Today, they are made from either aluminium or stainless steel, although in the past were commonly made from cast iron. A basket is placed inside the pan, to lower the chips into the hot cooking oil, and to raise them once cooked.
Chip pans are well known for being a fire hazard. In the UK, chip pan fires are the largest cause of fire-related injuries in the home, such that several local fire brigades have offered a "chip pan amnesty", trading old chip pans for a deep fryer.
By comparison, electric deep fryers feature circuitry and design features (such as thermostat-controlled internal heating elements) that prevent the oil from being heated to the point of ignition. Boil-overs and splattering can still occur for the usual reasons, but the fire danger is largely eliminated.
Chip pans are the most common cause of house fires in the United Kingdom, with around 12,000 chip pan fires every year, 1,100 of them considered serious. These fires result in over 4,600 injuries, and 50 deaths per year. British Fire Brigades frequently issue warnings and advice, urging households to switch to a safer means of cooking chips, and advising that unless the fire is easily contained to leave the fire to the emergency services.
Cooking oil fires (Europe class F, US class K) burn hotter than other typical combustible liquids, rendering the standard class B extinguisher ineffective. Class F fire extinguishers use saponification to put out chip pan fires by spraying an alkaline solution which reacts with the fat to make a non-flammable soap. However, these extinguishers are generally only available in industrial and commercial kitchens.
The dangers of oil or fat fires (generally flammable substances less dense than water) are well known in industrial processes. Attempts to extinguish oil fires with water result in a boilover: an extremely hazardous condition whereby the flaming oil is violently expelled from the container. These fires result from either heating the oil to its autoignition point or by oil splattering onto the heat source.
Water is denser than oil, so it sinks to the bottom of the chip pan (shown in red). As the water touches the bottom, it is heated above its boiling point and instantly vaporizes, expanding 1,700 times in volume.
- "Chip pan fires". Surrey-fire.gov.uk. 2009-06-19. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- Craft and design in wood - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- Toxicology of the human environment ... - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- C . Liao. Landmarks in burn prevention. Burns, Volume 26, Issue 5, Pages 422 - 434
- IS Whitaker, DW Oliver. A 5-year retrospective study: burn injuries due to hot cooking oil. Burns, 2002
- "Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service: Chip pans". Cambsfire.gov.uk. Retrieved 2009-07-03.
- "Hand In Your Pan: Chip Pan Amnesty!". Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service. 9 Feb 2007. Archived from the original on May 5, 2008. Retrieved 11 March 2011.
- UK Fire Service advice on chip pan fires
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- Online copy of an Oxfordshire council safety flyer (PDF document)
- Photo story of a chip pan fire
- BBC News - A woman pulled from a chip pan fire thanks her rescuers
- North Yorkshire Fire Service - demonstration of a chip pan fire