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by Jeff Wilkin

Type A To Z

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Features reporter Jeff Wilkin on pop culture

Like Hell

Allstate, the insurance guys, are running a serious ‘n’ sober holiday commercial.
“Last Thanksgiving, about two million people tried to deep fat fry their turkeys,” says the dour pitchman, actor Dennis Haysbert, as he stands on a leaf-strewn driveway with deep-frying gear at the ready. “Fifteen succeeded in setting their houses on fire.”

Dennis yaks on about people skidding cars on ice and into Grandma’s garage door, and how trouble never takes off a holiday, and neither does Allstate.

I thought about the statistic. Fifteen fires started as people boiled their turkeys in hot, bubbling fat. The moral of the story seemed to be that while a turkey may be in good hands with Allstate, it certainly is not in good hands when some maniac drops the old bird into a vat of cooking acid.

I wonder how these 2011 fires started. Did the oil splash out of the cooker and start broiling the side of the house? Did boilers explode, sending flames to the back porch and blasting turkeys into the top limbs of nearby trees?

I’ve heard people say deep-fried turkey tastes great, but I’ll never know. I won’t go that way — I prefer my Thanksgiving turkey hot out of the oven, golden brown and ready for a Norman Rockwell moment. When I hear about someone deep-frying a turkey I get this image of some ne’er do well drinking Early Times bourbon — first slug downed at 10 a.m. — and this chef is lit up like a Christmas tree when the Butterball bomb goes into culinary hell. There must be plenty of hooting and hollering as the bird sloshes around in its oil bath and gets cooked to the bone.

Recipes I’ve seen say it takes about 5 gallons of vegetable oil — heated to about 400 degrees in an outdoor cooker — and about an hour to cook a 15-pound turkey. Talk about an undignified way to go — at least when a turkey is roasting in the oven, you’ve got that nice Thanksgiving or Christmas smell all though the house. And that turkey looks good!

The unfortunate, undignified turkeys hauled out of boiling oil must look crispy and utterly demoralized. My advice would be to save hot oil for french fries, onion rings and chicken wings. Serving a well-done turkey — along with a well-done house — seems like poor holiday planning.

I can’t imagine ever throwing a party where instead of cleaning up napkins, paper plates and empty beer bottles, you’re sweeping away parts of the kitchen wall and glass from windows that exploded when combustion levels inside the house reached 1,000 degrees.

I’m careful when I’ve got a fire in my fireplace and a bunch of candles on the mantle. Ignition of a mulberry jar is a lot safer than torching a turkey in a metal basket on Thanksgiving ... and hoping like hell you’re not having Dennis Haysbert or another Allstate representative over for dessert.

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