If you can’t stand the heat, take care in the kitchen: 10 Thanksgiving fire safety tips

by Terry B on November 18, 2009

Cooking fires are twice as likely to happen on Thanksgiving as any other day of the year. Here are some tips to keep your kitchen safe—on Thanksgiving and every other day.

The people at Underwriters Laboratories have the coolest jobs. They get to break things, start fires and make things blow up, all in the name of safety.

Underwriters Laboratories is an independent product safety certification organization that has been testing products and writing standards for safety for more than a century. Each year, the Northbrook, Illinois-based UL evaluates more than 19,000 types of products, components, materials and systems. The UL Mark signifies that a product has undergone rigorous testing to assure that it meets UL’s standards for safety. You’ll find the UL Mark on some 72,000 manufacturers’ products in 98 countries.

Where you won’t find the UL Mark is on one single turkey fryer. Not one. All are deemed far too unsafe. Which leads me to safety tip number one:

1. Don’t deep fry your turkey. Seriously. The video above shows clearly all the ways this novel [read idiotically dangerous] approach to preparing your turkey can go wrong. And this is under laboratory conditions that don’t involve beer or wanting to hurry back to televised football.

But turkey fryers aren’t the only source of accidents. According to UL, “nearly 1,450 residential structure fires in the U.S. occur on Thanksgiving, causing an average of 15 fatalities, about 40 injuries and nearly $21 million in residential property damage.” Here are some tips from UL, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Safety Council and the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers for staying safe in the kitchen. Any snarky comments are mine.

2. Stay in the kitchen while food is cooking. Most fires in the kitchen occur because food is left unattended. Obviously, you can’t stay in the kitchen the whole time the turkey’s in the oven, but if you’ve got burners or the broiler going, you should be there.

3. Keep the range free of clutter. Don’t overload a range top with too many pots and pans. Thanksgiving is a great time to seek out recipes that say “can be prepared ahead of time.” And turn the handles of pots and pans in, but away from hot burners.

4. Keep children and pets away from the cooking area. It’s best, if possible, to keep them out of the kitchen altogether while you’re cooking. Safety aside, I think this sounds like a great idea anyway.

5. Use thick, dry, flame-resistant potholders when handling lids and pans. Not dish towels, not sweatshirt sleeves pulled down over your hand. When removing pot and pan lids, tilt them away from you to protect your face and hands from steam.

6. Never wear loose fitting clothing when cooking. Long, open sleeves could ignite and catch fire from a gas flame or a hot burner. Wear short, close fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking. If you have long hair, be sure to tie it back. This means you, muumuu-wearing hippies.

7. Never disconnect a smoke detector while cooking. Okay, I’ve been guilty of this one when I had the world’s most sensitive smoke detector which the landlord had thoughtfully placed in the kitchen! But don’t do it. Smoke detectors save lives.

8. Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it. Make sure the fire extinguisher is rated for grease fires and electrical fires and read the directions carefully.

And in the event of a fire:

9. With small fires, prevent flame spread. For a small range-top fire, turn off the burner, put on an oven mitt and smother the flames by carefully sliding a lid onto the pan. Leave the lid in place until the pot or pan is cooled. Never pour water on a grease fire. That can cause it to spread. And never carry the pan outside—you could spread flames throughout the house. If you have an oven fire, immediately turn off the heat and keep the oven door closed.

10. Call for help. If you can’t immediately extinguish the fire yourself, leave your home, call 9-1-1 and wait in a safe place until emergency personnel arrive.

Have a happy, safe Thanksgiving next week, everyone. Here’s hoping your biggest kitchen disaster is something falling on the floor. In that case, do what Julia would do: If no one saw it, pick it up and serve it anyway. We won’t tell.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

dani November 18, 2009 at 6:43 am

Excellent tips, Terry! I would add one more. Anyone with long hair should pull it back in a pony tail or bun while cooking. One, it keeps hair out of the food (yuck!) and two, it prevents your hair catching on fire if you have a gas stove. I actually had my hair catch fire from a burner when I was a teenager. Luckily, my mother was standing right there and got it out before my clothes caught on fire or worse. And I only lost a couple of inches of hair. I hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving. I cannot believe it’s next week!

Hannah @CookingManager.Com November 18, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Good tips! I would add that you can also put out a kitchen fire with flour or baking soda.

Terry B November 18, 2009 at 1:08 pm

Yikes, Dani! Thanks for reiterating that tip. And hooray for your mom.

Hannah—Actually, when it comes to grease fires, most authorities warn against flour—which can actually explode apparently. And there are mixed reviews on baking soda. Your best bet with grease fires is putting a lid over it to smother it, if possible.

Chip November 19, 2009 at 3:06 am

OMG! That’s the guy who’s responsible for that aesthetically unpleasing seatbelt safety sticker on the inside of my sunvisor. I’m sorry, Terry, but I think our world is too safe.

On the flip side, I’ve learned not to add sugar to my turkey brine solution when frying a turkey.

I once was preparing Thanksgiving dinner for some NBA athletes and their wives. None of them had ever had a fried turkey before.

The sugars on the surface of the turkey skin burned carbon-black! I had to remove all the skin and completely carve the turkey so they wouldn’t see my stupid mistake!

Terry B November 19, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Um, if we ever get together, Chip, I’m driving. In the many stories I’ve heard of people setting their decks, garages and houses on fire with turkey fryers, one that actually made me smile involved the captain of a volunteer fire department. Not as the savior, but as the starter of the fire.

Smokey Behr November 19, 2009 at 9:52 pm

There’s several major problems with the first demo of the turkey fryer:
1.: They used a “partially frozen turkey”. You NEVER use a partially frozen turkey when frying. The turkey is to be thawed, and brined or injected with seasoning, neither of which can be done when the turkey is frozen.
2.: The pot is overfilled with oil, and is too small for the size of the bird. The first thing to do is to actually check to see if the bird will fit, and if there’s enough room for the oil. The bird should have at least 1″ clearance all the way around it, and shouldn’t be taller than 2/3 of the size of the pot. put the bird in and fill the pot with water to get the oil level first.

@chip: Did you rinse off the bird after brining it? What was your ratio? I use 1c salt, 1c brown sugar, 1 lemon, 1 orange and 1 lime for every 2 gallons of water.

Terry B November 19, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Smokey—I think that’s their point, really. People aren’t careful. People don’t read directions. Especially when there are relatives and friends around and plenty of distractions. So when you’ve got something as precarious and demanding of attention as a turkey fryer, you’re asking for trouble in many households. In 2004, more than 1,000 homes caught fire on Thanksgiving day, thanks to turkey fryers. As their popularity has increased, so have the accidents.

Chip November 19, 2009 at 11:37 pm

lol! No problem, Terry! : )

When I finally do die, it will probably be something spectacular.

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