Greenbrier High School Principal Chris Segraves stood at post Wednesday doing what many consider a Thanksgiving tradition – frying a turkey.
The smell of Thanksgiving hung heavy in the air as he prepared for a pre-holiday staff luncheon.
“There’s an element of adventure tied to it,” Segraves said of the cooking method that includes lowering a turkey in 350-degree oil.
But Segraves is somewhat of a turkey frying expert having fried more than 500 turkeys in his life. He started frying them while working at the Fat Man’s tree lot, for staff luncheons and family and friends.
He knows frying often yields a moist and yummy turkey. But Segraves is also aware of the potential dangers of frying, most commonly burns and fires.
The main danger associated with deep-frying turkeys stems from cooking turkeys not completely thawed and overfilling the fryer with oil.
“If they overfill the pot with oil, then they put a turkey in there, it will push the oil into the flame which causes a fire,” said Columbia County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann.
To avoid overflowing oil out of the cooker and into the natural gas flame below, pre-measure the amount of oil needed. Place the turkey in the fryer and cover it with water. Remove the turkey and mark the water level. Pour out the water, dry the fryer and pour oil to the mark.
Segraves said to expect a rush of steam when adding the turkey to hot oil. Many people are surprised by the steam and drop the turkey into hot oil leading to splattering.
Dr. Fred Mullins, the medical director of the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital, said his staff sees a variety of burns associated with turkey frying ranging from minor burns on fingers from splatters to large burns from a cooker that was accidentally knocked over.
A young patient was treated at the burn center a couple of years ago after she hit a turkey fryer with her tricycle. She sustained severe burns to more than half of her body.
“She required a series of surgeries to treat her burn,” Mullins said. “I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping kids away from cooking areas – whether you are frying turkeys, grilling hamburgers or heating up Ramen noodles in your kitchen.”
Another way to avoid turkey-frying burns is to ensure the turkey is fully thawed and has no ice or water on or inside it.
Kuhlmann said moisture or ice could “cause that grease to explode.”
The ice or water also causes scalding oil to splatter out of the fryer.
Mullins recommends leaving the turkey frying to professionals. But those who want to fry their own Thanksgiving bird need to monitor the fryer at all times and have a dry chemical fire extinguisher nearby.
Always set up the fryer outside on a hard level surface such as concrete or dirt.
Safe Turkey Frying
• Pre-measure the amount of oil needed to avoid oil overflows.
• Use a thermostat to regulate the oil temperature.
• Fryers should be used in well-ventilated, levels outdoor areas.
• Never leave the fryer unattended.
• Keep children and pets away from the fryer.
• Use only fully thawed and dry turkeys as moisture causes splatters.
• Use peanut, canola or sunflower oil.
• Use smaller turkeys, 12 pounds or less.
• Keep a dry chemical fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water on an oil or grease fire.
• Slowly lower the turkey into oil to avoid spillage.
• It may take several hours for oil to cool.
• Avoid drinking alcohol when using a deep-fryer.