LINCOLN COUNTY, Tenn. (WHNT) — Deep-frying that holiday turkey calls for a delicate balance.
Fire and rescue squads in Tennessee recently conducted a demonstration to warn anyone planning to fry their bird this Thanksgiving to take the proper precautions.
“One of the things we really have to be concerned about is paying attention to what we’re doing,” Lincoln County Fire Chief Doug Campbell said. “With all the activities that are going on around the holiday season, people tend to get distracted.”
Unattended cooking is one of the biggest causes of house fires, especially around the holidays. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, cooking fires cause more than 50% of house fires.
But that’s not the only danger that comes with frying turkeys.
Campbell said playing it safe and doing the proper prep work can help cut down on the risk of starting a fire when cooking turkeys in a deep fryer, and that includes making sure your turkey is fully thawed.
Any ice that hits your fryer will interact with the hot oil and immediately become hot steam that can expand and cause the oil to overflow or splatter. If the splatter comes into contact with a flame, it can result in a major fire.
“The first demonstration, we left the flame on and had a frozen turkey with a lot of moisture on it,” Campbell said. “So as we put it in there, you saw how it started to boil. It boiled out because it had the flame. It immediately ignited the oil and started to flame up larger.”
The very thing that makes deep-frying a turkey so delicious is the same thing that makes it so dangerous: the oil.
According to a post on UCLA’s science and food site, during deep-frying, hot oil completely envelops the food. When you put an uncooked turkey in a boiling pot of oil, bubbles will immediately start to form. Those bubbles aren’t from the oil, but from the water on the surface of the turkey that escapes as tiny pockets of steam.
The boiling point of water is 212 °F, but the temperature of oil in a deep fryer is usually around 350 °F or higher. Those high temperatures will cause the water in the turkey skin to evaporate pretty quickly. This dehydration at the surface combined with the high temperature makes conditions perfect for the Maillard reaction, which is what causes that deep brown color and the delicious smell of deep-fried turkeys.
These reactions happen when proteins and sugars in foods are exposed to high heat (284 – 329 °F). The amino acid building blocks of proteins react with sugars at high heat to create a complex set of flavor molecules. As the heat continues to vaporize the water on the bird’s skin, the reaction speeds up and the flavor molecules become more and more concentrated.
“Why not just roast it,” you ask? One reason for deep-frying is the even cooking temperature for the entire bird. With the oil completely engulfing the turkey, the temperature remains pretty consistent compared with an oven’s air temperature, which may not be as regulated. Also, frying is much faster than roasting.
Properly drying the turkey as well as making sure you have the right equipment before frying will help cut down on the risk of a fire. Know ahead of time the size of the turkey and what size pot (plus oil) you’ll need and the boiling point of your oil of choice. Also, have a working fire extinguisher on hand in case of an emergency.
Campbell said any flames that might occur should always be extinguished before dropping the turkey in the oil.
“You saw the flame immediately got larger because the water was converting to steam because the flame was so hot,” Campbell said.
Campbell also reminds everyone that grease fires can’t be put out with water.
In case of such a fire, be sure to turn off the heat source, and use a fire extinguisher or even a metal lid to cover the pot. The latter deprives the fire of oxygen, which is what feeds the flames.