GULFPORT -- Deep-fried turkey is a delicious dish with a delicate, crispy, seasoned skin and moist and juicy meat. But frying a turkey can be dangerous.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, more than 150,000 fires are reported on Thanksgiving, many of them caused by turkey-frying malfunctions.
During a safety demonstration Friday, the Gulfport Fire Department showed how bad things can get when turkey frying goes wrong.
"Frying a turkey is delicious way to enjoy a turkey -- if you do it safely," Gulfport fire chief Michael Beyerstedt said. "On Thanksgiving Day, there are more structure fires than the rest of the year. It's double what it normally is."
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Frying turkey became popular in the late '80s after PBS chef and personality Justin Wilson fried one during a taping of his popular television show. Wilson's recipe called for only four ingredients: a turkey, cayenne pepper, salt and oil.
Beyerstedt said using the proper amount of cooking oil could make the difference between enjoying a tasty Thanksgiving main course and experiencing a Thanksgiving disaster.
"It's very important to use the proper amount of oil in the cooker," he said. "If you have too much, when you lower the turkey down into the oil it will come up over the top, and it's dripping right down on top of an exposed gas flame and it will start a fire."
Beyerstedt said one way to measure the oil needed is to do a test run using water before the actual cooking. Before turning the cooker on, fill it with water and submerging the turkey to see if there is any spillover. Then you will know where the fill line should be for the oil.
Beyerstedt said it's also crucial to make sure the bird is completely thawed and patted dry.
"Water and hot grease don't mix and a frozen turkey is full of water," he said.
Turkeys should be fried outdoors -- not in an enclosed area, as a fire can spread quickly.
"A grease fire will catch everything around it on fire," Beyerstedt said. "It will burn a structure down. Stay away from patios and decks, too."
At the Fire Department's demonstration, the turkey going into the cooker caused the oil to spill out and ignite swiftly. A firefighter then sprayed the fire with water, which created a much-larger fire.
"We also wanted to show you what most people would do if the turkey cooker caught on fire," Beyerstedt said. "They would grab the garden hose, which makes the fire much worse."
Should you have a grease fire, do not use water to extinguish the flames. Instead, use a fire extinguisher or call 911.