The Flaming Glory of Deep-Fried Turkeys Gone Wrong

The Flaming Glory of Deep-Fried Turkeys Gone Wrong

By Taylor Mayol

Alameda County firefighter Bob Perez lowers a 13-pound turkey into a pot of boiling oil during a safety demonstration in San Leandro, California.
SourceJustin Sullivan/Getty Images


Because flaming butterballs.

By Taylor Mayol

Do as I say, not as I do — this is what I’m hearing, not from my mom, but rather from the Virginia Beach Fire Department’s spokesperson. “We’re doing some things you should never do,” he says. Something very particular. He and his colleagues are preparing to deep-fry a turkey the wrong way. And it’s for your own good — or at least in the name of public safety. 

The man steps away as two masked firefighters in full blaze-battling garb slowly lower a pale pink bird, still frozen, from the tip of a long pole into a metal vat of bubbling-hot grease. What happens next is magical — the very, very bad kind. As the carcass descends, it becomes clear that the pot can’t hold all that oil and a fat poultry Popsicle. Whoops.

Everything goes slo-mo as the contents stage a prison break. BOOM, orange flames shoot several feet into the air. It’s a glorious explosion that would make any pyromaniac shudder with excitement. These, my friends, are fire department PSAs, and they can be found all over the internet. 

The firefighters love it. Behind their serious faces, imploring that you don’t do what they just did, you can sometimes catch glimpses of joy. (In the above video, listen for the whistling and laughs.) These controlled explosions are, in fact, the low-stakes version of the real-life danger they have to combat. The purpose is to warn viewers of the flaming terror that could happen in their own backyards. And fire departments across the country have jumped on board, often partnering with local TV stations for live nightly news broadcasts and later uploading them to YouTube. How kind of them.


One little problem: Americans are friggin’ pyromaniacs. The peril — not to mention the promise of moist flesh and crispy skin — is what makes deep-frying turkeys fun. 

Of course, the message of these videos is anything but playful. Thanksgiving is the peak day for home-cooking fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. In 2011, 2012 and 2013 each, an average of 2,100 residential building fires were reported to fire departments in the U.S., causing around 10 deaths, 50 injuries and $28 million in property loss. Deep-frying turkeys is especially dangerous because grease fires quickly become unwieldy and water only makes the disaster worse. Still, even the experts fall prey to the tasty treat: As the man who answered my call to the San Francisco Fire Prevention Bureau put it, “But it tastes good!”

Perhaps the moral of the story is to leave the fire making to the fire experts. They deserve it. After all, they might be spending the holidays cleaning up your backyard Bacchanal.

If you absolutely must deep-fry your turkey, here are a few helpful hints from OZY, with love: 

Do: Put the turkey in an empty pot, fill it up with water and then lift the turkey out. That remaining water line? That’s how high you should fill it with oil. 

Do: Defrost and dry the turkey entirely. (Water and oil… ??). 

Do: Set up far away from a deck or house. 

Don’t: Try to put out a grease fire with water. IT WILL MAKE IT WORSE. Use a fire extinguisher. 

Don’t: Heat up the oil beyond the appropriate temperature. 

Don’t: Drink and deep-fry. 

Do: Dial 9-1-1 if a fire erupts.

Don’t: Be an idiot.