anyway." It won't be the first time someone didn't listen to what I said. You still want to fry that turkey? Ok, fine. Please, remember these things as you go about frying. These are not guaranteed to stop a fire or keep you from getting burned, but they may help in mitigating a larger disaster (such as burning your house down):
* Never use a turkey fryer on a wooden, or composite deck, or inside a garage, home, or within any structure.
* Place the fryer a safe distance away from any building (if you place it in the grass, the grass should not be overly dry, nor overly wet. Also count on the grass dying and never growing back).
* Fryers should be used on a firm, flat surface to prevent them from tipping over. Try the middle of a parking lot... not the sloping driveway in front of your house next to your car.
* Once the pot is filled with the recommended amount of oil (probably peanut oil) and the burner is ignited, you should NEVER leave the fryer unattended. This also means do not cook if you are under the influence. Please, don't drink and fry.
* Keep pets inside and keep children at a safe distance. A safe distance being somewhere where they will never see the fryer, because once they do, they will want to get close.
* Use well-insulated gloves or oven mitts and wear safety glasses (I think I know where you might have a pair laying around) to guard against oil splatters.
* Do not wear loose clothing as these may ignite if you get too close to the flame or the oil, or both. If your clothes do catch on fire, remember, Stop, Drop and Roll!
*Turkeys must be thoroughly thawed. While very tasty, be very careful of injecting marinades into your turkey. The extra liquid in the bird may cause the oil to spill over.
*Keep a portable dry chemical fire extinguisher nearby. Never use a water type extinguisher to extinguish a grease or oil fire. Do not deploy the garden hose to assist with your turkey fryer fire, this will do MUCH, MUCH more harm than good.
* If your fryer does catch fire call 9-1-1 immediately!
Finally, remember the oil inside the pot will remain hot for hours after your turkey has been removed. DO NOT bring it indoors and again, keep children and pets away from the pot.
For more information on some of the hazards of cooking fires (not just the turkey fryer fires), please visit the United States Fire Administration's website for a copy of Behavioral Mitigation of Cooking Fires [PDF], located here: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/fireservice/prevention_education/strategies/cooking/
Thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving!
Mike Forgy is an Adjunct Instructor with Fairfax County CERT.