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Safety With Turkey Fryers

November 10, 2011

Deep frying a turkey makes for some excellent food on Thanksgiving.  There are some hazards associated with turkey fryers.  The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has concerns about the safety of these units in general.  Follow a few tips (and the manufacturer’s recommendations) and you should be good to go.

  • Turkey fryers should never be used indoors, or on a wooden deck or porch, nor should they be used beneath any roof, eave or overhang.  I know, if it’s raining or snowing, the cook is outside exposed to the elements.  But this will help ensure the house doesn’t catch fire.
  • Any deep fryer should be constantly attended from the time it’s turned on until it is turned off and cold.
  • Cover bare skin when adding or removing food.  Splattered oil can cause severe burns.
  • CPSC recommends you have at least two feet of clear space between the propane gas cylinder and the turkey fryer.  Burning oil is one thing.  Blowing up your propane tank adds a whole new degree of difficulty to an already bad situation.
  • Many turkey fryers are designed tall and narrow.  That makes them easy to tip over (Underwriters Laboratory, 2011).  Make sure yours is properly mounted and stable.
  • This is a big one.  Fryers with no thermostatic controls allow users to over-heat the oil.  The best cooking temperature for any deep frying is 325°F to 375°F.  According to Babrauskas (2003) cooking oils can automatically ignite at 523°F to 671°F.  That should be enough safety margin to allow for safe cooking without a fire.  Some people get in a hurry and add more heat to reach cooking temperature faster.  After reaching cooking temperature, they forget to turn the heat back down.  The heating element does what it’s told and continues heating the oil until it passes the auto-ignition temperature and ignites.  Check the temperature on your oil often and adjust the heat to stay at the desired cooking temperature.  If you see any smoke from the oil, you’re getting close to ignition and need to turn the heat down immediately.
  • Don’t overfill your pot with oil.  Remember, you need enough room for the turkey to be submerged in oil without the oil spilling over.  Don’t know how much oil to use?  Prior to heating, place the turkey in the cool pot.  Fill with water until the turkey is covered by about ½” of water.  Remove and dry the turkey.  Now mark the water level.  Empty the pot and dry it out.  Fill the pot with oil to the marked level.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and dry.  When you combine hot oil with frozen or wet turkey, you run the risk of boiling the oil over onto the burner below, with an ensuing fire.  Also, hot oil can splatter on anyone around causing severe burns.
  • NEVER, try to pick up or move a container of burning cooking oil.  In my 25 years in the fire service I have never seen anyone do that without getting burned.  Burns have ranged from just the hands, to one fellow who got skin grafts over his entire stomach and chest.  If you have a cooking oil fire, leave the container in place, turn off the heat, put a lid on the container (if possible), call 911, and evacuate.  DO NOT try to carry burning cooking oil outside or to a sink.

Deep frying has its hazards.  The prudent cook is aware of the hazards and plans for them.  Ultimately you want a well-cooked turkey and an undamaged house.  Attention to a few details can help ensure your house is still standing for Christmas.

REFERENCES

Babrauskas, V.  (2003).  Ignition handbook.  Issaquah, WA:  Fire Science Publishers.

 

Consumer Products Safety Commission.  (2003).  CPSC issues safety tips for turkey fryers.  Retrieved November 8, 2011 from http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml04/04041.html.

 

Underwriters Laboratories.  (2011).  Product safety tips:  Turkey fryers.  Retrieved November 8, 2011 from http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/offerings/perspectives/consumer/productsafety/turkeys/

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