By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
Frying a turkey can leave you with singed eyebrows and a fire truck in your driveway. But there's a reason deep-fried holiday birds are growing more popular.
"People who fry turkeys say it produces a moister turkey. And it's quicker," said Elizabeth Andress, a University of Georgia Extension Service food safety specialist.
"But in the eyes of safety experts," Andress said, "the typical propane-fueled turkey fryer is a major accident waiting to happen. There are definitely safety issues to consider."
Don't use too much oil
Concerns include the stability of the fryer, uninsulated pot handles and lids and the potential for oil spillovers and overheating.
A common cause of turkey-fryer accidents is filling the pot too full of oil, causing the oil to spill over when the turkey is placed in the pot. Aside from creating a mess, oil spillovers at cooking temperatures can cause severe burns.
To find the right amount of oil for your turkey, Andress suggests following these tips from the National Turkey Federation.
Before you marinate the turkey, put it in the fryer basket and place the basket in the pot. Add water until it reaches 1 to 2 inches above the turkey. Remove the turkey and measure the water level. Pour out the water and dry the pot.
"Consumer Reports recently evaluated a new electric indoor fryer that has added safety features such as better legs and temperature sensors for automatic shutoff," Andress said. "At least one model will hold up to a 14-pound turkey."
New electric fryer available
The new fryer is an electric deep-fryer designed strictly for indoor use, she said. Its safety features include a control panel with a built-in safety switch. If the panel isn't attached properly, the fryer won't work.
"It also has a temperature sensor that automatically shuts down the heating element if the oil gets hotter than 400 degrees Fahrenheit," she said. "Propane-fired turkey fryers can heat the oil until it bursts into flame."
Andress urges holiday chefs to be aware of food safety when frying turkeys.
"You have to be sure all the harmful bacteria have been killed," she said. "The only way to do this is to measure the temperature of the cooked turkey in several places with a food thermometer."
First, heat the oil to 365 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. This usually takes 45 minutes to an hour.
Next, add your turkey and allow the oil to return to 365 to 375 degrees. Whole turkeys require about 3 minutes per pound to cook. To be sure your bird is safely cooked, she said, the temperature must reach 180 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh.
No matter which type of fryer you use, Andress recommends these safety steps:
* Use propane-fired turkey fryers outdoors, a safe distance from buildings and anything else that can burn.
* Never use turkey fryers on wooden decks or inside garages.
* Place the fryer on a flat surface to reduce the risk of accidental tipping.
* Never leave the fryer unattended. Most propane-fired units don't have thermostat controls.
* Never allow children or pets near the fryer while it's in use. Even after use, keep children and pets away -- the oil inside the pot can remain dangerously hot for hours.
* Don't overfill the fryer.
* Use well-insulated pot holders or oven mitts when touching the pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
* Make sure the turkey is completely thawed. And be careful with marinades. Oil and water don't mix, and water causes oil to spill over, which could cause a fire or explosion hazard.
* Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. And never use water to extinguish a grease fire. If the fire can't be managed with an all-purpose fire extinguisher, call 911 for help.
(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)