Don't be a turkey: Gas fryers are unsafe

Consumer Reports News: November 16, 2006 04:58 PM


Many cooks -- including Emeril Lagasse and Martha Stewart -- have touted propane-powered turkey fryers as one of the best ways to cook the traditional Thanksgiving meal. 

But Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, joins other safety organizations in sounding the alarm about fire and burn risks that can spoil a turkey dinner. Underwriters Laboratories has refused to put its UL mark on any propane fryer to certify its safety -- a rare move for the nonprofit safety testing organization that certifies almost every kind of product sold in the U.S.
    Here’s a rundown of the dangers:

  • Many units easily tip over, spilling the hot oil.
  • If the cooking pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill out of the unit when the turkey is placed into the cooking pot. Oil may hit the burner/flames causing a fire to engulf the entire unit.
  • Partially frozen turkeys placed into the fryer can cause a spillover effect. This too, may result in an extensive fire.
  • With no thermostat controls, the units also have the potential to overheat the oil to the point of combustion.
  • The sides of the cooking pot, lid and pot handles get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards.

UL consumer affairs manager John Drengenberg said that although there have been improvements in gas fryers over the past few years -- some now come with stronger steel stands to make them sturdier -- UL still doesn’t believe they are safe enough to be certified. "The main problem is you don’t have a regulating control" to keep the oil at a set temperature, Drengenberg said. "If you turn it on, nothing will stop it from going to 600 degrees, which is the flashpoint of oil," when it will start to burn.

One exception is the Turk N' Surf, an electric fryer that includes a safety shut-off and UL-listed adjustable thermostat. We tested the Turk N' Surf (pictured above) and found it to be a safer alternative to propane fryers -- and also determined that the deep-fried turkey it produced was very moist, juicy and tender. And unlike gas fryers, the Turk N' Surf is designed to be used indoors.

If already own a propane fryer, be sure to follow these safety tips from UL:

  • Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other material that can burn.
  • Never use a turkey fryer on a wooden deck or in a garage.
  • Make sure the fryer is used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.
  • Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units do not have thermostat controls. If you don't watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
  • Never let children or pets near the fryer -- even after you've turned it off. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot for hours after use.
  • To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
  • Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don't mix, and water causes oil to spill over, which could cause a fire or even an explosion (the National Turkey Federation recommends refrigerator thawing and to allow approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of bird thawed in the refrigerator).
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. Remember to use your best judgment when attempting to fight a fire. If the fire is manageable, use an all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call 911 for help.

Marc Perton

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