LINCOLN COUNTY, Tenn. – A group of volunteer firefighters gathered to demonstrate just how delicate of a balance deep frying that holiday turkey can be.
Local fire and rescue squads from Blanche and Boonshill in Lincoln County, Tennessee set up a flaming example to warn anyone who plans to fry their bird this Thanksgiving to take as many precautions as possible.
“One of the things we really have to be concerned about is paying attention to what we’re doing,” says Doug Campbell, Lincoln County Fire Chief. “With all the activities that are going on around the holiday season, people tend to get distracted.”
Unattended cooking is one of the biggest causes of house fires, especially around the holidays. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, cooking fires cause more than 50 percent of house fires.
Campbell says playing it safe and doing the proper prep work can help cut down on the risk of starting a fire when cooking turkeys in a deep fryer.
“The first demonstration, we left the flame on and had a frozen turkey with a lot of moisture on it,” said Campbell. “So as we put it in there you saw how it started to boil. It boiled out because it had the flame – it immediately ignited the oil and started to flame up larger.”
The very thing that makes deep-frying a turkey so darn delicious is the same thing that makes it so darn dangerous: the oil.
According to a post on UCLA’s science and food site, With deep-frying, hot oil completely envelops the food. When you put an uncooked turkey in a boiling pot of oil, bubbles will immediately start to form. Those bubbles aren’t from the oil, but from the water on the surface of the turkey that escapes as tiny pockets of steam.
The boiling point of water is 212 °F, but the temperature of oil in a deep fryer is usually around 350 °F or higher. Those high temperatures will cause the water in the turkey skin to evaporate pretty quickly. This dehydration at the surface combined with the high temperature makes conditions perfect for the Maillard reaction.
Maillard reactions give that deep brown color and delicious smell that only a deep-fried turkey can provide. These reactions happen when proteins and sugars in foods are exposed to high heat (284 – 329 °F): the amino acid building blocks of proteins react with sugars at high heat to create a complex set of flavor molecules. As the heat continues to vaporize the water on the bird’s skin, the reaction speeds up and the flavor molecules become more and more concentrated.
‘Why not just roast it,’ you ask? One reason deep-frying proves better than roasting is the even cooking temperature for the entire bird. With the oil completely engulfing the turkey, the temperature remains pretty consistent – where the difference in air temperature in an oven may not be so regulated.
Properly drying the turkey before frying will help cut back on the risk of a fire, as well as making sure you have the right equipment before diving in. Knowing the size of the turkey and what size pot (plus oil) you’ll need beforehand, the boiling point of your oil of choice, and a working fire extinguisher.
Campbell says flames should always be extinguished before dropping the turkey in the oil.
“You saw the flame immediately got larger because the water was converting to steam because the flame was so hot,” said Campbell.
Campbell reminds everyone – grease fires can’t be put out with water.