Deep Frying a Turkey and Other Thanksgiving Dangers

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Thanksgiving tops the charts for the number of home cooking fires every year. In fact, there are three times as many fires on Thanksgiving compared to the daily average!

Reports made by the US Fire Administration estimate that 2,000 fires occur on Thanksgiving every year. The average annual property losses due to fires on Thanksgiving averages $21 million!

Of all the fires reported on Thanksgiving, a whopping 70% of them are results of cooking mishaps, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. Plenty of Americans like to deep fry their turkeys on Thanksgiving, but did you know that deep frying a turkey is the 2nd most common fire-starter around the holiday season (following Christmas tree fires)? Deep frying a turkey can be a delicious option for your Thanksgiving feast, but it’s important to take the appropriate safety precautions while you’re cooking. That goes for the rest of your meal, too.

Here are a list of safety tips to follow this Thanksgiving to keep your family safe so that you can celebrate being together without interruption.

Let’s Start with Deep Frying a Turkey

Deep frying a turkey should ALWAYS be done outside, far from any flammable materials. NEVER deep fry your turkey in the garage. You should wear a protective jacket, gloves, and goggles to protect yourself from any oil that may splash up during the cooking process. The most important part of deep frying a turkey is the initial preparation. Most accidents occur because people are hasty and don’t take the necessary safety precautions.

  • Step 1: After seasoning your turkey, create a metal handle on it by spearing a piece of wire through it, just beneath the breast and by the winds. Connect the ends of the wire and twist them into a handle, and test the strength of your handle by lifting the turkey several times and tugging a bit on the handle.
  • Step 2: Prepare your grill, OUTSIDE, in a dry and well-ventilated area, away from everything flammable. Be sure that the grill is on a level surface to avoid tipping the fryer over. Failing to properly set up a deep fry can result in an explosion, which is a common accident when people deep fry turkeys.
  • Step 3: This and the next step are the two most important steps (and where most people tend to go wrong) PREPARE THE OIL LEVEL. You can do this one of two ways. Fill the pot halfway with water, and then fill a bucket with water so that it weighs about the same as your turkey. Put the bucket into the pot, and make sure the water stays about 5-6” below the rim. Adjust the water so that it reaches this point. Then remove the bucket, and measure the amount of water that’s in the pot, because that’s how much oil you’ll need to fry your turkey. The second way you can prepare the oil level is to put your turkey straight into the pot, and then fill the pot with water so that it reaches the same mark—5-6” below the rim. Remove the turkey and measure the amount of water. Note: If you put the turkey directly into the water, MAKE SURE YOU DRY YOUR TURKEY COMPLETELY!
  • Step 4: Just as you need to be sure your turkey is completely dry, you need to do the same with your pot. Empty out the water you used to measure how much oil you’ll need, and then thoroughly dry your pot. When oil and water are heated together, there’s a serious risk for combustion. This is a common cause for most turkey deep frying accidents.
  • Step 5: Pour the oil into the pot to the same mark as the water. Light the gas burner and set it to high, and place the pot down on the burner carefully. Put a thermometer in the oil and wait until it’s heated to 350 °F (175 °C). Once it’s reached this temperature, it’s time to start frying.
  • Step 6: Using the metal handle you’ve created, very gently lower your turkey into the hot oil. Be aware that when your turkey hits the oil, there will likely be a violent reaction, so be prepared and don’t freak out if this occurs. Again, it’s wise to wear protective gloves, goggles, and a jacket at this time, because there’s a good chance that oil will splash out of the pot. Also, it’s a good idea to turn the burner off while you’re putting the turkey into the pot, and then turn it back on once the turkey is completely submerged. Another frequent cause of fires during turkey frying is when the oil boils over the side of the pot and hits the burner. If your turkey is really large, you should use a long pole or stick to lower it into the pot by the handle. Something like a hockey stick will allow you to stay a safe distance from the pot when the oil reacts to the turkey.
  • Step 7: You should deep fry your turkey for about 3-4 minutes for every pound. Leave a candy thermometer in the oil as the turkey cooks so that you can monitor its temperature. NEVER leave the pot while you’re frying your turkey. Check the turkey halfway through the cooking process by lifting it out of the pot, then place it back in. If the oil starts to smoke at any point, immediately lower your heat. Overheated oil may combust.
  • Step 8: When the turkey starts to float to the top of the oil, cook it for 15 more minutes, and then carefully remove it from the pot. Shake it gently to remove any excess oil, then place it on its platter. The internal temperature (measured with a meat thermometer) should be about 170 degrees F (77 degrees C) in the breast and 180 degrees F (82 degrees C) in the thigh. Shut off your burner and keep the oil out of reach from any children or pets and allow it to cool completely. Remove the wire from the turkey, and it’s ready to serve!

Never Leave Your Cooking Unattended

The NFPA runs a campaign called “Stand By Your Pan,” which really says everything it needs to say. Many fires start when people walk away from what they’re cooking; a fire can become out of control horrifyingly fast, and if you’re not there to handle it as soon as it happens, the results can be devastating.

Frying, grilling, and broiling are the cooking methods that run the highest risk for fire. Using your kitchen timer is a good way to remember that you have something on the stove or in the oven, and you should never leave the cooking area while your appliances are on. If you do have to leave, either turn off the stove or ask someone to keep an eye on it for you while you’re gone. Also, don’t cook and drink at the same time, because you increase your risk of injury as you lower your inhibitions. Cook first, drink after!

Every Fire is Different

Did you know that not all fires can be put out the same way? It’s important to familiarize yourself with the different types of fires that can happen, and how each of them need to be put out.

  • Grease fires should be smothered. You should never, ever try to put out a grease fire with water or a fire extinguisher, because that will only make the problem worse. If a grease fire occurs on your stovetop, smother it with your pot lid or with baking soda.
  • Fires that start with general combustibles, including paper, wood, and trash, should be put out using a fire extinguisher. You should always have an extinguisher in your house that is at least 5 pounds to make sure you have enough to tackle a fire should it occur.

 Check Your Alarms

Non-confined fires are cooking fires that become out of control and extend beyond their point of origin, entering other parts of your home. It’s been reported that approximately 20% of non-confined Thanksgiving fires occur in buildings without smoke alarms. If you have at least one smoke detector on every floor of your home, you will have a greater chance of being alerted of danger in time to either suppress the fire or escape from the house. We’ve said it over and over, but it’s never enough: replace your smoke detector batteries once a year! Every 8-10 years, you should replace the entire smoke detector unit.

Keep Your Cooking Area Clear

35% of non-confined Thanksgiving fires are the results of flammable materials being too close to heat sources, according to the US Fire Administration. Pot holders, oven mitts, paper or plastic bags, or anything else that could potentially catch fire should be kept far away from the stove top or outdoor grill. Anything that spills on the stovetop, whether it’s grease or food, should be cleaned up immediately to prevent it from catching fire. Even if something isn’t placed near a heat source, there are many things that may brush by the stove and will be at risk for catching fire. This includes long sleeves or other loose-fitting clothing, dish towels, and curtains.

Keep Your Insurance Policy in Order

Being sure that your insurance coverage is up-to-date and sufficient to protect everything you have is important in case you do wind up falling victim to an accidental fire this Thanksgiving. Having a good home insurance policy will provide you with the necessary assistance to replace any damaged property due to fire or smoke damage. If you’ve recently made any high-value purchases, such as a new big screen TV or other electronics, make sure your insurance policy is fit to cover them. This includes Christmas gifts for your family, even if they’re still wrapped up and hidden in your closet! Update your inventory of household items to make sure your documentation includes all of your high-ticket items in case you have to file an insurance claim.

If you follow these easy tips, you’ll be able to enjoy a safe and stress-free Thanksgiving with your family!

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