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Deep-Frying the Holiday Bird? Here Are Some Safety Tips

A Loyola Hospital trauma and burn surgeon gives tips to keep the cook out of the harm's way.

Deep-fry is the only way to cook a turkey that is flavorable and moist, some aficionados say. But accidents can happen, and doctors at Loyola Hospital in Maywood who specialize in trauma and burns warn that caution should be taken when cooking the holiday bird.

In the United States, more than 141 serious fires and hot-oil burns have been reported from the use of turkey fryers over the last decade, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Serafino Alfe of suburban Chicago knows. He was deep-frying turkeys for an annual fundraiser dinner recently and ended up at the Loyola Burn Center with third-degree burns—the worst—on his leg.

“I tripped and fell right into the deep fryer,” he said in a prepared statement. “Thirty quarts of hot oil poured over my leg and I basically fried myself.” 

Alfe said he has used a deep fryer for many years and is always careful. “We put the deep fryers on cardboard and I caught my shoe on the edge and just lost my balance,” said Alfe, who will undergo surgery at Loyola on his injured leg today, the day before Thanksgiving.

“We were using the older fryers that do not have a secure lid and the gallons of hot oil just splattered out everywhere.”

Taking care to not become a victim of a fire and serious burns applies equally inside the home on Thanksgiving Day, the leading day for cooking fires, with three times as many as on an average day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

“Cooking remain a major mechanism of injuries for adults, and for children who are underfoot,” said Dr. Richard L. Gamelli, director of the Burn & Shock Trauma Institute and provost of health sciences at Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Hospital, in a prepared statement.

Loyola’s Burn Center is one of the busiest in the Midwest, treating nearly 600 patients annually in the hospital and another 3,500 patients each year in its clinic. 

“If a turkey fryer is used the way it’s supposed to be used by people who are not impaired by alcohol or drugs, I think they’re fine,” said Dr. Thomas Esposito, chief of the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Burns in the Department of Surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. “Injuries from turkey fryers are rare, but when they happen to you or a family member, that doesn’t matter – they are very devastating.”

An estimated $15 million in annual U.S. property damage is caused by deep fryer fires, according to Loyola Hospital.

“It doesn’t matter if it is a turkey fryer or a conventional oven, you should always take great care when using appliances, vehicles and any other device that has the potential to cause great harm to yourself and others if used in a careless, irresponsible manner,” Esposito said.

If you’re planning to use a turkey fryer, Esposito offers these safety tips.

  • Look for the newer fryers with sealed lids to prevent oil spills.
  • Keep the fryer in full view while the burner is on.
  • Keep children and pets away from the cooking area.
  • Place the fryer in an open area away from all walls, fences or other structures.
  • Never use the fryer in, on or under a garage, breezeway, carport, porch, deck or any other structure that can catch fire.
  • Slowly raise and lower the turkey to reduce hot-oil splatter and to avoid burns.
  • Never cook in short sleeves, shorts or bare feet. Cover all bare skin when dunking or removing bird.
  • Protect your eyes with goggles or glasses.
  • Immediately turn off the fryer if the oil begins to overheat.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don’t mix and water can cause oil to spill over, creating a fire or even an explosion.
  • Don’t overfill fryer with oil. Turkey fryers can ignite in seconds after oil hits the burner.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher appropriate for oil fires close at hand and be familiar with how to operate it.
  • Do not use a hose in an attempt to douse a turkey fryer fire.
  • If you do burn yourself, or someone else is burned, seek immediate medical attention.
Sandy Kaczmarski November 23, 2011 at 12:34 PM
I've never had a deep-fried turkey, but friends who have say it's wonderful. We're going more traditional again this year, but I'd like to try it. Fried anything is always good. Just hope anyone deep frying is extra cautious.
Will Sperling November 23, 2011 at 12:53 PM
I've never tasted turkey deep-fried, but I hear it's taste is out of this world. As a retired police officer, I've responded with our EMS agencies to burn cases. They are critical, and in most cases, avoidable. Please exercise due caution if deep-frying your turkey this year, and every time you use it! Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours; from me and mine!
Tony Cesare November 23, 2011 at 03:14 PM
Overrated. The bird ends up looking like roadkill on a south Texas highway. You'll spend the morning in a state of perpetual panic waiting for the kids or dog to slip outside behind your back and knock over the fryer. Slap a bourbon glaze on that bird and toss her into the oven, old school baby.
Mike Sandrolini November 23, 2011 at 03:20 PM
I've had deep-fried turkey before, and it's delicious. I wonder how the turkey fryers advertised on those half-hour long TV infomercials work. Admittedly, I've never wanted to invest time watching an informercial on a turkey fryer, but maybe these do work and might be the safest route to go.

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