Airborne! A Frozen Turkey Tale
WILLIAM J. EGGLESTON
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Deep frying has become a popular way to prepare Thanksgiving turkeys in recent years. Aside from the fact it tastes great, it’s also a good way to speed up the cooking process. Using traditional roasting methods in the oven usually takes up to five hours; but with a deep fryer, an entire turkey can be ready in about 30 minutes, depending on its size. One Thanksgiving morning, I awoke ready to give deep frying a shot.
In preparation for my Thanksgiving feast, I removed the 20-pound turkey from the freezer three days prior to defrost. I was confident this would give the bird plenty of time to thaw. Ever the safety-conscience individual, I read the directions for my new deep fryer and stationed it exactly 20 feet from the house, almost to the end of my driveway. Then I hooked the fryer to the propane tank and started the fire. I filled the fryer to the designated line with peanut oil, and in about 20 minutes, the thermometer read 375 F.
Once I removed the wrapping from the turkey, I thoroughly cleaned it inside and out. I noticed the inside of the turkey was extremely cold, but I was sure it had defrosted. After adding seasoning and using a syringe to inject the turkey full of butter, I headed to the fryer. By now, the thermometer on the fryer read 495 F, and I knew it was time to drop in the turkey. I placed the bird into the frying basket and again checked the thermometer, which now read 500 F. Lifting the lid off the pot, I lowered the turkey into the hot oil.
To my surprise, the oil started rapidly rising to the top of the fryer with no indication of stopping. The next thing I heard was a loud “BOOM!” as the turkey ascended into the air. Hot oil flew out of the fryer 15 feet in every direction, even falling on my next-door neighbor’s car. As I searched the sky for my turkey, I didn’t notice the peanut oil had also leaked down the sides of the fryer and reached the flames of my propane tank. That started a fire that spread 15 feet around the fryer. I then watched in horror as my front yard went up in flames! Since I was now unable to turn off the propane, the flames kept growing until the fire department arrived, extinguished the blaze and shut off the tank.
So what went wrong? For starters, my turkey was not fully defrosted. I kept the turkey in the refrigerator three days prior to cooking it, thinking that would give it enough time to thaw. I also examined the bird while cleaning it — double checking that it was defrosted — but apparently it wasn’t. Plus, I exceeded the ideal oil temperature for deep frying a turkey, which should be between 325 and 350 F.
Deep frying a turkey can be dangerous, especially for first timers. A lot of things can go wrong with a fryer filled with hot oil. If you’re considering deep frying a turkey this Thanksgiving, here are a few safety and cooking tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that can help make your holiday meal delicious, not infamous:
- Select a cooking vessel large enough to submerge the turkey completely in oil without it spilling over. The oil should cover the turkey by 1 to 2 inches. To determine the amount of oil needed, do a preliminary test using water. Place the turkey in the cooking utensil and add water to cover. Then remove the turkey and measure the amount of water. This is the amount of oil needed.
- Choose a safe location outdoors for frying a turkey. The turkey fryer needs to be outside on a flat surface. Do not deep fry a turkey in a garage or a covered carport.
- Always keep a fire extinguisher (rated for grease fires) nearby. Large oven mitts or fireplace gloves must also be worn. Always wear eye protection, although full-face protection would be even better. Do not allow guests, especially children and pets, near the turkey cooker.
- When lowering the turkey into the oil, turn off the flame. Slowly and carefully lower the turkey, constantly monitoring the temperature of the oil with a thermometer during cooking. Never leave the hot oil unattended. Allow approximately three to five minutes per pound cooking time. Remove the turkey from the oil and drain the oil from the cavity. Check the temperature of the turkey with a food thermometer. The turkey is safely cooked when the food thermometer reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 F in the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast.
- If the turkey is not done, immediately return it to the hot oil for additional cooking. When the turkey is done, remove it from the oil and place it on a sturdy tray lined with paper towels. The skin can be golden to dark brown to almost black. Let it rest about 20 minutes before carving.
Regardless your reason to deep fry a turkey, it should be noted there are some inherent and real dangers associated with frying a bird. You need to be absolutely sure you put safety first and take every precaution to ensure you have a safe holiday. Gallons of hot oil and open flames should never be taken lightly.