By Sam Wasson
Updated Dec 8, 2022
Deep-frying a Thanksgiving turkey has been a popular Southern tradition for decades and has gained widespread popularity in recent years – and if you’ve ever had a deep-fried turkey, it’s no surprise. The crispy, golden-brown skin combined with the savory, moist meat makes a Thanksgiving Day meal you won’t soon forget. However, if not done correctly, this cooking method can create an equally unforgettable disaster resulting in property damage and burn injuries. This article will delve into the dangers of deep-frying turkeys, examine the associated risks, and discuss some southern-style safety tips for turkey frying.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated five deaths, 60 injuries, and over $15 million of damage occurs yearly due to turkey fryer fires. This activity is considered so dangerous that the NFPA discourages even well-informed and seasoned cooking veterans from undertaking this tradition.
Frozen turkeys explode due to how water and oil react to heat. Water’s boiling point is 212°F, and cooking oil is around 350°F. So, when a frozen turkey is added to a pot of boiling oil, the ice within it will instantly vaporize into steam. This steam will rapidly expand, multiplying in volume and increasing the internal pressure inside the fryer. The result of this expansion of gases and pressure is a torrential overflow of oil and steam called a Burning Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion (BLEVE). The steam and oil vapor overflowing from the fryer are extremely hot and can cause severe burns if exposed to the skin or eyes.
As oil reaches a high temperature, typically over 450°F, it will begin to smoke and potentially catch fire. This critical temperature is called an oil’s “smoke point.” Each oil has a different smoke point, with animal fats like lard having lower ones than plant-based oils. If your fryer lacks thermostat controls, the oil within can easily become too hot, reaching its smoke point, and catching fire.
If the oil spills from the lid of the fryer and hits the flames below, it will combust. The flames will snake up the side of the fryer, igniting the rest of the oil as it goes. This chain reaction can result in the entire fryer catching on fire and exploding into large pillars of flame. In extreme cases, these explosions can be as large as 10 feet high. These oil fires can melt siding and ignite wooden decks, sheds, and eaves.
Even if the oil does not overflow, the deep fryer’s handles, lid, and sides can become extremely hot. Handling these fryer parts without pot holders can result in serious burns.
If you decide to deep-fry a turkey for Thanksgiving, there are several safety precautions you’ll need to follow to ensure your and your family’s safety.
|Extra-virgin olive oil||Between 350°F and 375°F|
|Sesame oil||Between 350°F and 410°F|
|Vegetable oil||Between 400°F and 450°F|
It’s unfortunate that a deep-fried turkey is so dangerous to prepare, as it’s truly a delicious option for Thanksgiving dinner. But no matter how tasty the result is, you should always prioritize the safety and security of your home and family. If you decide to deep-fry your turkey, always thoroughly follow the proper safety procedures.
For more information on the dangers of deep-frying a turkey, we recommend this video from Fox News and the DeKalb County Fire Department: