Avoiding Accidents while Deep Frying a Turkey: Keep it Safe

It’s that time of the year again. The football season is underway, leaves are falling, and stomachs are rumbling with anticipation for that late Thursday in November when we dedicate a day to giving thanks. As you and your loved ones take time to reflect around the table, your gaze slowly shifts towards the delicious spread in front of you. While all of the food looks and smells wonderful, the main focus will no doubt be on that large, golden turkey in the center of the table.

Over the years, both the average consumer and restaurant owners have devised several different methods of cooking their whole turkeys in order to stand out from their friends and/or competitors. Eventually a trend grew among the public – attempts to deep fry whole turkeys outside, mainly in preparation for holidays or other occasions. Traditions have developed where the cook and onlookers stand over this outdoor deep fat fryer and listen as the oil sizzles and turkey quickly cooks. Many of us have seen these videos of whole turkeys flying out of the deep fat fryer or a large fire spreading to outlying areas (or in some cases, their own garages and homes). We may have joked or kidded with our friends about these scenarios, but I can assure you the people in the videos don’t find this funny.

According to statistics gathered by the federal government, over 2,000 fires occur every Thanksgiving Day. More than 2/3 are a result of food catching on fire, and many are because of deep fat fryers. These fires cause tens of millions of dollars in property damage annually and more importantly, result in serious injuries or the loss of lives.

The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) strongly discourages the use of outdoor gas-fueled turkey fryers that cook the turkey in hot oil. One of the outlying and uncontrollable factors that often goes overlooked (especially in our part of the country) is the weather. Since these propane-fueled fryers must be used outdoors, any snow or rain that hits the cooking oil may cause it to splatter, leading to severe burns or property damage.

Hidden dangers of turkey fryers could be found in the actual product itself. Several of the older models designed for outdoor use with a stand may not be strong enough to support the weight and tip over, causing damage to property or burns to nearby individuals. Even the newer models with strong stands are not deemed acceptable or endorsed for use by the NFPA because of the large amounts of hot oil and the quickness/severity of burns.

Some individuals may consider themselves to be extra cautious and believe they’ve taken enough protective measures prior to cooking, the NFPA continues to state that turkey fryers using cooking oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for safe use by even a well-informed and careful person. These turkey fryers use a substantial quantity of cooking oil at high temperatures and many of the units currently available pose a significant danger that hot oil will be released at some point during the cooking process. In addition, the burners that heat the oil can ignite spilled oil.

While many will agree that deep fried turkeys are delicious, is the risk acceptable when the possibility of severe burns and property damage are dangerously high? There are several different ways a whole turkey can be prepared to a delicious finish which does not come with a side of third-degree burn or a second helping of home repairs. You do not even have to give up the experience of cooking your turkey outside. Simply transition to an appliance that doesn’t use oil. Oil-less units can be found where the other units are sold and typically at the same or lower overall price. The process is much safer and your guests will not be able to taste the difference.

What’s your favorite way to prepare (or enjoy) Thanksgiving turkey?

-Jarrett Wagner


Jarrett obtained his B.A. degree in Criminal Justice from Illinois State University. He began his career at Society Insurance in 2008 in the Property, Auto, and Liability Claims department. While there, he earned his AIC and AIS and has spent the past three years in Risk Control.

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