News flash: Deep-frying can be hazardous to your health.
No, I mean before you even eat the food.
I don’t like to peddle scare stories. But the dangers of deep-frying are no joke. People in the United Kingdom love to fry. It’s the home of fish and chips and the deep-fried Mars Bar. And they fry at home using chip pans.
A chip pan is just a deep saucepan with a fry basket. They are the number-one cause of home fires in England. Chip-pan fires are so common that local fire departments urge stores not to sell chip pans and hold “chip-pan amnesty” events where people can bring their chip pans down to the fire station and exchange them for coupons for electric deep fryers.
You know, just like with handguns.
It’s a wonder the U.K. hasn’t burned down yet.
Why is deep-frying more dangerous than any other cooking technique, short of fugu butchering? Because of the laws of physics. A pot full of 375-degree oil contains an astonishing amount of heat energy. It’s like having a chunk of plutonium in your kitchen.
If you put wet food in the oil, the water will vaporize, causing oil to bubble over onto the heating element, where it will ignite. This happened to me once while I was making French fries, and I was able to put out the fire with a standard ABC home fire extinguisher.
I was very lucky. The other kind of fryer fire occurs when the oil in the pot overheats and reaches its flash point. If this happens, you are, technically speaking, hosed. ABC fire extinguishers can’t put out a major grease fire. Commercial kitchens keep Type K fire extinguishers on hand for this purpose. You don’t have one at home because they’re bulky and cost at least $150.
If you’re hit by this kind of conflagration, fire departments advise you to try laying a wet cloth over the top of the pot. If that doesn’t work, grab your family and run.
And let’s not even get into the effects of hot oil on human skin.
In researching this column, before I started looking into the safety issues, I was all set to recommend stovetop frying over the electric deep fryer. With stovetop frying, you don’t have to buy any new equipment that will take up counter space, and the results are better because you have more control over the oil temperature. (Electric fryers often have trouble hitting 375 degrees, a common frying temp.)
This is all true. It’s also true that you will get to Grandma’s house faster if you drive 127 miles per hour and don’t waste time putting on seatbelts.
Electric fryers are annoying, but they’re safer. First, they shut off before the oil gets smoking hot. Second, if the oil does boil over, there’s no exposed heating element, so it won’t burst into flames.
Now, perhaps you laugh at danger. I have been known to chuckle nervously at danger myself. You and I should get together for some deep-frying. Here are eight non-safety-related hints we should keep in mind.
Related recipe: Classic French Fries
Matthew Amster-Burton sniffs out the unexplained in the kitchen, the store, and the food world at large. He blogs at Roots and Grubs, podcasts at Spilled Milk, and is the author of the book Hungry Monkey.
Want more? Comb the archives.
The exuberant Israeli chef
Try quinoa, amaranth, millet, and sorghum
Velvety, earthy, and confident
How to live like Julia Child