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Don't let your turkey deep-fry you

Josh White

I've never really thought of deep-frying a turkey, but I know it's almost Thanksgiving because my e-mail inbox today included the annual warnings about the dangers of doing just that.

Similar to the warnings about setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July and the fire hazards of Christmas tree lights, fire officials want to make sure everyone is using caution when they dunk heavy poultry into smoking hot oil this week.

Maybe such a warning makes sense. According to the National Turkey Federation, people in the U.S. will consume 46 million turkeys on Thursday. In a national survey, the Arlington-based Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association found that 28 percent of all those turkeys will be deep-fried, meaning close to 13 million turkeys will be cooked that way.

The association also said more than 525,000 turkey fryers shipped from manufacturers in 2009. That's a lot of hot oil.

This man's a professional. You're probably not one. (Post.)

With the popularity of this method, officials worry that novice fryers, or those who don't follow the manufacturer's instructions, could cause serious injuries or catastrophic fires if they're not careful. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said staff there have received 141 reports of serious fires or hot-oil burns -- 38 of them resulting in injuries -- over the past decade. They also report property losses of nearly $8 million due to such fires.

"You want to use extreme caution if you're going to use a turkey fryer this year," said Patty Davis, a spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Most of the warnings are obvious:

  • Never use a fryer inside
  • Don't use fryers on wood decks, in garages or below overhangs
  • Never leave a cauldron of scalding oil unattended, especially when children or pets are around.

Some other warnings aren't as obvious but are just as important:

  • Use a cooking thermometer to make sure the oil doesn't exceed 350 degrees. Oil can ignite at 550 to 700 degrees.
  • Never operate the fryer in the rain. Water and oil mixing in the fryer can cause spatter, overflows, fires, and even explosions.
  • Completely thaw the turkey before putting in the fryer.

For a complete list of warnings, see example notices from the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association, and the Manassas City Fire and Rescue Department.

A warning from Underwriters Laboratories, which does not certify such fryers, includes a video demonstrating the fires that can occur from overfilling fryers, letting them get too hot, and the dangers posed by them tipping over.

-- Josh White

By Josh White  |  November 24, 2009; 10:24 AM ET
Categories:  Josh White , Personal Safety  
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