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Don’t let Thanksgiving become a deep-fried disaster

Nov. 23, 2010

By Master Sgt. Vincent L. Wilson
3rd Marine Regiment
Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii

This Thanksgiving, many Americans will choose frying over roasting when it comes time to cook their turkey. When done right, the result is a moist, tender bird. When done wrong, your holiday plans — and maybe even your house — can go up in flames.

It was a brisk autumn morning and my father was outside, preparing to cook his famous Cajun-fried turkey for a family gathering. He had made a name for himself among his friends, co-workers and neighbors for his delicious fried turkeys. In fact, his fried turkeys were so good that he even won the $1,000 grand prize at our community’s annual fall festival cookout.

As dad got the fire going, he noticed he needed more deep-frying peanut oil and sent me to the garage to grab another bottle. I told him we were out of peanut oil, so he decided to use vegetable oil. He normally never deviated from his recipe of 100 percent peanut oil, but he was in a hurry to finish before our guests arrived.

Everything seemed to be going well when it started to rain, which caused the oil in the fryer to splatter more than usual. Dad quickly moved the fryer under the patio to keep the rain out. That did the trick, but not before oil had coated the patio walls and ground. Once the oil had reached its proper cooking temperature, he placed the turkey inside the fryer. Suddenly, the fryer was engulfed in flames. Before it was able to spread, however, dad put out the flames and saved our home — thanks to the training he received on the proper use of fire extinguishers.

Fortunately, no one was injured that day and there was no damage to our home. Others, however, haven’t been so lucky. Each year, the improper use of turkey fryers results in numerous burn injuries and property damage. According to safety experts at Underwriters Laboratories (UL), backyard chefs who plan to fry their turkey this holiday season may be sacrificing safety for good taste. Because of the organization’s concern over increased reports of fires related to turkey fryer use, UL has not certified any with its trusted “UL” symbol. Some of the potential hazards listed by UL include:

•Many units could tip over, spilling gallons of hot oil.

•It is easy to overfill the cooking pot with oil. If this happens, oil may spill out of the unit when the turkey is placed into the cooking
pot. Oil may hit the burner and possibly cause a fire.

•Partially frozen turkeys placed into the fryer pot can cause a spillover effect. This, too, may result in a fire.

•With no thermostat controls, the turkey fryers have the potential to overheat the oil to the point of combustion.

•The sides of the cooking pot, lid and handles get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards.

There are currently several electric turkey fryers on the market that provide the same deep-fried deliciousness without the propane and flames. Some of these products can even be used indoors, which is a major no-no for conventional turkey fryers. For those who still plan to fry their bird this Thanksgiving on an outdoor gas cooker, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends the following safety guidelines:

•Keep the fryer in full view while the burner is on.

•Place the fryer in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures.

•Never use the fryer in, on or under a garage, breezeway, carport, porch or any structure that can catch fire.

•Raise and lower the food slowly to reduce splatter and avoid burns.

•Cover bare skin when adding or removing food.

•Check the oil temperature frequently.

•If the oil begins to smoke, immediately turn off the gas supply.

•If a fire occurs, immediately call 911. Do not attempt to extinguish the fire with water.

For safest operation, the CPSC recommends consumers follow these guidelines as they prepare to use a turkey fryer:

•Make sure there is at least two feet of space between the propane tank and fryer burner.

•Place the propane tank and fryer so that any wind blows the heat of the fryer away from the tank.

•Center the pot over the burner on the cooker.

•Completely thaw (the U.S. Department of Agriculture says 24 hours for every four to five pounds) and dry the turkey before cooking. Partially frozen and/or wet turkeys can produce excessive splatter when added to the oil.

•Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to determine the proper amount of oil to add.

Following the close call at our house, my father reviewed his emergency action plan, which stated that he was never supposed to cook under the patio in the first place. He was in such a hurry to get the turkey cooked before our guests arrived that he failed to follow his own safety rules. Be extra vigilant this holiday season and keep these safety tips in mind before frying your Thanksgiving turkey. It only takes one mistake to turn your holiday celebration into a deep-fried disaster.

Cooking fires peak on Thanksgiving Day. Most fires from turkey fryers occur while the oil is being heated, before the turkey is added.

Fill‘er Up!
So what is the proper amount of oil to deep-fry a turkey? Your fryer’s instruction manual should tell you exactly how much you’ll need. If you don’t have the instructions, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends you follow these steps:

•Place the turkey in the pot.

• Fill the pot with water until the turkey is covered by about a half-inch.

•Remove and dry the turkey.

• Mark the water level, dump the water, dry the pot and fill with oil to the marked level.

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