Using a Turkey Fryer: Tips and Warnings

Turkey FryerThere have been a lot of advancements in turkey fryers over the years, and I think that in general, the newer fryers are much safer than the older, open-pot, open-flame models. At least one manufacturer offers an oil-free turkey fryer (, which looks a lot more like a smoker than a fryer to me, but it must be safer than the oil-filled alternative!


Electric turkey fryers have the advantage of no open flame to possibly ignite the oil.  This is why many can be used indoors. Also, the temperature controls on an inexpensive electric-powered home fryer are more likely to be automated than on the gas version. Finally, the indoor turkey fryers can be used for conveniently frying other foods plus many can be used for steaming too. One negative aspect of frying indoors is the odor and airborne oil particles that invade your home.


Keeping a hot bird hot without overcooking or drying it out is nearly impossible! That’s one of the reasons that I like to smoke birds for Thanksgiving. I use a “water smoker” that maintains moist air in the smoking environment (because of an open pan of water in the smoker) to keep the meat from drying out. I smoke for long times at relatively low temperatures to ensure a tender, juicy bird. The big advantage is that if company is late or the side dishes are still cooking, another hour in the smoker is no problem!


If you just fried or baked your bird, you can cover it with foil, jab a meat thermometer in, and place the turkey in an insulated container, like an ice chest (without the ice). Cover the turkey with towels (making sure you can still read the thermometer), and close the chest. Check the thermometer frequently to make certain the temperature does not fall below safe levels (135° F or above).  



Dangerous Mistakes to Avoid


• Don’t use a turkey fryer designed for outdoor operation indoors or under or near combustible materials (covered patio, tree, carport, eave of home, wall of home, fence, etc.).


• Don’t be inadequately prepared. The following must be accomplished before frying a turkey under any conditions:  completely thaw and drain the bird; remove all giblets; confirm that the oil will not overflow the container when the bird is immersed; identify a safe location for the fryer; locate and have nearby all cooking utensils, thermometer, hot pads and gloves; identify a place for the completely fried turkey to rest and drain prior to cutting and serving; purchase an all-purpose fire extinguisher (suitable for oil fires), and keep it handy.


• Never leave a working fryer unattended.


• Don’t allow children and pets to play in the cooking area.


Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature. Don’t allow the oil to overheat to the point of spontaneous combustion and never allow cooking oil to boil.


Most cooking oils have what is called a “smoke point,” which means the oil has reached a temperature that causes the components of the oil to begin to break down. Typically bluish smoke comes off the surface. The smoke is an irritant; at this point, the flavor and nutrition of the oil begin to degrade.


The smoke point varies for most cooking oils. It’s about 450°F for refined peanut corn and soy oil and 400°F for refined canola. The smoke point of an oil may decrease with use, age ,and other factors such as contamination (for example, due to salt, spices, or breading).  If you have old oil, recycle it if it smells bad or has a dark color or if smoke appears before it reaches 375°F.  Either bring it to a recycling center or dispose of it in a "sustainable manner" rather than just throwing it in the garbage.  A recycling center may process the oil and sell it to renderers or biodiesel manufacturers.   


The flash point (about 540°F for peanut oil) is the lowest temperature at which the oil vaporizes into an ignitable mixture with air. For this to happen, an ignition source is required. The auto-ignition point is when spontaneous combustion occurs (about 830°F for peanut oil).


Everyone who is thinking of frying a turkey should watch the video by UL ("a global independent science safety company) at this address:


This professional video is about only 2 minutes long, but viewing it prior to frying might save property or even a life.




Timothy J. Bowser, Ph.D., food science engineer,  Oklahoma State University, Dept. of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering



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