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How to Deep-Fry Your Turkey Without Burning Your House Down

Holy shit is it dangerous to deep fry a turkey (but it’s also totally worth it!!!)

If you’ve never had deep-fried turkey, there is simply no way for you to understand how good it is. I had it once, 15 years ago, and in the years since, I’ve never forgotten the turkey’s juicy, near-magical flavor. Despite this, I have never tried to make deep-fried turkey for myself because I am outright terrified to attempt it (this, coming from the same idiot who recently cooked a dictionary in the microwave). Why have I never tried to deep fry a turkey? Because deep-frying a turkey is dangerous as fuck!

How dangerous? 

Well, according to the National Fire Protection Association, deep fryers cause five deaths, 60 injuries and destroy 900 homes every year. While those aren’t all turkey-related, Thanksgiving is certainly a big contributor, as that’s the busiest day of the year for fire departments. In fact, numbers put out by the U.S. Fire Administration say that an estimated 2,400 residential building fires occur on Thanksgiving Day every year. Still not concerned? Just look at this video that the National Fire Protection Association put out about how quickly a deep-frying turkey fire can get out of control.

Holy shit, that’s scary! 

Now take a look at this one:


You see now why I haven’t deep fried a turkey? Terrifying. No way. Not doing it. But if you are, please, please, please follow the safety tips below because, if you don’t, you will fucking die! Did you see those videos!? 

Okay, I’ll calm down now. If you decide you want to deep fry a turkey, that’s your call. This is really all about the safety side of things, so feel free to Google a recipe that suits your tastes, though chef Julia Skinner says that it doesn’t have to be complicated. She personally recommends brining the turkey overnight with bay leaves, garlic and black peppercorn. (Again, trust me, the turkey will be delicious enough without some crazy recipe.)

As for the safety tips, here you go, courtesy of PBS and other reputable sources:

  • Buy yourself a legit turkey fryer and do your research on its safety reviews and how big of a turkey it holds, how much oil to put in and all that stuff. Don’t try to homemake this kind of thing, otherwise you’ll turn out like this idiot who had to put dirt all over his turkey to prevent his home from burning down.
  • When you’re picking out a turkey, make sure that you buy one that’s within the recommended weight for the fryer. Generally that means one that’s less than 20 pounds, but check your fryer instructions to be sure. 
  • You want to fry your bird in peanut oil. Why? Because you’re going to be cooking the bird at about 375 degrees and peanut oil has a higher smoke point than most oils. A smoke point is when oil begins to smoke. Canola, for example, smokes at 400 degrees, but peanut oil smokes at 450 degrees, so peanut oil is going to have a cleaner flavor. Also, peanut oil has a high flashpoint. What’s a flashpoint? Well, that’s when oil can ignite itself and — you guessed it — explode!
  • Find an outdoor, flat, stable surface for your fryer that’s at least 10 feet away from your house, any trees and anything else that can catch on fire. Also, be sure you keep any kids and pets far away unless you want barbecued kitty cat as a Thanksgiving side.
  • A turkey must be completely thawed to be fried and it should also be as dry as possible. Remember the fireball in the second video above? That’s from a frozen turkey, and as the video explains, “Oil has a higher boiling point than water. When a frozen turkey is dropped into hot oil, the ice begins to turn to steam. The rapidly expanding steam causes the oil to boil over,” and that results in what’s called a BLEVE, or a “boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion.” This is also why your turkey should be as dry as possible. Remember, oil and water don’t mix!
  • You don’t want to overfill your pot. If you do, the oil can spill over, exploding everything, so make sure you follow your fryer’s directions depending upon the weight of your turkey (there will also likely be a “max fill” line). If you don’t have that, a good trick to determine how much oil you need is to put the uncooked turkey into the fryer pot and pour water in until the bird is covered. Then you remove the turkey, and wherever the water line is, that’s how much oil you need (obviously, this trick should be done without any kind of flame involved).
  • When you’re lowering the bird in and monitoring it, wear goggles, long sleeves and oven mitts. Yes, you’ll look like an asshole, but you’ll be a living asshole.
  • Keep an “ABC” dry chemical fire extinguisher handy. If a fire does break out, never throw water onto a grease fire unless you want to be engulfed in an inferno and die a painful death.
  • Once the peanut oil is heated to 375 to 390 degrees, it’s time to put your bird in. So, with the body cavity facing downwards, slowly lower the turkey into the pot. If you slam-dunk that shit like you’re Michael Jordan, the oil may splash and hit the burner, causing a fire or even an explosion. 
  • Cook time is three and a half minutes per pound. 
  • Never leave the fryer unattended. I don’t give a fuck if the game is on.
  • Once it’s done cooking, remove the bird and let the fryer sit overnight. This is one time when it’s good to procrastinate cleaning something.

Now, once the turkey cools a little, feel free to indulge in Turkey Heaven, and while you’re at it, be sure to thank your respective higher power for sparing your life.