How Not To Fry Your Turkey

As noted on our annual Turkey tort posting, deep-fried turkey remains one of the main reasons for admissions in Emergency Rooms around the country. My friend who heads one of the largest Emergency Rooms in this area says that it is virtually all men with burn injuries. For those deep frying this holiday, here are a few cautionary tales.

We know a friend of one of our family members who not only had a fire, but torched his house. The main reason appears to be the failure to measure the oil (often first using fire to check the displacement level), which spills into the flame or heat source.

22 thoughts on “How Not To Fry Your Turkey”

  1. J Brian Harris, Firstly you sound like Donald Rumsfeld when you talk about “There are those that know..” Secondly, I’m the one who said kerosene is used fro the boil over and my name is Nick Spinelli. I have watched the process and the kerosene smoke, flame, and smell permeates the kettle, and area. I will defer to your science cred. And, I would never tell people what they should eat. But, I know food..and I ain’t eatin’ that stuff.

  2. Perhaps someone else who posts comments here also actually lives in Door County; if so, please correct any errors in my understanding of the Door County Fish Boil phenomenon.

    I happen to have an Amateur Radio Extra Class license, station call sign W9GUO, and I usually attend the Door County Amateur Radio Club annual fish boil.

    Yes, there are restaurants of serious fame that do fish boils, and advertise doing so. Yes, in Door County, there are people who do fish boils for family groups and for other occasions.

    As for deep-fat frying of frozen turkeys, one explanation of the drama of dunking a frozen turkey in very hot oil may be terribly simple. The water near the surface of the turkey flashes into steam when the turkey is dunked, and the resulting steam, in the form of bubbles in the oil, expands the volume of the oil with bubbles until the volume of the oil and steam combination exceeds the available volume available in the pot, some of the oil falls close enough to the fire heating the oil that the oil is ignited.

    Nobody in Door County doing a fish boil has ever, to the best of my understanding, dunked frozen potatoes or frozen whitefish or frozen onions into the water used for boiling fish and potatoes. Therefore, there is no dramatic torch effect akin to that of dunking a frozen turkey into a pot of hot oil.

    Meanwhile, back to fish boils…

    A wood fire is used to heat the pot into which is placed a rack that holds the fish, potatoes,and onions. When the fish, potatoes, and onions have been properly cooked, some kerosene or fuel oil is tossed onto the fire under the fish boil kettle. Because the water is boiling, the extra heat from the liquid fuel produces a burst of steam that increases the volume of the water and steam, such that a “boil-over” occurs. The purpose of the boil-over is to remove whatever is floating on top of the boiling water so that the potatoes, fish, and onions are more palatable.

    For small group fish boils, some fish boilers merely skim off the flotsam and jetsam that is waiting to make the fish,onions,and potatoes less tasty if not removed by a boil-over or by skimming.

    Because, during the boil-over phase of a conventional Door County fish boil, there is much stream produced, the kerosene or fuel oil never contaminates the fish, or the potatoes, or the onions.

    There are those who know, and know that they know. There are those who don’;t know, and don’t know that they don’t know. There are those who know that they know and don’t know that they are mistaken about knowing.

    When I put “Door County” and “fish boil” into a Google Advanced Search, there were about 123,000 results, one of which, as it contains a decently accurate video, is:

    By standing at a safe, but toasty, distance from the boil over at a bunch of Door County fish boils, I can accurately report that I have never observed flames atop the boiling water, as the boil over is so rapid that anything flammable is washed over the edge of the kettle, where it may join in the drama of the flame.

    While the fish boil process may appear superficially similar to the frozen turkey flambeau effect to the less scientifically observant among us, scientificalisticalishimsal folks (such as me?) are readily able to directly observe the stark contrast between human stupidity at work in frozen turkey flambeau catastrophe and human brilliance at work in a Door County fish boil feast.

    While some folks who post comments here use nom-de-plumes, I am purposefully “out,” using my actual name, because I decry the supposed need for deception as an essential social organizing principle.

    Put “W9GUO” into a Google Search, as I did a few moments ago, and one of the listings may be the FCC ULS (Universal Licensing System”) information about my Amateur Radio License. It is public information.

    How a Door County fish boil is properly done may be copyrighted when put on the Internet in a YouTube video, as in the link above given. However, the basic method has surely been in the public domain for a very long time.

    Meanwhile, the flambeau effect has been inadvertently studied by quite a few people who, frying something in a kitchen when the oil used for frying catches fire, attempt to put out such a fire using water. More than one house has been converted to ashes that way. More than one person has failed to survive the fatal burns from doing such. How does a person survive fatal burns?

  3. URP – on the other hand Kerosene has some uses, the same can not be said for cigarettes.

    But there is the whole thing about kerosene manufactures finding out in the 1950s that their product kills people and hiding that evidence but using it to fine tune kerosene so more people would get addicted to it . . . oh wait, that wasn’t kerosene

  4. Frankly, Serious as cancer. I agree w/ you consuming a small bit of kerosene is probably not lethal. However, I think saying something is “not lethal” is a pretty low bar when it comes to dining out. Maybe the reviews should say, “The fish was a bit overdone, the potatoes and carrots a bit hard but tasty. And, the kerosene didn’t kill anyone in our party of 6. We did see a particularly large man wheeled out on a stretcher. Folks said he had 4 helpings.”

    1. I guess that the CDC has found that there ARE safe levels of kerosene that can be consumed. While of course, there are NO risk free levels of second hand smoke. Just one cigarette smoked 50 floors down, is not safe and who knows how long ago? I guess maybe a year must pass before all molecules will be completely gone from that one cigarette and might damage the health of the occupants if they return before that time.

  5. Nick! Seriously!? I have been up there a couple of times but never eaten a fish boil. I assumed it was just the greasy fish. I suppose it floats & then is eliminated with the boil over but wholly-carp!

    OTOH – My dads mom used to give her kids kerosene & sugar when they had a cold so I guess small amounts are not lethal.

  6. A couple more haikus:

    High time for Low wits
    Turkey, deep fryer beckons
    Phoenix is reborn


    Calls to dinner, joy!
    Make haste. the turkey is late
    Orange glow, panic

  7. gunnyfw,

    Thank you for the haiku.



    Ha! Glorious!

    Here’s the original song the Shatner is parodying. It has the most basic apple pie recipe I’ve ever heard in it . . .

  8. Frankly, When I first went to Door County[beautiful] I was intriqued by these fish boils. However, being from a restaurant family it didn’t make a lot of sense. I watched a couple. Frankly, they are not only rube tourists who eat @ those rituals, they’re kerosene eaters. The fish doesn’t produce enough oil for the big fire flash, SO THE COOK ADDS KEROSENE!! No sh!t. Nothing like an accelerant w/ your meal. At least the Greeks when they serve flaming saganaki and give you the “OOOPA” use olive oil.

  9. Haiku in honor of Gene:

    Archimedes cooks turkey

    The hot liquid spits

    And the bird fits in the pot

  10. William Shatner teamed up with State Farm to produce this humorous little dramatization of an actual incident in which the actor was burned when he tried to fry a turkey.

  11. Prof, being from Chicago there is a better than even chance you have vacationed in Door County Wisconsin. If you have you may have seen this exact trick put to dramatic use.

    Some tourist places up there boil up a pot of fish soup using a very oily Lake Superior Whitefish. the oil floats to the top of the pot & just after sundown they intentionally overflow the pot, the oil spills down the sides & into the fire creating a huge fireball for the entertainment of the rubes.

    But they are smart enough to perform this magic outdoors and with only a small amount of oil.

  12. Cheorge Zsssimmerman on frying a turkey: “I was done mentoring the kids so I took the turkey and put it into the fryer. My wife [slight wobble in his voice because of his overwhelming love for Shellie] had put the oil in and heated it up. I remembered that she had mentioned that she wanted me to put it in. To be honest, I don’t have a good memory; ADD. I don’t remember when she said that. So I put it in. Something went wrong; I don’t remember how. So I took my weapon out, made sure not to shoot my other hand, and shot that turkey.” [shrug]

  13. I suppose this is the American version of Turkeyish Terrisotic Training Camp…… A division of the American up poultry society…. And a Happy Birday to all…..

  14. the only thing that is missing is someone yelling “ya’ll check’is out”.

    rednecks and flammable liquid, gotta love it.

  15. Gene Wrote:

    “Somewhere, Archimedes is laughing.”
    Awesome. Good one.

    These guys were actually postulating If the spherical turkey was two thirds the volume of the cylindrical fryer, the house must burn down.

    1. I wonder what those guys were hollering when they found out what Archimedes did. It must have sounded like YEEEKA, thus nearly recapitulating his famous cry.

  16. Well it is obvious that it was not just what was in the fryer that was a turkey. I seems the fryer did its job in cooking ALL the turkeys present.

  17. Most turkey fryers have a temperature control valve that will shut off the heat when the proper temperature of about 350 degrees is reached. If the valve is disabled, it is possible to melt lead in a turkey fryer. Lead melts at 622 degrees.

    Some people who make their own cast lead ammunition use a turkey fryer to melt the lead. I suspect the people in those videos did not have working temperature controls.

    What I did not understand was why those braniacs did not just put the lid on the fryer when it caught on fire. Blowing on it to put out the fire? Really?

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