This is why it’s so dangerous to roast Thanksgiving turkey

Deep-frying can quickly yield a crispy and juicy Thanksgiving turkey, but consumer safety advocates and firefighters have repeatedly warned that the cooking method carries significant risks.

According to the New York City Fire Department, fried turkeys cause an average of five deaths, 60 injuries and more than $15 million in property damage each year. Frying done incorrectly can lead to birds exploding, oil burning and dangerous fires.

Between 2017 and 2019, an average of 2,300 fires in residential buildings were reported on each Thanksgiving Day, according to the U.S. Fire Department. Cooking was by far the leading cause of all fires on Thanksgiving Day, according to the bureau.

The method is especially dangerous for those who ignore the most important safety tip for frying turkey. Never attempt to cook a frozen turkey or bird that is not completely thawed, as this can easily cause an explosion or fire.

Explosions are usually caused by a volatile reaction of ice mixed with hot oil, while the large amount of hot oil usually used to cook a turkey also poses major fire risks. Leaving a deep fryer unattended while cooking can be a recipe for disaster.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shared a dramatic video depicting multiple turkey roasting explosions and fires on social media earlier this week, warning consumers to “cook the turkey, not your house.”

Thanksgiving Turkey Frying Safety Cooking
A person is pictured preparing to fry a turkey in Nashville, Tennessee on Nov. 24, 2020. Experts say frying a turkey poses significant, but largely avoidable, safety risks.
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Some experts say the risk of frying is so great that consumers should never even attempt to fry a turkey with oil. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests that consumers use electric turkey fryers, infrared fryers, or air fryers instead.

“Turkish fryers that use cooking oil are not safe,” according to an NFPA bulletin. “These fryers use large amounts of oil at high temperatures, which can cause devastating burns. If you want a fried turkey for your Thanksgiving meal, buy it from a grocery store, restaurant, or buy a fryer that doesn’t use oil.”

For those who insist on using oil to fry their birds, be the National Federation of Turkey News Week to a safety guide about baking turkey. The organization advised those attempting to bake a turkey to do so outside and away from buildings.

Other tips include using oils with a high smoke point such as peanut, sunflower, canola, or rice oil, never leaving the fryer unattended, keeping children and pets away from the fryer area, and allowing the oil to cool completely before you throw it away.

Despite the risks, proponents of deep-frying swear that, when done correctly, the method can produce a turkey with incomparably crisp skin and perfectly cooked, succulent meat inside.

Deep-frying can also save home cooks a lot of time in the kitchen – a cook time of just 3.5 minutes per pound can result in a finished bird in an hour or less, compared to all-day cooking often required with more traditional methods.

Although now relatively common, fried turkey was a rarity for most of Thanksgiving’s history. Rick Rodgers, the author of the book thanksgiving 101, told USA today in 2015 that the cooking method only gained popularity as “part of the Cajun cooking craze that started in the late ’70s”.

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