Frying turkeys for Thanksgiving has been a long-standing tradition in the South. As it has become more popular and spread to other areas of the country, the know-how on doing it safely hasn’t seemed to follow. Every year, $25 million in damages, 60 injuries, and five deaths occur due to turkey-frying related fires. There are multiple ways inexperienced cooks create a higher risk of fires, but knowing how to cook it safely will ensure you a happy holiday.
The first step to take is to purchase a standard turkey fryer, preferably one that comes with a thermometer and built-in safety features. Homemade fryers are one of the leading causes of fires. You also want to purchase protective eyewear, a fire extinguisher, an internal temperature probe, and fire retardant insulated gloves. You will also need oil. The best oil to use is peanut oil because it has a high smoke and flash point which means it’s less combustible than other oils. Peanut oil comes in five-gallon jugs, which should be enough for a smaller turkey. And, of course, you will need a turkey. Your first attempt at turkey frying should be a smaller turkey, 12 pounds and under. Be sure to check the weather forecast to make sure your scheduled cook day is free from rain, snow, and very strong winds.
Another leading cause of turkey fryer fires is from using too much oil. The best way to avoid this is to determine the proper amount of oil to use ahead of time before you even start the cooking process. The first step to doing this is to thaw your turkey. It is very dangerous to attempt to deep-fry a frozen turkey. Once your turkey is thawed, remove the giblets and cut off the extra skin that covers both cavities. Set the fryer pot in the sink, place the turkey on the fryer pot stand, place the stand with the turkey into the fryer pot, and fill it with water until the turkey is covered with no more than a half-inch of water. Then remove the turkey, allowing all of the water to drain from its cavities, and score your fryer pot to mark the water level.
One of the biggest reasons people love fried turkeys is because of the taste. There are several recipes and approaches to make your turkey very juicy and flavorful. Some people make a brine with vegetables, spices, and seasonings and soak the turkey overnight. Others swear by prepackaged or homemade marinades injected into the turkey. The injected marinades can sit for an hour or overnight to let the flavors soak into the turkey. Some people also use rubs on the skin, but you should avoid any rubs that contain sugar because they scorch the skin when exposed to heated oil creating an unappetizing black color that makes the turkey look burnt. Once the turkey is prepped, be sure to pat it dry and let it air dry for 30 minutes prior to cooking to minimize any moisture.
It cannot be emphasized enough to never, ever use a turkey fryer indoors. Not only that, but you should never use it in the garage or anywhere near the house. Set up the fryer on a level, non-flammable surface in an open environment far away from trees, wooden fences, buildings, and tripping hazards. This step alone would prevent the majority, if not all, of the damages caused every year from turkey fryer accidents. Your fryer should be set up far enough away from any flammable material that if it were tipped over, the spilled oil would not reach it. Some people even build a dirt or sand damn around the fryer to contain any unexpected spills.
Before starting the cooking process, be sure to dress appropriately. Wear long sleeves, long pants, and fully enclosed shoes to protect your skin from grease-spatter burns. If there is a noticeable breeze, be sure to set the propane tank upwind from the stand so you can safely turn off the propane at the first sign of overheating. Next, fill the fryer pot with oil up to the score mark you previously made before lighting the fire and insert the thermometer. Overheating oil is one of the biggest causes of turkey fryer accidents. Oil is combustible at high temperatures even in the absence of a flame, so you are at risk of a disastrous fire if the oil gets too hot. Fully open the propane tank and light the burner. The carefully place the pot of oil on the stand and heat to the desired temperature.
There are a variety of oil temperatures at which a turkey can be cooked in a turkey fryer. The higher the temperature, the faster it will cook, but also the greater the danger of combustion. One of the biggest causes of turkey fryer accidents is when the oil has gotten too hot. When the oil has reached a dangerous temperature, it will start to smoke. If there is any sign of smoke, the propane tank should be turned off to allow the oil to cool. Once the fire has been lit, the oil should never be left unattended during the entire cooking process. You should fry your first turkey at a lower temperature to minimize your risk of fire. You can fry a turkey at 325 degrees for around 3.5 minutes per pound. Calculate your cooking time before putting the turkey in the pot.
Once the oil has reached 325 degrees, you are ready to put the turkey into the turkey fryer pot. This is by far the most dangerous moment of the turkey frying process and should be approached with the utmost caution. You should be wearing your protective gloves and goggles at this moment. Make sure your fire extinguisher is nearby and ready to use. Most turkey fryers come with a hook for this purpose. Slowly lower the turkey into the oil, pulling it up and lowering again when the oil bubbles too aggressively. Relight the fire and adjust the propane anytime the temperature gets too far above 325. Be sure to stand upwind while watching the thermometer. Do not use the lid while frying because this will increase the temperature of the oil to a dangerous level.
After the cooking time has passed, you should check the internal temperature with a temperature probe. Most turkey fryers come with a pan for transporting the turkey to and from the fryer. If yours doesn’t, you can use any large dish or pan with handles. Line the pan with paper towels to absorb excess oil and turn the propane tank off. To remove the turkey from the pot, lift the turkey out of the oil by the hook with the metal bar and allow the oil to drain completely from the turkey cavity. Set the turkey on the pan to check the temperature. Do not attempt to do this while the turkey is suspended above the oil. Using a temperature probe, make sure the internal temperature is between 180 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. If the turkey is the desired internal temperature, let the turkey “rest” for 30 minutes before carving.
The oil will need to cool for several hours before it's safe to handle. Be sure to keep children and pets away from the fryer during the entire cooking process and until the oil has cooled to a temperature that allows for safe handling. Once the oil has cooled, it can be filtered and stored in the original bottle it came in and used again. Propane tanks, even if empty, should be stored outdoors, away from any buildings, windows, or combustible materials. You should keep your propane tank propped up on cinder blocks to prevent rust from forming on the bottom from standing water or snow. Cover the tank with a loose plastic tarp to protect it from precipitation.
After following all of the recommended safety precautions, you can enjoy your Thanksgiving feast with a flavorful, juicy turkey cooked to perfection. It is unfortunate that every year people have their holidays needlessly ruined by visits from the fire department, destroyed family homes, or even injuries and death. Make your next Thanksgiving more enjoyable with a flavorful, juicy turkey fried safely.