Turkey Frying Missteps Can Be Disastrous

With Thanksgiving this week, it’s time to talk turkey. Frying a turkey, that is.

Colonists and Americans have been celebrating Thanksgiving with a turkey dinner for centuries, but the practice of frying a turkey for dinner is a recent one.

“There’s not a juicier, more flavorful turkey anywhere,” said Bill Gatewood, Corporate Vice President and Director, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox.

But frying a turkey can be dangerous if not done properly. An estimated $15 million in property damage, 60 injuries and five deaths each year in the U.S. can be attributed to use of a turkey fryer, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

While your standard Homeowners Insurance policy will cover the cost of damages to your house and property and most claims of personal liability that could occur because of deep frying, these accidents can be avoided by following basic safety guidelines.

“Using a turkey fryer can be extremely dangerous,” Gatewood said. “You have an open flame with a huge pot of oil above it being heated to around 350 degrees. The good news is insurance policies don’t exclude foolish actions and this is why you have the coverage.”

Steps to ensure a safe and festive Thanksgiving

Frying a turkey seems to have first become popular in Louisiana only a few decades ago. A New Orleans food writer wrote in 1984: “Whether or not cooks will consider frying their Thanksgiving turkey is debatable, but in the land of Cajun cooking, only a fool would rule anything out.” Some consider the article the impetus for a national trend.

With the amount of oil used, burns are one of the biggest dangers. One of the most important steps is to make sure the turkey is completely thawed. Experts suggest patting the turkey dry to ensure there is no moisture.

“Water and hot grease don’t mix well to say the least,” Gatewood said. “That’s probably the biggest safety tip you can hear when it comes to frying a turkey because if something happens to your house, you can always replace it. But skin burns could become a catastrophic event.”

Never fry a turkey inside the house, or even in a garage or shed. Even with airflow in a garage, a small spill or other unforeseen accident could damage lawn equipment and other stored items, or even the structure itself.

“I had a friend who did it and years later the inside of his garage still smells like a fried turkey,” Gatewood said with a chuckle. “It was OK at first, but after a few years that smell gets old. It just seeps into the walls and you can’t get rid of it.”

“Water and hot grease don’t mix well to say the least,” – Bill Gatewood, Burns & Wilcox

Setting up the turkey fryer on a flat and stable surface such as a driveway is recommended. Gatewood, who has been frying a Thanksgiving turkey for several years, keeps the pot at least 100 feet from the house or garage so it will not burn the siding or damage his wood deck with grease splatter.

Gloves should also be worn to protect against splatter or the extreme heat from the pot. Keep the cover on the pot except when putting the turkey in or taking it out. A heavy-duty pair of work glasses is also recommended.

Turkey frying brings to mind an umbrella policy’s benefits

Regardless of whether you cook a turkey in your driveway or not, a Personal Umbrella policy is one of the most affordable ways to protect both your property and your finances, Gatewood said. Personal Umbrella coverage is purchased on top of a Homeowners policy and will cover the cost of any non-excluded liability events over and above your Homeowners coverage limits.

Umbrella policies are quite affordable – on average between $200 and $300 per year for each extra $1 million in liability coverage over and above the Homeowners and auto policies, Gatewood said. Accidental injuries occur with surprising frequency, resulting in more than 30 million emergency room visits each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“If you enjoy hosting friends or family over the holidays, a Personal Umbrella policy is a very small price to pay for peace of mind,” Gatewood.

“Let’s hope you don’t need to use your Umbrella policy at any time, but in the case of using a turkey fryer, you could have a huge liability claim if you spilled a pot of hot oil on someone,” Gatewood said. “If you enjoy hosting friends or family over the holidays, a Personal Umbrella policy is a very small price to pay for peace of mind.”

Additionally, Umbrella coverage is one of the most readily available insurance policies in the market, so competition among carriers is stiff. Gatewood calls it the most underutilized policy for the money available to consumers.

“You do want to work with your broker or agent, though, to make sure you have the right policy and the proper amount of coverage for your needs,” Gatewood said. “Every homeowner’s needs will vary.”

Final tips to make your fried turkey memorable

Every cook has his or her own tips. Gatewood is no different. He suggests that the flavor of a fried turkey is greatly enhanced by the use of peanut oil. Other benefits to peanut oil include being cholesterol-free, less likely to catch on fire and a higher smoke point. “You might have to spend a few extra dollars, but it’s worth it,” he said.

Another tip is to inject a thawed turkey with a marinade. Gatewood suggests a Cajun or garlic marinade to add flavor but preserve tenderness.

Frying a turkey takes just a few minutes per pound. Keep an eye on it and also kids and animals that may be drawn toward the smell.

When frying a turkey safely and using a few tips to enhance its flavor and tenderness, there is only one drawback. “You won’t have any leftovers I can tell you that,” Gatewood said.

As with any coverage need, an insurance broker or agent must be consulted. Click here to forward this article to your insurance broker or agent to ask if you need this coverage, or share this with clients to start the conversation and ensure proper protection.

This information was provided by Burns & WilcoxNorth America’s leading wholesale insurance broker and underwriting manager. Burns & Wilcox works exclusively with retail insurance brokers and agents to assist clients like you with their specialty insurance needs. Ask your insurance broker or agent to review your Homeowners policy, Personal Umbrella coverage or any other related policies to ensure you have proper protection. It’s up to you to trust your insurance broker or agent for their Thanksgiving dinner tips.