Christmas has cookies and the Fourth of July has hot dogs, but no other holiday identifies so closely with food as Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the emphasis on turkey, dressing and other holiday staples can make the fourth Thursday of November a potentially dangerous date in America’s kitchens.
Home cooking fires are more likely on Thanksgiving than on any other day of the year, according to the National Fire Incident Reporting System. NFIRS statistics from 2011 to 2013 show that cooking caused nearly 72 percent of residential fires on Thanksgiving, compared with 48 percent on all other days.
With a few simple precautions, though, most Thanksgiving cooking fires are preventable. What’s more, many of these seasonal fire safety tips help make your kitchen safer all year round.
Fire safety in the kitchen
At Thanksgiving, the kitchen often becomes a whirlwind of activity. To help reduce the risk of cooking fires, stay focused and follow these tips:
- Don’t leave the oven or stovetop unattended. The National Fire Protection Association cites unattended cooking as the leading cause of home cooking fires. Never divert your attention or walk away from the oven or stove, and it always helps to have another cook in the kitchen to supply an extra set of eyes.
- Avoid letting the turkey drip. Be careful when putting the turkey into the oven and taking it out. If grease or any other liquid sloshes onto the heating element, it could start a fire. Disposable aluminum pans are easy to pierce, so use two pans instead of one or spread a layer of aluminum foil underneath to capture dripping liquid.
- Keep the stovetop clear. Don’t leave oven mitts, dish towels or other flammable items near the burners.
- Never put water on a grease fire. Water could cause the grease to splatter out of the pan, sending heated droplets flying. Put a lid over the pan or pour baking soda on it to deprive the fire of oxygen. If you keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen — which you should — choose either a Type K specifically for grease fires or a multipurpose ABC type extinguisher for flammable liquids, wood and electrical fires.
Turkey fryer safety tips
As the U.S. Fire Administration points out, frying inherently increases the risk of a cooking fire. Oil or grease can ignite at high temperatures, which underlines the need to use caution when deep-frying a turkey. Fire safety tips for frying a turkey include:
- Pick the safest place for the fryer. By placing your fryer on a level, nonflammable surface at least 10 feet from your home and other buildings, you address two critical objectives: (a) preventing the oil from escaping the fryer and (b) preventing a fire from spreading.
- Use oil with a high flash point. Flash point refers to the temperature at which the oil begins to burn — the higher, the better. Peanut, sunflower and canola oil are among the safest choices for deep frying.
- Thoroughly defrost and wipe down the turkey before cooking. To paraphrase an old saying, hot oil and water don’t mix. Make sure your turkey is dry on the outside and free of ice chunks on the inside to prevent a reaction that could cause cooking oil to bubble up out of the fryer.
- Keep an eye on the heat. Experts recommend using a fryer equipped with a temperature dial and thermostat to keep the oil at an ideal temperature of 350 degrees.
- Get the right fire extinguisher for the job. Make sure the extinguisher you keep close at hand for your turkey fryer is rated Class K for putting out grease fires.
Safety is in the spirit of the holiday
Thanksgiving offers a yearly opportunity to express gratitude for prosperity and good fortune. You can help keep it that way by setting the table for fire safety. Refer to these tips and contact your local fire department or fire marshal for more advice.