Cook Your Turkey, Not Your House This Thanksgiving

By: South Carolina Insurance News
By: South Carolina Insurance News

Many South Carolinians are looking forward to a uniquely Southern Thanksgiving dish - the fried turkey. While fried turkey tastes great and presents an opportunity for holiday socializing, the increased popularity of frying turkeys in the backyards of South Carolina homes has created an increased danger for homeowners.

Each year, nearly 4,300 fires occur in the United States on Thanksgiving Day causing 15 fatalities, about 50 injuries and nearly $27 million in property damage according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Thanksgiving Day fires in residential structures cause more property damage and claim more lives than residential structure fires on other days. Cooking is by far the leading cause of residential structure fires on Thanksgiving Day (42%), nearly double that of a normal day. The dollar loss per incident rises 25 percent on Thanksgiving Day.

Fires related to the use of turkey fryers have been known to cause property damage, injuries and even deaths as house fire and splashing of hot oil occurs. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, from 1999 until November 14, 2006, there have been 119 incidents involving fires or burns associated with turkey fryers in the United States. The majority of incidents involved overheating and subsequent ignition of oil while the consumer was not present.

Overall, cooking fires are the leading cause of household fires and home fire injuries according to the National Fire Protection Association. Food left cooking unattended is the primary cause of these fires. Tests have shown that many turkey fryers have a risk of tipping over, overheating, or spilling hot oil, leading to fires and burns.

"Many turkeys are overcooked during Thanksgiving, and frying a turkey is a great way to keep the cooking outdoors," said Rob Keck, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation based in Edgefield, South Carolina. "By following the manufacturer’s directions and safety tips, frying a turkey can be a safe way to cook your Thanksgiving bird."

As preparations for Thanksgiving get underway, the South Carolina Insurance News Service recommends the following safety tips for frying turkeys:

  • Always cook the turkeys outside, away from any structure, and on a flat, hard level surface, preferably on concrete. Never cook on a wooden porch or deck, as the wood can catch fire in the event of a spillage, and NEVER cook in a garage!

  • Always wear long sleeves and long pants, and natural fiber clothing, i.e. wool, cotton, etc. Man-made fibers such as nylon or polyester can melt to your skin if they catch fire. Well-insulated gloves are recommended when placing the turkey into the fryer. Wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.

  • Keep all small children and pets away from the cooker and flame to avoid knocking the cooker over and causing burns.

  • Make sure the turkey is fully thawed first. Frying a frozen or partially thawed turkey is not safe. Dry the turkey as best as possible prior to placing it in the oil. If it is wet, the water and hot grease will react and cause the grease to pop and spray or even an explosion could result.

  • To measure how much oil is needed, first put the turkey in the fryer; next add water to just barely above the top of the turkey; remove the turkey and measure the new water level with a pencil or etching tool. This is the level to which you add the oil, the, when you add the turkey into the boiling oil it won't overflow.

  • Peanut oil is recommended vs. vegetable oil. It won't breakdown at the high temperatures (325-350 degrees). Use a 12 inch turkey frying thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil.

  • Rule of thumb is roughly 3 minutes per pound of turkey, plus an additional 5 minutes, or until the turkey floats, i.e. a 20 lb bird will take 40-50 minutes to cook. When slicing, if the turkey is not thoroughly cooked, microwave uncooked pieces. Don't eat raw or under-cooked turkey.

  • Allow the oil to thoroughly cool before emptying. Hot oil can take 3-4 hours to cool back to room temperature.

  • Excessive use of alcohol and hot boiling oil don't mix.

  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire.

(Sources: Underwriters Laboratories Inc., National Turkey Federation and National Fire Protection Association)

For more information on preventing home fires, contact the South Carolina Insurance News Service or link to their web site at

For 30 years, the South Carolina Insurance News Service, a nonprofit organization, has been providing free insurance information to consumers and the media about property and casualty insurance issues. The News Service is funded by insurance companies doing business in South Carolina.

Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1212 Augusta, GA 30903 Main Telephone: (803) 278-1212 Newsroom: (803) 278-3111 Fax: (803) 442-4561
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