You might be wondering how bad it is to fry a turkey on Thanksgiving—especially while standing next to a frying pan filled with four gallons of hot peanut oil, clutching what you hope will be a perfectly thawed bird. The answer is really bad. And there’s a comprehensive list of YouTube videos put together by local fire departments to prove it. The thing is, if something goes wrong, it’s not bad luck. There’s a scientific reason why a fried turkey might explode, or your garden might catch fire—or worse.
It’s all about differences in density, says Christine Nolen, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Richmond. Noelene writes Conversationan independent online news organization.
Why does fried turkey explode?
Raw turkey contains about 75 percent water. In a frozen turkey, that turns into a lot of ice. When a frozen turkey is immersed in 350°C cooking oil (hotter than water’s boiling point of 212°C), the ice quickly turns into water.
Since liquid water is denser than oil, it goes to the bottom of the hot pot where it absorbs more heat and energy. At this point, the water turns into steam, increasing its volume by 1,700 times. This expanding steam blows the boiling oil out of the hole where it can strike an open flame and catch fire. The oil droplets that catch fire ignite nearby oil molecules, causing a huge explosion of sorts.
It’s not just fried turkey. The US Fire Department Notes Thanksgiving is when most cooking fires happen. Between 2017 and 2019, an average of 2,300 apartment building fires occurred on vacation, with an average of 5 deaths, 25 injuries, and $26 million in property losses.
If you want to fry up a turkey, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises the bird to thaw completely and never leave hot oil unattended. In addition, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) You must ensure that the pan is placed on level ground at least 10 feet from your home and not under eaves. Do not overfill the pan with oil. And always keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby.
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