Thanksgiving is coming, and I’m already adding holes to my belt. This is the time of year when otherwise conscientious eaters stuff themselves so full of amazing savory and sweet delights they are left comatose for hours as football games play on the TV. This is the time of year when we are so very thankful for family, friends, turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and mashed potatoes (and for the record, my grandmother’s mashed potatoes are the best you’ll ever have).
But one tasty spin on a classic dish has climbed the ranks in many Thanksgiving lineups: the deep-fried turkey. This new-school hero of Southern cuisine might be the best turkey you’ll ever sink your teeth into, but unlike your Aunt Gina’s candied yams, frying up the perfect turkey can a hazardous undertaking if you attempt it in half-measure.
In case you think I’m kidding, the statistics speak to the seriousness of the matter. Every year several people die, dozens of people are seriously injured, and hundreds of homes are destroyed as a result of well meaning folks who do not take the time to fry their holiday bird safely.
If proper techniques aren’t followed, a turkey fryer can turn into an explosive volcano of fire and hot oil. It may seem like a risky endeavor, but when the correct protocol is observed, deep-frying a turkey is a rewarding experience. Here are eight key tips to help you safely get your hands on some absolutely amazing Thanksgiving turkey.
1) COMPLETELY THAW OUT THE TURKEY PRIOR TO COOKING
This tip is in all caps for a good reason – ignoring this point could result in death, serious injury, or the destruction of your home. Frozen turkeys are often labeled “cook from frozen,” but this is only applies to traditional oven cooking. Every year, individuals drop frozen turkeys into hot oil and the result is devastating. The ensuing fireball and spray of boiling hot oil can kill.
2) USE THE APPROPRIATE AMOUNT OF OIL
This point is also in all caps because it’s another potential cause for serious injury when turkey frying. If you use too much oil, you risk a spill over when you place your turkey into the pot, which creates a very dangerous situation. Imagine a large oil fire only feet from the propane tank of your outdoor grill – it’s a sobering thought).
To avoid this problem, follow the guidelines that come with your turkey fry pot. Often there is a fill line and a recommended maximum size for the turkey. If your pot doesn’t have guidelines or a fill line, fill your pot reasonably full of water, lower the turkey into the pot (it may spill over), remove enough water that the waterline is 3-5 inches from the rim, and then remove your turkey. The resulting levels is your oil fill line.
You may want a tape measure to record the newly established fill line so that there is NO ambiguity when it comes to adding the oil. And just to be clear – empty out the water you used for testing BEFORE you add in your cooking oil.
3) Choose the Appropriate Size Turkey for Frying
The maximum recommended turkey size for frying is 12-14 lbs., and this is for two reasons. First, this is the upper limit at which you can expect to receive a delicious end result. Second, if the bird is too large, you risk an oil spill over which, as we mentioned before, is a very dangerous situation. Consult the user guide for your turkey pot for recommended turkey size.
4) Be Careful with the Fire
Specifically, turn the flame off before lowering in the turkey into the pot and before removing it. You may feel like you have a fairly steady hand, but don’t risk it. It’s better to take a moment to do things properly so you can avoid serious injury (or burning your house down).
5) Use the Proper Equipment in the Proper Way
Using makeshift equipment such as a pot not designed for the purpose or an improvised burner is a good way to get hurt. When you do buy a burner and pot, read the operating instruction and safety tips carefully, and give your new equipment a test run before Turkey Day.
6) Cook the Turkey Outside
And when I say outside, what I really mean is cook AS FAR AWAY from any structure, overhang, or flammable materials (like a low tree branch) as possible.
Given the above points, it seems like common sense to keep this combustible cooking combination away from things you don’t wish to set fire to, yet every year people fry their turkeys inside, in a garage, or next to their house, and this often leads to disaster. If you don’t have a lot of room to fry your turkey (a condo with a small back yard, etc.), simply don’t do it.
7) Keep a Grease-Fire-Approved Fire Extinguisher Nearby
Better yet, have two. Also, keep burn-related first aid supplies handy. Even if you don’t cause a large fire, you’re still cooking with a large pot with gallons of hot oil, so burns can happen.
8) Don’t Rush It
As we all know, mistakes are made when you’re under pressure to work faster than safety will allow. You wouldn’t likely use a table saw or a kitchen mandolin haphazardly in a rush, and a turkey fryer is no less dangerous. If you feel you can’t fry your turkey safely and in the proper amount of time, don’t do it – find something else to eat.
To illustrate the seriousness of this topic, here is a brief video featuring William Shatner that will drive the point home.
This post may seem like a real buzzkill, but the point is to make sure that your Turkey Day is the stuff of legend, not nightmares. If you take the time to observe these crucial safety tips this Thanksgiving, you’ll end up with one amazing, juicy, and delicious turkey that will make you the envy of your friends!