Cooking for Beginners: Frying Safety

Frying is a method of cooking that is extremely popular, because it’s fairly simple and yields food that is crispy and crunchy on the outside, but moist and tender on the inside. It gives us fried chicken, potato chips, french fries, and more. Ever have any of those fried state fair foods (ice cream, Oreos, etc.) that seem based on more of a dare than actual culinary exploration? Well, if you’d like to try frying at home, it’s important to know that it’s not as simple as heating oil and dropping the food in. There are safety precautions you should take!

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires, both in terms of damages and injuries. Frying takes up the lion’s share of this risk, especially around the Thanksgiving holiday, when some people attempt to fry their turkey. This may be a neat way to get a crispy skin and moist meat, but if you do it wrong, it’s also a great way to burn your house down. At the very least, you can easily burn yourself while frying food, so it pays to be safe. We’ll give you some ideas on how you can do just that.

Don’t Overfill the Pan

A top cause of fires from turkey frying or stovetop frying is oil spilling out over the sides of the container (either the pot, pan, or fryer) and hitting the heating element. The spill can come from oil displacement that results after adding the ingredients or from the oil bubbling and boiling as you cook. If the oil hits the heating element, either the stove top or a flame for example, it can cause a dangerous oil fire that can be tough to put out. You can prevent this by choosing the right frying vessel and only filling it enough to submerge the ingredients if you’re deep frying. Make sure to take displacement into account, as well as any bubbling that might occur.

Ensure Food is Thawed & Dry

Another way frying turkeys can cause fires is if they aren’t fully thawed or dry before frying, and this is a lesson you should take for all frying. While you can safely fry frozen foods, you have to take a few measures first, like removing any external ice crystals. Water (and ice) have a tumultuous relationship with frying. When water interacts with the hot frying oil, it causes the water to instantaneously evaporate and oil to splatter. If the splattering oil hits you, it can cause burns. If it hits the heating element, it can cause a fire.

Know Your Oil

Not every oil is right for frying. In fact, not every oil is good for cooking! The cooking temperatures while frying can get quite high, so cooking fats like extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, or butter would likely pass their smoke point. The smoke point is when the oil begins to burn. Not only does this create an unpleasant flavor, it can also add free radicals and quickly approach the point where smoke becomes a fire.

In Case of Smoking or a Fire

If you do notice that your oil is beginning to smoke, don’t panic. A little smoke isn’t inherently dangerous, it may just make what you’re frying taste worse. If the oil has only just started smoking, you can prevent the problem from getting worse by carefully removing the pot or pan from heat if you’re frying on a stovetop or turning off the heat if you’re using a fryer. At this point, you may have prevented the oil from really burning. If there is a noticeable amount of smoke and burned pieces of food or broken-down oil at the bottom of the pan, set the oil aside to allow it to cool and start over with a new pot and a new batch of oil. That burned oil won’t be salvageable.

If a fire ignites, again, don’t panic. You can get this under control, but it’s important to keep your wits. First, never use water on a grease fire, since it actually makes the fire worse. If the fire is contained within the pan or fryer, turn off the heat source and place a non-glass lid over the pan or fryer to smother the flames. Don’t try to move the pan from the heat, since you could accidentally spill burning oil on yourself. If the fire is outside of the pan or fryer, you’ll need another way of smothering the fire. You can use an ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher or a large amount of baking soda or salt to extinguish the flames. Don’t use other cooking powders like flour, sugar, or baking powder, since these can catch fire. If the fire is spreading beyond your control, evacuate the house and call 9-1-1 immediately.

Don’t Leave Frying Oil Alone

The dangers of smoking oil or a grease fire give all the more importance to this final safety tip: never leave frying oil alone. While some cooking methods may allow you to leave the kitchen, like slow roasting or baking, frying is one that requires vigilance. This means both monitoring the oil and ingredients as they fry and checking the heat of the oil. If you’re using a fryer, use the thermometer or screen that tells you the oil’s heat. If you’re using a pot, you’ll need a frying thermometer that can withstand high heats. It can both help you to get a better end product for your frying and avoid burning the oil or starting a fire. Regardless of why, if you’re frying food, be attentive while it’s cooking.

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Frying is a simple way to cook really delicious food, but it can also be dangerous if you’re not being safe. By paying attention as you fry and following these tips, you can protect your home from fires and yourself from burns. Once you’ve achieved that, you can enjoy the crunchy goodness of well-fried foods!