The trend of deep frying the Thanksgiving turkey continues to grow all across our nation, and with good reason. Deep frying the ol’ gobbler seals in flavor and juices so it turns out delightfully, tender, succulent and delicious. What’s more, deep frying cooks the bird in a fraction of the time it takes for conventional oven roasting—only about three to four minutes per pound.
But deep-fried turkey also has a potential sinister side. Lowering a turkey into a big vat of scalding-hot oil makes for a highly combustible situation to say the least. Each year around Thanksgiving, news stories about turkey-fryer-related fires and injuries begin to pop up. So, if you intend to deep fry your bird this Thanksgiving—and would prefer to stay out of the headlines—be sure to observe the following safety tips:
Read the fryer manual
While most turkey fryers function in essentially the same way, there are certain differences among the various models. Before attempting to use your new fryer, be sure to read the manual thoroughly to familiarize yourself with all the included components as well as the manufacturer’s safety precautions and recommendations for proper use.
Set up the fryer outdoors
Under no circumstances should a turkey fryer be used inside your home, garage, or any other enclosed area. Instead, set up the fryer outdoors on a flat, level surface that is out of the wind and a good distance from any structure or combustible material, such as dry leaves. The best place to set up frying operations is on dirt or concrete—never on a wooden deck or any other type of wooden platform.
Have a fire extinguisher handy
No turkey frying should take place without a fire extinguisher close at hand—and make sure it’s rated for use on oil fires. If an oil fire should occur, the last thing you’d want to do is try to extinguish it with the garden hose. Small fires can grow into large, unmanageable ones very quickly, so if you have any doubt about your ability to extinguish the fire, call 911.
Protect your hands and eyes
To protect your hands and arms from spattering oil and the hot surfaces of the frying vat, wear heavy-duty oven mitts. It’s also a good idea to don goggles or other protective eyewear before deep frying the bird.
Smaller birds are better
The bigger the bird, the greater the potential for hot oil to overflow and cause a fire or major injury. Not to mention, bigger turkeys tend to burn on the outside before the inside is cooked completely. The USDA recommends a maximum size of 12 pounds for turkeys destined for the deep fryer. If one 12-pound bird won’t feed all your guests, don’t risk going larger. Instead, fry a second bird while the first one is resting.
Don’t overfill the oil
Simply “eyeballing” the oil level before lowering the turkey into the vat often results in an overflow of oil, which can easily ignite if it makes contact with the cooking flame. The best way to determine exactly how much oil you’ll need is to perform a simple water-displacement test. Place the turkey in the empty vat and fill it with water to a few inches above the bird. Then, remove the turkey and measure the depth of the water. That measurement will tell you how high the oil level should be before the turkey is added. Once you’ve made your measurement, drain the water and dry the vat completely.
Prepare the turkey properly
Before frying, make sure the turkey is completely thawed and pat it dry—inside and outside—with paper towels. Remember, any moisture will cause the oil to spatter. Also, be sure to remove the neck and bag of giblets from the body cavity as well as any plastic bindings and that plastic button that pops up when the turkey is done. Do not stuff the turkey before frying.
The risk of tipping the frying vat or causing an overflow is greatest when you’re immersing the turkey in the oil and raising it out. Never rush these operations. Even a completely thawed and dried bird will cause some spattering as you lower it into the hot oil. Lower too quickly, and the vat can easily bubble over.
Cook the turkey properly
Food safety is just as big a concern when frying a turkey as when oven roasting it. Heat the oil to 350 degrees and cook the turkey until its internal temperature reaches at least 165 degrees in the breast as well as the thickest part of the thigh.
Never leave the fryer unattended
From the moment the burner is lit, the turkey fryer must not be left unattended. Also, the frying area should be ruled off limits to children and pets. The oil will remain dangerously hot well after you’re done frying, so this rule must remain in effect for several hours post cooking. Also, don’t attempt to dispose of the oil or store it until it has cooled completely.