Deep frying can quickly produce a crispy and succulent Thanksgiving turkey, but consumer safety advocates and firefighters have repeatedly warned that the cooking method carries significant risks.
Deep-fried turkeys cause an average of five deaths, 60 injuries and over $15 million in property damage every year, according to the New York City Fire Department. When done improperly, deep frying can lead to exploding birds, oil burns and dangerous fires.
An average of 2,300 fires in residential building fires were reported on each Thanksgiving Day between 2017 and 2019, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Cooking was by far the leading cause of all Thanksgiving Day fires, according to the agency.
The method is especially dangerous for those who ignore the number one safety tip for deep frying a turkey—never attempt to fry a frozen turkey or a bird that has not been fully thawed, as this can easily cause an explosion or fire.
Explosions are typically caused by a volatile reaction of ice mixed with hot oil, while the large amount of hot oil that is typically used to cook a turkey also poses major fire risks. Leaving a fryer unattended during cooking can be a recipe for disaster.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shared a dramatic video featuring multiple turkey frying explosions and fires on social media earlier this week, warning consumers to “cook the turkey, not your home.”
Some experts say the risk is from frying great enough that consumers should never even attempt to fry a turkey using oil. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests that consumers use electric turkey fryers, infrared fryers or air fryers instead.
“Turkey fryers that use cooking oil are not safe,” an NFPA bulletin said. “These fryers use large amounts of oil at high temperatures, which can cause devastating burns. If you want a fried turkey for your Thanksgiving meal, purchase it from a grocery store, restaurant or buy a fryer that does not use oil.”
For those who insist on using oil to fry their birds, the National Turkey Federation pointed Newsweek to a safety guide on turkey frying. The organization recommended those attempting to fry a turkey also do so outside and away from any buildings.
Other tips include using oils with a high smoke point—such as peanut, sunflower, canola or rice oil—never leaving the fryer unattended, keeping children and pets away from the frying area and allowing the oil to cool completely before disposing of it.
Despite the risks, deep-frying proponents swear that the method, when done properly, can produce a turkey with incomparably crispy skin and perfectly cooked, juicy meat inside.
Frying can also save home chefs a lot of time in the kitchen—a cook time of just 3.5 minutes per pound may result in a finished bird in an hour or less, compared to the full day of cooking that is often required using more traditional methods.
While now relatively common, deep-fried turkey was a rarity throughout most of the history of Thanksgiving. Rick Rodgers, the author of the book Thanksgiving 101, told USA Today in 2015 that the cooking method only became popular as “part of the Cajun cooking craze that started in the late ’70s.”