Turkey Tribulations

Here in South Carolina we’re blessed with moderate temperatures in November. That means the summertime burger grillin’ guys will be able to comfortably continue their outdoor cooking by frying the Thanksgiving turkey in one of those propane-fired deep-fat contraptions. Maybe this is one reason South Carolina is in the top ten states with the most grease and cooking-related claims in November, according to State Farm data.

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Fried turkey connoisseurs say cooking a turkey in hot oil makes for juicy meat and crispy skin and takes only a fraction of the time needed for oven roasting. They also think it’s more fun.

That may be true, but it’s dangerous as well. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), deep fryer fires cause an average of 5 deaths, 60 injuries, and more than $15 million in property damage each year. In fact, the NFPA goes so far as to say that “turkey fryers that use oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for acceptably safe use by even a well-informed and careful consumer.”

So what causes the problem? Since a picture speaks a thousand words, we refer you to the following video produced by State Farm Insurance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQYTMFCLy5E

These are some of the turkey fryer catastrophes that were reported just in the last couple of years:

In November of 2011, an 87-year old man in suburban Chicago tripped and fell into a deep fryer. “We put the deep fryers on cardboard and I caught my shoe on the edge and just lost my balance,” he said. He had third-degree burns, the most serious kind, on his leg and underwent surgery at the Loyola Burn Center.

Also in 2011, firefighters responded to a fire in North Charleston, South Carolina, caused by a resident who accidentally set the exterior of the house on fire while cooking with a turkey fryer. Fire officials say damage was limited to the siding of the home. No one was injured in the incident.

Last year firefighters in Baltimore County, Maryland, were called when a deck caught fire. The turkey fryer was warming up and splattered over. One person was injured with burns to his arms and face.

Firefighters were summoned to a house in Crystal Lake, Illinois, in November 2012 to attend to a garage fire caused by the deep frying of a turkey. Damage to the garage and attached house was estimated at $80,000.

A Johnstown, Pennsylvania, home was damaged by a 2012 turkey fryer fire. Splashing grease set fire to a wooden deck and nearby brush and also damaged the siding on the house.

A turkey fryer fire in Laurel, Maryland, last year heavily damaged a home when the fryer caught the deck on fire. It then spread to the rest of the home, causing $100,000 in damage and displacing the family.

If you or someone in your family is just insistent on savoring a fried turkey this Thanksgiving, please follow these safety tips so you won’t be in this year’s news:

  • Look for the newer fryers with sealed lids to prevent oil spills.
  • Place the fryer in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures.
  • Make sure there is at least 2 feet of space between the liquid propane tank and fryer burner.
  • Place the liquid propane gas tank and fryer so that any wind blows the heat of the fryer away from the gas tank.
  • Never use the fryer in, on or under a garage, breezeway, carport, porch, deck or any other structure that can catch fire.
  • Never cook in short sleeves, shorts or bare feet. Cover all bare skin when dunking or removing the bird.
  • Protect your eyes with goggles or glasses.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed (the USDA says 24 hours for every 4 to 5 pounds) and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don’t mix and water can cause oil to spill over, creating a fire or even an explosion.
  • Make sure the turkey is dry when placed in the hot oil. Slowly raise and lower the turkey to reduce hot-oil splatter and to avoid burns.
  • Don’t overfill fryer with oil. Turkey fryers can ignite in seconds after oil hits the burner.
  • Keep the fryer in full view while the burner is on.
  • Keep children and pets away from the cooking area.
  • If oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the gas off.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher appropriate for oil fires close at hand and be familiar with how to operate it.
  • Do not use a hose in an attempt to douse a turkey fryer fire.
  • If you do burn yourself, or someone else is burned, seek immediate medical attention.

And a couple of alternatives: You can purchase a fried turkey from a store or catering company. Or consider purchasing one of the new oil-less “fryers” which are powered by propane but the flame is enclosed within a double-walled heating chamber. Upon ignition, infrared waves cook the food and are said to produce results similar to those obtained with hot oil.