Fire Prevention 52: Deep Fried Danger

By Roberta Gorman, Structural Fire Prevention Program Manager

Deep Fried Turkey

Deep fryer turkey in flames
Frying a turkey can quickly turn into a hazardous fire situation.

Ah! It's that time of year again, time to mash the potatoes, smell the pumpkin pie, gather family and friends, and take a bite of string bean casserole. Right now, you may be preparing your menu and deciding how you're going to cook your turkey this holiday season. Are you considering the prospects of deep-frying your bird? If so, read on before you run to the store to buy the fryer and cooking oil.

Deep-fried turkey, a tradition from the South, has been gaining in popularity over the years and has been touted by famous chefs to be a quick method of cooking a flavorful and moist bird. However, frying in general is more dangerous than many other types of cooking, since it involves using a large quantity of cooking oil, a combustible substance. Many cooks may not realize that deep-frying a turkey is very hazardous, even for those who have been using fryers for years.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) discourages the use of outdoor, gas-fueled turkey fryers, which can lead to devastating burns, destruction of property, and other injuries. Additionally, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the organization that certifies safe products, does not certify these types of fryers with its UL label. Both organizations discourage the use of open-flame fryers due to the following:

  • Turkey fryers tip easily, spilling their contents, and causing oil to ignite.
  • Overfilling the fryer is common. The oil spills out of the pot when the turkey is placed in the fryer, engulfing the whole unit in flames.
  • With no thermostat controls, the oil is prone to overheating to the combustion point.
  • The handles and lid get extremely hot, which can cause severe burns.
  • Since the unit is designed for outdoor use, rain or snow can fall on the unit, splattering the oil and converting the water to scalding steam.

Despite these hazards, if you still plan on using a turkey fryer, please follow these safety guidelines:

  • Always use the fryer outdoors on a flat surface, safely away from structures, wooden decks, and covered patios. No matter what, DO NOT be tempted to use the fryer in a garage.
  • Have the correct kind of fire extinguisher nearby and ready to use.
  • To ensure you are using the right amount of oil, place a thawed turkey in the fry pot and add enough water to cover the bird by ½". Remove the turkey and mark the water level. Dump the water and thoroughly dry the pot and turkey. Fill the pot with oil to the marked level.
  • Do not leave the fryer unattended. Monitor the temperature of the oil with a thermometer to prevent the oil from overheating and catching fire. If the oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the gas off.
  • Ensure the turkey is COMPLETELY THAWED to prevent a fire or explosion hazard.
  • Raise and lower the turkey slowly to prevent oil splatter, burns, and fire.
  • Keep children and pets away from the fryer to prevent tipping, even after the turkey is done. The oil is dangerously hot for hours.
  • Use your safety tools: Oven mitts, gloves, and safety goggles.
  • Stand upwind of the propane tank and fryer so heat blows away from you.

In case you're still wondering, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires. The day has three times the average number of reported home structure fires involved with cooking equipment. Please be careful this holiday season.

Fire Info for You

Keep fire safe in the kitchen by following these Thanksgiving Safety tips from the NFPA.

Park Leadership
Consider establishing guidelines for using turkey fryers in your park this holiday season.

Ensure your employees are completing NPS's Annual Fire Extinguisher Education to keep updated on the proper use of fire extinguishers, which are used frequently on cooking fires.

Take Action

Select a safer method of cooking your turkey this holiday season. If you enjoy the taste of fried turkey, cook the bird in an electric fryer that does not have an open flame or purchase a cooked turkey from a grocer or restaurant that uses professional frying equipment.

NPS Fire Facts

In June 2009, a double deep-fryer caught fire in the kitchen of the Seagull's Nest, a restaurant operated by a park concessionaire in Gateway National Recreation Area. The fire was extinguished by concession employees with portable fire extinguishers. NPS and mutual aid firefighters checked the building for additional hidden fire using a thermal imaging camera and cooled the deep fryer. The fire was caused by an electrical short in the fryer's ignition switch.

Last updated: November 23, 2020