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Firefighters Warn Of Turkey Fryer Dangers

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Turkey fryers work like this -- you put oil in them, heat it up to 350 to 400 degrees, then put the turkey down in the oil to cook. Turkey fryers work like this -- you put oil in them, heat it up to 350 to 400 degrees, then put the turkey down in the oil to cook.
Tulsa firefighters gave The News On 6 a demonstration of what can go wrong with that formula. Tulsa firefighters gave The News On 6 a demonstration of what can go wrong with that formula.
Firefighters say many people put in too much oil, so when the turkey goes in, the oil spills out into the flame below and catches fire. Firefighters say many people put in too much oil, so when the turkey goes in, the oil spills out into the flame below and catches fire.

By Lori Fullbright, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- Many people will fry their turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Those who do so, swear by the delicious taste they say you can't get from baking. However, fire departments all over Green Country say those cooks need to be aware of how dangerous turkey fryers can be.

Tulsa firefighters say hot oil, a wet turkey and an unstable cooking pot can make for a dangerous combination. Each year, they get at least one turkey fryer related call.

Turkey fryers work like this -- you put oil in them, heat it up to 350 to 400 degrees, then put the turkey down in the oil to cook. 

Tulsa firefighters gave The News On 6 a demonstration of what can go wrong with that formula. They say many people put in too much oil, so when the turkey goes in, the oil spills out into the flame below and catches fire.

"You can always expect some splattering, no matter how slow you put it in there. So what people do, is put newspapers around the bottom of the cooker, which once it overflows and starts a fire, not only is the oil on fire, but you've got newspaper on fire," said District Chief Bill French, Tulsa Fire Department.

Because of the dangers, Underwriters Laboratories have decided not to certify any turkey fryers with their trusted UL mark. They point to these additional reasons -- turkey fryer stands are often tripods which can be unstable, especially on a slanted surface like a drive-way. Most fryers don't have thermostats, so the oil can overheat to the point of flaming. Adding a turkey that's wet or partially frozen can also be a bad combination. Once a fire does start, it often moves faster than people realize.

"Once it gets spread out, we're talking a thin layer of oil that can move in any direction it wants to. Obviously some people will be trying to put it out with a garden hose. That's the biggest mistake they can make because oil and water don't mix. It will spread the fire even further," said District Chief Bill French.

There is now a propane-powered infrared roaster that claims to make your turkey taste like fried, but is safer. It's also slower. It cooks at about 10 minutes per pound, versus around three minutes per pound in a fryer.

Safety Tips For Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

  • Always use turkey fryers outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other material that can burn.
  • Never use turkey fryers on wooden decks or in garages.
  • Make sure the fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units do not have thermostat controls. If people do not watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
  • Never let children or pets near the fryer when in use. Even after use, never allow children or pets near the turkey fryer. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot for hours after use.
  • To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect eyes from oil splatter.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water do not mix, and water causes oil to spill over, causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. If the fire is manageable, use an all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call 9-1-1 for help.
  • The National Turkey Federation recommends refrigerator thawing and to allow about 24 hours for every 5 pounds of bird thawed in the refrigerator.
  • Besides never leaving turkey fryers unattended, turn off the device's heating regulator and the propane tank flow valve when shutting down.
  • Fill the pot halfway with water and put the turkey in that. Once the bird is taken out, people can see how much oil they will need to safely cook.

More safety tips

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