Deep Frying a Turkey Without Burning Down the House

Thanksgiving turkey fryer
Sure, it's spring, and the plans for a Thanksgiving feast are more than a few months away, but I started thinking. There's a bit to do around the homestead, and while I'm working, I think. A lot. It'll get to a point where Wendie will be shouting something she said five minutes ago that I didn't hear the first three times. Last week, we pulled out the turkey fryer for the maple sap, and it got me thinking again.

A deep fried turkey for Thanksgiving is all I need on the dinner table. Well, that and a bowl of mashed potatoes, and perhaps some cranberry jelly. A few homemade rolls. Gravy, of course. 

And pie. But still, the fried turkey is king, just like Burger King but with a better taste, and by keeping my hands out of the oil and these rules of safety in mind, I was able to offer my family an incident-free celebration. With this success, I'm sure I'll be able to convince Wendie to let the kids help me prepare our main holiday dish next year. 

Location Of The Deep Fried Turkey Maker 

turkey fryer I'm not sure how to say this other than there was nowhere else on the green quarter acre of earth I called my old urban homestead property that I would place a turkey fryer other than the end of my driveway, far away from the house. Not against the porch, not in the garage, not even on the lawn. 

The porch has a fuel singe from 2008, the garage has smoke damage still from the explosion of 2010, and the lawn is just now starting to perk up after the spill of 2012. 

I've learned the hard way that the fryer may appear docile and under control as it quietly crisps the Thanksgiving sacrifice, but one simple misstep and the whole kit and caboodle will spill out and catch everything and everyone around it on fire. Not only is my driveway flat, and therefore perfect to use for a stable cooking platform, it is a comfortable distance from the 80-year-old wooden clapboards that face my home and would catch fire like a stray hair in a bonfire.

A Complete Thaw Is In Order For Safety

turkey fryer
I will never place a frozen turkey into a fryer. I did that once. Once. Ice from the Samsung refrigerator doesn't seem to react well when submerged in four gallons of 350 degree peanut oil. The quick expansion of a small amount of vaporized ice shot such a steam plume out of the fryer it flashed recollections of that field trip to Yellowstone when I stood too close to Ol' Faithful

Before cooking a small bird, I let it thaw for 24 hours to stave off that exact scenario. For a more substantial turkey, if I can still fit it in the pot, I thaw it 24 hours for every 5 pounds.

Tips For The Right Thermometer

A standard kitchen meat thermometer will not do in this situation. Many, mine included, have a tendency to collect moisture under the dial glass, sometimes a teaspoon's worth or two, and I know what happens if I throw caution into the wind. 

I ended up throwing out the bird of 2007 as the resulting oil explosion has tipped out the fryer onto the driveway and the neighbor's dogs were burning the roofs of their mouths with my Thanksgiving turkey. That said, I now use a special thermometer, designed to use with outside fryers.

A Homestead Thanksgiving Expert Tip

Frying a Turkey
After the oil has risen to 350 degrees, and before inserting the turkey, I turn off the fuel source. This kills the flames so any spilled peanut oil will be without an ignition source. 

I caught my shoe laces on fire one year, well, maybe twice, but I can't recall when so I'll leave it at that. And before removing the cooked bird (four minutes per pound total cooking time), I do the same. An open flame is simply inviting a big 'Boom.'


turkey fryer
Not only is the oil hot enough to peel skin away from my flesh, but so are the metal accoutrements surrounding it. I have the smooth scars on the palms of my hands to prove it. The pot, the stand, the inserted lifting bar, and even the lid. Keeping this in mind, I now wear mid-length insulated gloves to protect my hands and lower arms from nasty burns. 

I also inform my guests to keep a good four feet away from the fryer in case of accident, and everyone takes turns to be on the look out for small children and those pesky rogue squirrels that tend to knock things over. This rule continues long after the bird is removed and eaten. The oil in the fryer remains dangerous for hours after the last guest has gone home, and if I have caution tape, I'll string it up for the milkman.

Should The Mighty Fall

turkey fryerThe last and most critical rule of deep frying a turkey is to never let yourself wander away from the cooking. A bird in the fryer harbors too much destructive potential to trust fate or the convenient neighbor walking his dog to keep things safe. If something is going to happen, it's going to happen fast. 

Just in case, I have a Kidde kitchen-grade fire extinguisher handy. In case of emergency, the extinguisher will douse the flames and season the bird beyond recognition. I also remember to not grab my lawn hose. Water, if you recall, has a disastrous reaction with super-heated oil.

I keep these safety tips in mind while frying the bird, and I suggest you do the same. Have a happy holiday season, and enjoy a wonderful feast away from the ER.

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