Fry the Turkey, Not the House!

Thanksgiving is near and visions of fried turkeys already are dancing in more than a few heads.

Yet even as you are salivating, fire departments nationwide caution you. The old joke that men love cooking only if it involves flames and danger is not so funny after an accident. Every year too many people are injured and homes are burned due to the combination of large pots of hot oil and big turkeys. Your homeowners insurance may respond for the fire damages, and your health insurance for the emergency room visit, but is that really the new Thanksgiving tradition you had in mind?

Fried turkey can be a great alternative to the traditional oven-roasted bird, but be certain to take into account the much higher risk factors. Use a fryer designed specifically for turkeys, rather than jury-rigging other cooking equipment.

Having heard several horror stories about turkey-frying gone wrong, we are providing some safety tips on how to fry your turkey without setting your home, and more importantly yourself, on fire.

Safe Frying Tips

Once you have the proper fryer, follow a few tips from the experts that can make the difference between taste sensation and flaming disaster:

  • Can you see the sky? There should only be sky and certainly no structure above the fryer. Turkey deep fryers should always be placed outdoors, a safe distance away from anything combustible. Never use a turkey fryer in the garage, on a wooden deck, or anywhere near the house. Other no-fry zones include porches, patios, or any structure attached to a building.
  • Be sure to visit the National Fire Prevention Association’s website for more fire prevention codes and standards.
  • Keep your deep fryer level. To prevent it from tipping over, always place your frying vessel on a metal stand over a non-combustible, steady surface. Remember if you are placing it on concrete, the concrete can get stained by the oil. Try placing it over dirt or grass instead.
  • Make sure the area around your cooking operation is free of clutter. Toys belonging to children or pets can be a tripping hazard. Falling into a pot of oil will dampen anyones day.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended. “Stand by your bird,” If you need to briefly step away, bringing along an oven mitt or a cooking spoon as a reminder that you were cooking.
  • Kids should always be at least three feet away from any cooking area — especially a pot of bubbling oil. Remember the oil in the fryer remains extremely hot for hours after cooking. Even after you are finished cooking, do not let pets or children near the fryer.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher handy. If fire erupts, do not throw water on it. Water will not extinguish a grease fire and will cause the oil to spread and spatter violently. If the fire is small, use the extinguisher, but dial 911 for emergency assistance before the blaze becomes unmanageable.
  • Use oil with a high smoke point, such as peanut, canola, corn oil, rice oils, and sunflower. Look out for licking. If the flame is licking out from under the pot, the flame is too high. Health wise if fat and cholesterol are a concern, try combining canola and peanut oil.
  • Always use fresh oil. If reusing, make sure it’s not rancid. If the oil is foaming, darkening, or smoking excessively, it should be replaced.
  • Many turkey fryers do not come with a built in thermostat, and if left unattended may overheat, resulting in combustion. Turkey fryer thermometers and other accessories are available.
  • Do not overfill the turkey fryer with oil. If oil spills over because the turkey is too large or the oil level is too high flames can engulf the unit and endanger bystanders. Before frying, conduct this test: Put the unseasoned turkey into the  fryer while it is empty. Then fill the fryer with water until the turkey is fully submerged. If the turkey fits comfortably, mark the water level. When preparing to cook, dry the fryer and the turkey thoroughly. Then fill the fryer with oil to an inch shy of your level mark to allow for expansion of the oil as it heats.
  • Adhere to the “fill-line” you make with the bird you are cooking and perform the test above each time you cook. Using the line the manufacturer printed on the inside of the vessel to does not take into consideration the size of turkey you are cooking, and you may have too much oil in the fryer. Perform the pre cooking test to gauge the proper amount of oil to use and prevent oil from spilling over the edge of the fryer and into the flames.
  • Prior to cooking make sure to thaw the turkey completely and dry it with paper towels. Injected marinades are fine, but season the turkey skin with a dry rub. Excess water in a partially frozen or wet turkey will cause the pot to bubble over, resulting in a fire hazard. The National Turkey Federation recommends 24 hours of thawing for every five pounds of bird before cooking in a turkey fryer.
  • Remove the pop-up timer, truss, and wing tips from the turkey. These can get in the way of lowering the bird into the frying vessel.
  • Prevent oil from splattering. Turn off the burner before SLOWLY lowering the turkey into the fryer. As soon as the turkey is safely in the pot, turn the burner back on. If you can, enlist a second pair of hands to help you.
  • Use heavy oven mitts or well-insulated potholders. The lid, handles, and sides of the cooking pot become very hot, posing a severe burn threat. Protective eyewear is also recommended. Wear tight-fitting clothes or short sleeves, as anything loose-fitting could catch fire. Also wear closed-toe shoes for extra protection from splatter.



Put a lid on it. If your deep fryer catches fire, turn off the gas (if you can) and if it is safe, cover the fryer with a lid to cut off the flame’s oxygen supply. If you need to use the fire extinguisher on your dinner to prevent damage to your property, a ruined meal will be better than a burned house.

  • Stop, drop and roll. You know the drill. If you catch fire, stop what you’re doing, drop to the ground, and roll.
  • Treat with cool water. Until you receive proper medical attention, use only cold water to treat a burn.



When it comes to picking the right bird for your Thanksgiving dinner web searches turn up the following information:

  • Ideally, a frying turkey should weigh between 10 and 12 pounds, or 13 to 14 pounds at maximum.
  • Allow three to four minutes per pound for frying time. (For example, the frying time for a 12-pound whole turkey, after the oil has reached the required 375 F temperature, is about 42 minutes.)


  • Remove excess fat from around the neck and other openings of the turkey.
  • Detach the leg and thigh portions from the breast and fry them first, in oil that has been preheated to 375 F.
  • Cook dark meat to an internal temperature of 175 to 180 F.
  • Remove the cooked turkey legs and then reheat the oil to 375 F. Fry the turkey breast to an internal temperature of 165 F.

When it comes to safety, remember: The best insurance claim is the one you never have to make. Whether you’re tending a deep fryer or waiting on the timer to go off on your oven, be safe this Thanksgiving and holiday season.

The reality is, if you put a frozen turkey in a deep fat fryer, you’re putting water in there. You know what happens if you put water in hot grease, it starts to splatter and the oil floats on the water and you have a big fire. Wearing protective gear while you’re cooking is also a good idea. When you put the turkey in the fryer, you need to make sure you’re very careful and lower it in the fryer slowly. Remember it’s good to have a glove on because you are going to have your hand over the top of the fryer full of hot oil.

It’s important to read the instructions that come with the fryer and turkey before you begin. Remember the fryer should be kept far away from your home and other structures.

Safety consulting company UL (Underwriters Laboratories) has decided “not to safety-certify any turkey-fryers due to the increase of fires caused by their use.” However, if you’re looking to get your hands on one, The National Turkey Federation recommends checking out Consumer Reports to find a frying apparatus that’s right for your needs. When you’re ready to fry, review all of the safety precautions above.

Nearly 4,300 fires occur on Thanksgiving, causing 15 deaths and almost $27 million in property damage, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Many of these home fires are due to deep-frying accidents. Following the above safety precautions will go a long way to helping you create a holiday to remember without having a turkey fueled disaster.

Every year a popular spokesperson representing a major insurance company does a promotional spot on turkey fryer accidents and incidents. While this may seem funny on television if it happens to you it will be no laughing matter.

From our family of firefighters at the Richland Center Fire Department we wish a Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous holiday season to you and your family. If we need to see you this Thanksgiving we hope it is socially in the grocery store because we each forgot some of the holiday fixings and not professionally because your bird is a ball of fire.