When I host Thanksgiving, it’s a whirlwind. I’ve got multiple dishes to prepare in a very short window of time; I want my house to look welcoming, festive, and clean; and at some point (usually about 45 minutes before my guests arrive) I frantically realize that I still need to take shower and make myself look at least somewhat presentable.
From there, I’ve got to juggle a series of cooking feats to get multiple dishes on the table, all while chatting with guests, digging out a tray for my aunt’s appetizers because she forgot to bring her own, and rummaging through the bathroom cabinet for my sobbing niece who just fell on the driveway and cut her knee.
And through it all, I need to make sure to keep a close eye on what I’m cooking. So simple!
In theory, keeping focused in the kitchen while cooking really is a simple, straightforward message. But with all the distractions of the holiday, it’s easy to see why there are more than three times as many home cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day as on a typical day of the year. In fact, the number of home cooking fires on Thanksgiving spikes by a whopping 238 percent.
These and a wealth of home cooking fire statistics are included in NFPA’s latest U.S. Home Cooking Fires report, which shows that cooking is the leading cause of home fires year-round, accounting for almost half of all US home fires (49 percent) and reported home fire injuries (45 percent). Cooking is the second-leading cause of home fire deaths, accounting for 22 percent of all fire deaths. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires.
All these statistics and risk factors beg the question: How can everyone ensure a festive, fire-safe Thanksgiving with the people we care about most?
First and foremost, plan ahead so that staying in the kitchen while you’re cooking is actually doable. Assign family members and guests to tasks like answering the door, fetching band aids, etc., so that you can do the following:
- Stay in the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop. Some types of cooking, especially those that involve frying or sautéing with oil, need continuous attention.
- Make use of timers to keep track of cooking times, particularly for foods that require longer cook times.
- Keep things that can catch fire like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers, and towels at least three feet away from the cooking area.
- Avoid long sleeves and hanging fabrics that could come in contact with a heat source.
- Always cook with a lid beside your pan. If you have a fire, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time. Never throw water or use a fire extinguisher on the fire.
- For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed. Only open the door once you’re confident the fire is completely out, standing to the side as you do. If you have any doubts or concerns, contact the fire department for assistance.
- When cooking a turkey, make sure to stay at home and check it regularly.
- Keep children at least three feet away from the stove. Kids should also stay away from hot foods and liquids, as steam or splash from these items could cause severe burns.
With all that in mind, here’s the tip I keep reminding myself as Thanksgiving Day fast approaches: I can only do what I can – and I need do it safely – so that I can ensure a festive holiday for my guests while focusing on what I’m truly thankful for, first and foremost my two boys, who after dealing with me prepare for the day, are surely grateful we’re not hosting any other holidays this season.