History of America’s Most Dangerous Bird… The Fried Turkey

I recently stumbled upon an interesting article regarding Underwriters Laboratories, which is a 116 year old non-profit product safety organization, who will not endorse any safe turkey fryers this Thanksgiving. It turns out that this is a valid threat to people enjoying the holidays. The U.S. Fire Administration stated that between 2006 and 2008, around 4,300 fires were reported annually on Thanksgiving, which resulted in 10 deaths and 50 injuries. State Farm has reported that there were 1,000 deep-fryer claims each year between 2005 to 2009. So, where did this dangerous fowl originate from?

Even if the fried turkey is relatively new to mainstream America, turkey itself is not. Early European explorers discovered how tasty turkey was, in fact, by the 1500s, turkeys were being raised domestically in England, France and Italy. So, when the pilgrims enjoyed their first Thanksgiving feast, they were already familiar with the fowl. The turkey became so synonymous with America, that Benjamin Franklin famously endorsed it to be the symbol of America. Franklin wrote to his daughter, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country! The turkey is a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.” By 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Franklin Roosevelt, moved the holiday up one week, which is where it’s currently celebrated.

Ever since 1947, the National Turkey Federation, has presented the President with a live turkey. This ritual marks the unofficial kick-off to the holiday season. In 2009, it was estimated that 247 million turkeys were raised, with 46 million of them being eaten on Thanksgiving. The National Turkey Federation has reported that close to eighty-eight percent of Americans have turkey on Thanksgiving. Even Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin ate turkey on their voyage to the moon! Turkey can’t get any more American than that, unless you fry it.

Like most of our favorite fried foods, the fried turkey can have it’s roots traced to the Southern part of the United States. More specifically the area around Louisiana/Texas. This Bayou creole cuisine has surprisingly been enjoyed since the early 20th Century, with evidence of people enjoying fried turkey at large events, such as family reunions, church suppers, etc. At the turn of the 21st Century, the fried turkey spread across America like a wildfire. Recipes began to come out of the Louisiana/Texas region to Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia, Washington DC and finally to the Northwest. It’s popularity in Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Missouri, and South Carolina, have reported the most amounts of cooking related fires on Thanksgiving Day.

If you absolutely need to have a fried turkey this Thanksgiving, and want to make it yourself, as opposed to purchasing one, here’s some tips. First, you’ll need a recipe. After you pick up your ingredients, makes sure that you have all the proper equipment. This will include, a 30 to 40 quarter turkey frying pot (with a turkey rack or strainer insert), thermometer, burner, grease filter, and injecting syringe. Finally follow these safety tips, and you should be able to enjoy your Thanksgiving mean, without some unexpected company…the fire department.

* Turkey fryers should always be placed outside, a safe distance away from buildings and other combustible materials.
* Never use turkey fryers on wooden decks or inside garages.
* To reduce the risk of tipping, always place your turkey fryer on a flat surface.
* Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful of marinades before placing it in the pot. Excess water in partially frozen turkeys will cause the pot to overflow, resulting in a fire hazard. The National Turkey Federation recommends 24 hours of thawing for every 5 lbs of bird before cooking in a turkey fryer.
* Be careful to not overfill your turkey fryer with oil. If overfilled, turkey fryer oil may spill over, engulfing the entire unit and possibly injuring bystanders.
* Most turkey fryers do not come with a thermostat, and if left unattended the unit may overheat the oil, resulting in combustion. Turkey fryer thermometers and other turkey fryer accessories are available.
* The sides of the cooking pot, lid and handles become very hot, posing a severe burn threat. Before touching the pot, cover your hands with oven mitts or use well-insulated potholders. Whenever possible, use protective eye-wear.
* Make sure an all-purpose extinguisher is handy at all times. Never use water to put out a grease fire. Use common sense when fighting a fire. If it is within reason, use the extinguisher to put it out. If the fire is unmanageable, dial 9-1-1 for emergency assistance.
* Even after you are finished cooking, do not let pets or children near the unit. The oil in the container remains extremely hot for hours after cooking.
* And remember the most important safety tip of all: NEVER leave a turkey fryer unattended.

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