Published on 12/04/03

Avoid mishaps when frying your holiday turkey

Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Attempts to fry the Thanksgiving turkey may have left some holiday cooks with singed eyebrows and bruised pride. But never fear: With a few tips you can successfully fry a Christmas turkey.

"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 quicker isn't necessarily safer. Reports of frying mishaps increase each holiday season.

Frying a turkey can be a risky venture

"Among the major risks of frying a turkey are safety issues," Andress said. Concerns include the stability of the fryers, 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, which causes the oil to spill over when the turkey is placed in the pot. Aside from creating quite a mess, oil spillovers at cooking temperatures can result in severe burns.

To find the right amount of oil for your turkey, follow these tips from the National Turkey Federation.

Put the turkey in the fryer basket and then place the basket in the pot. Add water until it reaches 1 to 2 inches above the turkey. Remove the turkey and note the water level, using a ruler to measure the distance from the top of the pot to the surface of the water.

Pour out the water and dry the pot thoroughly. Be sure to measure for oil before you marinate the turkey.

Follow these safety tips

If you plan to fry a turkey, Andress recommends these safety steps:

* Use the turkey fryer 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 accidental tipping.

* Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units don't have thermostat controls. If you don't watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.

* Never allow children or pets near the fryer while it's in use. Even after use, never let children or pets near the turkey fryer. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot for hours.

* To avoid spillovers, 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, don't hesitate to call 911 for help.

Aside from these safety issues, Andress urges holiday chefs to remember food safety, too. "Make 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 with a food thermometer in several places.

First, heat the oil to 365 to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the amount of oil, this usually takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour.

Whole turkeys require approximately 3 minutes per pound to cook. To be sure your bird is safely cooked, the temperature of the whole turkey must reach 180 degrees in the innermost part of the thigh, Andress said.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.