Cooking the Bird
By Lisa Readie Mayer
When Martha Stewart and other celebrity chefs began extolling the virtues of deep-frying the Thanksgiving turkey in the mid-1990s, sales of turkey fryers went through the roof. Consumers fell hard for the succulent meat, delicious flavor and speed of preparation, and were thrilled that it freed up oven space for cooking the holiday’s many side dishes.
But the love affair soured by 2002 when reports of fires and injuries, caused mostly by improper use of the cookers, flooded the media. That same year, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) called turkey fryers “extremely dangerous” and announced it would not certify any turkey fryer as safe.
|Photo: 2014© State Farm. www.flickr.com/photos/statefarm
“Eat, Fry, Love” starring William Shatner for State Farm Insurance Company.
That was the first time in the company’s history that it refused to certify an entire class of consumer products. Around the same time, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) came out against turkey fryers, urging consumers not to use them due to the danger of fire.
These disparagements pulled the rug out from under the category. Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) data shows turkey fryer sales peaked in 2002 at 1.45 million units shipped. Just one year later, sales had plummeted to nearly half that amount and continued to decline for the next few years before stabilizing at just over 500,000 units shipped in 2010.
Although, according to State Farm Insurance Company, Thanksgiving Day still remains the number one day for at-home grease and cooking fires each year, the rates have been steadily improving thanks to consumer-education campaigns by UL, NFPA, HPBA and insurance companies such as State Farm, whose public service announcement “Eat, Fry, Love” starring William Shatner, has led to a greater awareness of turkey fryer safety.
In addition, manufacturers have incorporated product improvements, such as more stable bases and automatic propane shut-offs to enhance the safety of turkey fryers.
“Our products are safe, high-quality and have earned CSA certification,” says Norm Bourgeois, III of Metal Fusion, which makes King Kooker brand fryers. “We have taken steps to prevent consumer misuse.
“The buzz about turkey frying isn’t like it was, but sales are still there,” Bourgeois continues. “It is still the most delicious and fastest way to cook a turkey. If they are educated about it and follow instructions, consumers – and retailers – shouldn’t have a fear of frying.”
Bayou Classics, one of the original category leaders, no longer sells turkey fryer kits but still sells replacement burners and pots, according to sales manager Joey Emler.
|Rocket Roaster from Landmann USA.|
“We built our business on turkey fryers,” says Emler. “For 10 years they sold like crazy, and now the turkey fryer market is saturated. But people still love frying.” Today, the company’s number-one seller is a four-gallon deep-fryer designed to fry fish, hush puppies, French fries, and other smaller foods.
Besides traditional turkey fryers that use oil, there are a number of oil-free options available. The Orion Roaster and Rocket Roaster work by enclosing turkeys (or other foods) in a large roasting pot, while charcoal burns on the outside around the base and on the lid. The turkey cooks quickly and turns out moist and flavorful.
Char-Broil offers The Big Easy TRU Infrared Oil-Less Turkey Fryer, a propane-fueled cooker that uses infrared energy to cook as fast and crispy as a traditional turkey fryer, but with no messy oil to clean up. The company currently does not offer the product under its Saber brand targeted to specialty retailers.
Masterbuilt Manufacturing’s Butterball Oil-Free Electric Turkey Fryer also uses infrared energy to quickly cook a turkey up to 18 pounds without oil. It has a built-in wood chip box for adding smoke flavor if desired and a removable pan to catch drippings.
Today, most turkey cookers – whether they use oil or not – are sold mainly in mass merchants or from online sources. But with 15 percent of grill owners indicating they use their grill on Thanksgiving day, clearly there is a healthy level of consumer interest in cooking the turkey outdoors.
|Butterball Oil-Free Electric Turkey Roaster from Masterbuilt Manufacturing.|
To tap into this, specialty retailers can promote alternate methods for preparing the bird alfresco. Roasting or smoking a turkey in a kamado-style cooker, pellet grill or smoker produces flavorful results, as does using a rotisserie on a gas grill. Smaller turkeys can also be roasted “beer can-style” on a vertical roaster accessory.
Another unique option is the Turkey Cannon by Camp Chef. The patented infusion roaster works on the principle of a vertical or upright roaster, but instead suspends up to a 20-pound turkey parallel to the grilling grid on a stainless-steel cylinder. The cylinder can be filled with marinade, juice, wine or other liquid which steams while cooking, basting the interior cavity of the turkey. In addition to adding moisture and flavor, the accessory cuts cooking times in half, according to the company.
Fear of frying or not, specialty retailers have options to help their customers enjoy turkey cooked outdoors.
Note: HPBA offers tips for turkey fryer safety on its website. To learn more or to print copies to distribute to customers, visit www.hpba.org.