A longtime favorite and rising in popularity, these domestic fryers significantly reduce the time required to cook the bird when compared with a conventional oven or rotisserie grill. Traditionally, the turkey fryer consists of a large pot with a lid, a drain valve, a burner, and a basket or other device to hold and raise the turkey. The propane tank that powers the unit must be purchased separately. Stainless steel parts are included on high-end units, while aluminum pots are common in inexpensive fryers. Some units also include a temperature control valve that automatically adjusts the oil’s temperature by sensing its temperature and adjusting the amount of propane allowed to enter the burner.
Turkey fryers are dangerous, however, and fire departments nationwide routinely warn against their use. Even Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the organization that provides safety certifications for all electrical appliances, from power strips to computers, has not listed any turkey fryer because none of the home models on the market meets their safety standards.
Turkey fryers are dangerous for the following reasons:
- Oil can overflow when the turkey is submerged, dripping into the burner and causing the entire unit to explode. Many homes have been destroyed in this fashion, as the flames are hot enough to incinerate their surroundings. One UL representative even likened a turkey fryer that had caught fire to “a vertical flamethrower.”
- Tipovers are inherent to the design. Unlike commercial fryers that have a low center of gravity and substantial weight, turkey fryers are lighter, vertically-oriented units that can be easily knocked over, spilling hot, flammable grease. In March 2010, according to the UK-based Daily Mail, a young British girl succumbed to injuries caused by grease burns when she knocked over a turkey fryer.
- Operators of turkey fryers are typically not trained in deep frying safety and, as such, overlook safety considerations that are routine in restaurant kitchens.
- The sides of the cooking pot, lid and pot handles get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards.
To reduce the likelihood of these and other concerns, Big Bear Premier can pass along the following safety tips to their residential clients:
- Always measure the amount of oil needed and never overfill the pot. The safest way to accomplish this is to place the turkey in the empty pot and fill it with oil until the turkey is slightly submerged. Remove the turkey and heat the oil, but turn the burner off before slowly lowering the turkey into the oil. Turn the burner back on after the turkey has been fully lowered.
- Never use a turkey fryer indoors, except for electrical units designed specifically for indoor use. In November 2009, a Nebraska man successfully fried a turkey in his garage, but even after he turned the unit off, the heat had nowhere to go. It rose to the attic where it caused items to smolder, igniting a fire that soon caused the nitrous oxide tank in the man’s car to detonate. Damages were estimated at $250,000, according to the McCook Daily Gazette. This incident also illustrates the next warning.
- Never use a turkey fryer near anything that might explode or catch on fire. It should also never be used beneath a tree or fence, or on a wooden deck.
- Center the pot over the burner on the cooker before using the fryer.
- Raise and lower the turkey slowly to reduce splatter and avoid burns, and cover bare skin when removing or adding food.
- Never use a turkey fryer on an uneven surface. Even a grass lawn or gravel patio can have uneven dips that cause the fryer to sink or tip. Also, mitigate potential tipping hazards by choosing a sturdy fryer with a low center of gravity.
- Consider using an electric turkey fryer. They don’t heat up as fast, but they can be used indoors and they’re generally safer than propane-powered models.
- Completely thaw the turkey and make sure it’s dry before putting it into the fryer. A wet or frozen turkey, for the aforementioned reasons, will cause the oil to quickly boil over and potentially explode like a bomb. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, turkeys require 24 hours of thawing for every 4 to 5 pounds.
- Monitor the oil temperature. Oil will ignite if overheated, and most home turkey fryers have no thermostat controls. If the oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the gas off. If it ignites, call 911.
- Attend the fryer at all times, and keep children and pets a safe distance away.
- Make sure you have a Class K fire extinguisher nearby.
In summary, deep fryers are cooking appliances used to create a tasty, crunchy meal in minutes. Operators should beware, however, of the dangers posed by deep fryers when they are not maintained or used properly.