Thanksgiving is full of delicious eats, but the centerpiece of the occasion is typically a large juicy turkey cooked to perfection.
Most people will have that beautiful fowl prepared via the timeless tradition of hours of roasting in an extra-large roasting pan. However, some may prefer the “in-demand” delicacy known as a deep-fried turkey. This creation is where you place the bird on a spit-like rack and drop it into a vat filled with gallons of hot oil, deep frying it until the skin is golden brown and crispy and the inside is soft and succulent. Yes, it does sound good and even better, it tastes amazing. However, this is where the problems start.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, not just in California but across the country. Approximately 2,300 fires were reported on Thanksgiving Day nationwide between 2017 – 2019. Worse still, these fires caused an estimated annual average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $25 million in property loss.
We don’t want you, your loved ones or your home to become a part of these statistics. However, if you decide the taste is worth the danger, make sure to keep all potential sources of accident and burn injury in mind as well as any applicable safety tips.
Turkey Deep Fryers Inherently Pose a Serious Security Risk
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) strongly discourages the use of outdoor gas-fueled turkey fryers, and these specialized appliances are not certified by Underwriters Laboratories. This is because there’s no safe way to construct a fryer for a huge item like a turkey. When in use, these fryers present a host of risks, including:
- Spillage: Deep fryers may fall over and spill dangerously hot oil into the burner or the surrounding area. This may also be the case when you add your bird into an overfilled pot. When spilled oil comes into contact with the open flame below, the result is often a raging inferno that might inflict serious injuries to the cook and onlookers.
- Burns: The pot, handle and lid can become hot enough to cause severe burns. Children and pets are particularly susceptible to this type of risk.
- Overheating: A gas-fueled fryer does not have pre installed thermostat controls, so it may heat your frying oil to hazardous levels. Different types of cooking oil have different smoke points, ranging from 325° F (extra-virgin olive oil) to 375° F (avocado oil) and 450° F (corn oil) to 510° F (safflower oil). The closer your oil gets to its smoke point, the more likely it is to catch fire.
- Precipitation: Holiday weather is hard to predict, and your fryer is vulnerable to light showers and rain. The high temperatures you need to cook the turkey will convert water to steam in an instant, giving the oil a high-power propulsion out of the fryer. Precipitation is not known to start infernos, but in this case, it just might.
According to an article in PropertyCasualty360, State Farm Insurance ranks California as 2nd in the nation for all grease and cooking-related fire losses. This includes losses caused by the dangerous turkey deep fryers. National statistics indicate that on Thanksgiving in 2018, state fire departments responded to about 1,630 fires related to cooking mishaps. Interestingly, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that most turkey frying accidents occur while the oil is still being heated before the turkey is even in the fryer.
No matter how you look at it, the truth is that innumerable adults, children, and pets are in the line of fire—or rather, hot oil—every holiday season.
Frozen Turkey Poses the Biggest Risk of All
Each year, approximately 46 million turkeys are eaten at Thanksgiving. Chances are, a few of these are dipped in hot oil while still partly frozen.
It’s no coincidence that there’s an exhaustive list of YouTube videos made by local fire departments to prove how badly frying a frozen or unprepared turkey could go. At best, excess oil might spill onto the burner. At worst, an explosion might ensue, putting the cook and bystanders in immediate and grave danger.
Raw turkeys contain about 75% water. In a frozen turkey, that becomes a lot of ice. When a frozen turkey is submerged in screaming-hot oil, that ice becomes water in an instant. Since liquid water is denser than oil, it goes to the bottom of the pot, where it absorbs more heat and energy. It’s at this point that water turns into steam, expanding its volume by 1,700 times. This expanding steam blows the boiling oil out of the pot, where it comes into contact with the open flame and catches fire. Droplets of oil catching on fire then ignite neighboring oil molecules, resulting in a fast-moving and often explosive fire.
In Tampa, FL, firefighters had scheduled a demonstration to show reporters exactly how dangerous frozen turkeys could be. However, the demonstration was canceled because the firefighters decided deep frying a whole, frozen turkey was dangerous, even for them. The message they still wanted Tampa Bay residents to hear is that, basically, there is no safe way to deep fry a turkey – “Just a ‘safer way’ and a ‘not really safe’ way.”
How to Safely Deep Fry Turkeys
Follow these tips so you can avoid a turkey frying accident:
1. Choose the Right Oil and Frying Vessel
As you probably know by now, not all oils are created equal – some have higher smoke points than others. For deep frying, you’ll want to choose an oil with a high smoke point, such as safflower oil or corn oil. As for the frying vessel, opt for a heavy-bottomed pot that is large enough to accommodate your turkey.
2. Find the Right Type of Fryer
If you decide to take the plunge and deep fry turkey this Thanksgiving, you’ll need a turkey fryer that’s up to the task.
Propane fryers are what most people use for outdoor turkey frying, despite the glaring risks they pose. Similar to an outdoor grill, a propane turkey fryer is fueled by a propane tank.
Electric fryers, on the other hand, can be used indoors and tend to be a safer option than propane fryers. There’s no open flame or scalding hot oil to monitor. One major pro of using this type of fryer is that it features a thermostat control so you can keep a steady temperature.
An oilless fryer is a happy medium if you’re looking for that classic crispy skin but without the added fat from the oil. Just like air fryers and conventional ovens, oilless fryers circulate hot air to cook and crisp the turkey. They’re the safest fryers out there.
3. Fry the Turkey Away From the House
Turkey fryers usually reach ridiculously high temperatures. That’s just how they work. If something does go wrong, you don’t want the fire to spread to your home and put your family in danger. So put the fryer a good distance from the house, at least 15 feet away, and never under any enclosure.
4. Only Fry a Dry, Thawed Turkey
We can’t emphasize this enough. Water and oil simply don’t mix, especially at high heat. Frying a frozen turkey is extremely dangerous and will cause a fire and probably an explosion. Thaw your turkey completely in the fridge, and then get it perfectly dry before you dip it into the oil.
USDA recommends following these thawing guidelines:
- 4 to 12 pounds: one to three days
- 12 to 16 pounds: three to four days
- 16 to 20 pounds: four to five days
- 20 to 24 pounds: five to six days
5. Carefully Measure the Amount of Oil You’ll Use
Don’t use too much oil. If you do, it will overflow the pot, hit the open flame and inevitably cause a fire.
Before you start the process, put the turkey into the pot and fill it with water so it’s submerged by a couple of inches. Then remove the turkey. This water level shows how much oil should go into the pot. Remove the water and thoroughly dry the inside of the pot.
6. Brace Up for the Big Day
Be sure to read the instructions carefully before cooking. Your manual will advise usage guidelines and safety tips.
As for the recommended cooking gear, put on good oven mitts, a long-sleeved shirt and long pants. For maximum safety, wear goggles and gloves too.
In addition, make sure you have a fire extinguisher within reach. Verify that it’s capable of putting out oil and grease fires. Acquaint yourself with how it works ahead of time as well.
7. Be on Constant Watch
Your turkey should never be left attended, and you should monitor the fryer and oil temperature at all times. Most recipes call for the oil to be between 350 – 375 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning that the whole setup will be extremely hot, from the oil itself to the lid and handle. For this reason, extreme caution should always be exercised. Kids and pets are curious and injuries are likely if they get close to or touch the fryer.
8. In the Event of Fire, Call 911 Immediately
Never attempt to put out an oil fire with water. Use a fire extinguisher instead. If your sleeves or clothing catch on fire, use the technique of stop, drop, and roll. If you cannot douse the flames, evacuate everyone from the yard immediately and call 911.
If You Get Burned
Burns from frying turkey accidents are typically rated by the severity and size of the injury.
- First-degree: A first-degree burn is the least severe. Specifically, it occurs when the outer layer of skin is damaged from touching or picking up a hot object. The skin becomes red at first, and then it eventually dries and peels. Pain from this type of burn typically subsides after a day or so.
- Second-degree: Second-degree burns happen in the same way as first-degree burns, but they are more severe. Damage occurs to the outer layer of skin, as well as parts of the inner layer of skin. Signs of a second-degree burn include white blotchy patches on the skin, blistering, and possibly a deep red color, and the affected area may look red and shiny. This burn may take as long as three weeks to heal.
- Third-degree: This type of burn affects the entire thickness of the skin. Because they often damage nerve endings, there is often no pain, at least initially. This burn has a dry, leathery appearance and is considered a medical emergency.
- Fourth-degree: These are the highest level of burns and have the potential to be life-threatening. They are the most severe and deepest injuries; affecting all layers of skin, muscles, tendons, and bones.
You may have been told to apply ice or cold water to stop the heat when you get burned. This is no longer recommended: cold constricts blood vessels, and healing is dependent on blood flow.
As a best practice, keep room-temperature water flowing over the burn for 5-10 minutes. Clean with soap and gently pat the burn dry after you wash it. Apply first aid burn cream or petroleum jelly before having a doctor evaluate.
Burns can sometimes worsen over time, so it’s always best to consult a physician for any burn injury. According to the American Burn Association, these burns should be assessed at a burn center as quickly as possible:
- Deeper burns and burns covering more than 5% to 10% of the total skin area
- Burns in people with underlying medical conditions, like diabetes
- Burns that wrap around the arms or legs
- Burns on the hands, face, genitals, or joints
What to Do Afterwards
Even if you know the ins and outs of “how to safely deep fry turkeys”, products don’t always work as intended. If you or a friend or family member were injured by a deep fryer while cooking a Thanksgiving turkey, by an electric knife while carving a turkey, or by another potentially defective product, contact Nadrich & Cohen to find out what we can do to protect your rights. You may have a potentially defective product case or product liability claim.
If you were injured by a potentially defective product, follow these steps:
- Don’t move it: Don’t touch the product or machine that caused the injury. Don’t throw anything away. Don’t fix anything. Leave everything as is to avoid tampering with what may be crucial evidence in your case.
- Take pictures: Take pictures of the defective product or machine in the exact location during the incident. Take pictures of any contributing factors. Take pictures of your injuries. This information may be important to the investigative process should there be questions about the liability portion of your case.
- Jot down: Take detailed notes explaining where you purchased the product or machine as well as elaborate descriptions of how you used the product and what happened. Be sure to include the results and any burns that you sustained.
- Keep names on record: Get the names, telephone numbers, and addresses of any onlookers who witnessed the incident.
- Get in touch with an attorney: Call an experienced, reputable personal injury lawyer immediately. Once you have left the scene or the emergency room, contact Nadrich & Cohen for a confidential consultation about your rights and obligations.
- Stay away from curious or overly-inquisitive individuals: Do not discuss the details of the incident or your injuries. Avoid discussing your feelings or detailed information about the incident and your injuries with anyone other than the police, emergency medical services, and your attorney.
Don’t Go From Fryers to Fires This Thanksgiving
No one wants their Thanksgiving ruined by a deadly inferno. Sadly, each year unexpected fires cause injury and damage during what should be a day of fun, thanksgiving and joyous celebration. We want you to stay safe—but if the worst happens, we’re here to help.
At Nadrich & Cohen, our team of personal injury attorneys works with the at-fault party’s insurance company to help injury victims get the compensation they need and deserve. Even if you were injured at the home of a friend or family member during Thanksgiving dinner, don’t brush aside the idea of contacting us—you still need to pay your bills, and we won’t charge you a fee until and unless we win your case. The only fee we charge is a percentage of any recovery we obtain from you, so you will never owe us any money out of your own pocket.
Reach out to us today and begin your journey toward clarity, confidence, and complete peace of mind.