We may remember 2013 as the year that made American holiday history.
Is that because Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will overlap for the last time in 79,000 years?
Nope, although that’s certainly big. Actually, 2013 should go down in history as the year the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line finally added men to the staff of 50 women who spend weeks answering 100,000 calls about how to cook a turkey.
A Butterball survey earlier this year confirmed something that many of us already knew: One in four Thanksgiving turkeys is cooked by a man.
“Over 80 percent of men told us they helped in some way on Thanksgiving,” said Carol Miller, a supervisor for the Talk-Line, which debuted in 1981. “Now, some are bringing in the folding chairs, but some are doing all the cooking.
“It was time for us to embrace this.”
While Butterball’s survey didn’t look into the actual turkey-cooking methods, we have noticed over the years that men don’t always cook turkeys the same way women do.
Sure, some men cook them inside, in ovens. But many others seem to prefer doing it outside, in ways that involve the most amount of hardware: Grills, fryers, trash cans.
It’s in the can
“Pretty much everybody I’ve ever told has never heard of it.” John Hansen is a photographer for The News & Observer, and this will be the ninth year he’s cooked a trash-can turkey for Thanksgiving.
Hansen’s trash-can turkey started in 2004, when he shot the pictures for a story Andrea Weigl wrote on alternative turkey methods, including deep-frying.
The trash-can turkey involves putting a turkey on a wooden stake in the ground, covering it with a (very clean) metal trash can and putting hot coals on top and around the sides, turning the can into a giant Dutch oven.
“I was there when they unveiled it,” Hansen says. “It was just the most beautiful, appetizing turkey you’ve ever seen and the taste was phenomenal. I’ve done it every year since.”
He admits, though, the turkey itself wasn’t the draw. “The outdoors has always been a place I love to be,” he says. “Another part is, I just like to tinker with things.”
Like a junkyard junkie, Hansen found after a couple of years that just sticking a turkey on a stake and covering it with a trash can wasn’t enough of a thrill any more. He started making modifications.
He added a Bundt cake pan, sliding it over the stake before adding the turkey, to catch the turkey juices for gravy. (“The gravy is outstanding,” he says.) He added a 40-inch rod and fork from a rotisserie to hold the turkey in place.
He put the whole thing in an elevated fire pit and added a round grate underneath to hold it all. He drilled a hole in the can to run a long grilling thermometer into the turkey, to take out the guesswork on when it’s done.
Finally, he added a ball bearing at the top of the trash can, so the turkey can be turned.
“I try to add a little more every year. I think I’ve taken it about as far as I can.”
This year, he’s actually taking it farther: His daughter is in a master’s program at Tulane University in New Orleans. He going there for Thanksgiving, taking a simpler version of his trash-turkey rig.
Since Louisiana started the deep-fried turkey, we do wonder what will happen when New Orleans gets a load of Hansen. If a new turkey craze sweeps the nation, we’ll know where to look for Patient Zero.
Out of the fryer
Speaking of deep-fried turkey, we wouldn’t be doing a service to men if we didn’t consider the role it plays in the increase of men cooking turkeys.
Dennis Teague works for Renfrow’s Hardware in Matthews, and as a hardware guy, he spends every Thanksgiving doing the same thing: Standing with his brothers-in-law in the backyard, drinking beer and lowering a turkey into a big vat of hot oil.
What’s the attraction?
“I think it’s the danger aspect,” he admits. “You’re talking about a lot of hot oil, fire and a 15-pound, 16-pound turkey swinging from a hook.”
He does help inside the house, he says, where his wife stays to make the side dishes and desserts.
“She likes it when I help her in the kitchen. I make the cornbread dressing, because…uh, I made the mistake one time of saying, ‘I wish you could make it like my mom does.’” Now he makes it every year.
His cornbread dressing is a secret recipe and he refused to share. But his turkey is simple, he says. He makes it the way every man he knows makes it: He injects it with Cajun Injector Creole Butter, a popular marinade from Bass Pro Shop in Concord. Yes, for some men, turkey shopping involves a trip to Bass Pro Shop.
Other than that, the trick is to dry the turkey well so it doesn’t spatter, and to use a thermometer so the oil doesn’t get too hot.
“I did it one time and didn’t do a thing, just salt and pepper and just deep-fried it,” he says. “And it was still good.”
So if you get into trouble cooking your turkey next week, remember that no matter what kind of cook you are, male or female, novice or experienced cook, there is someone waiting to help you.
“The old myth that men don’t ask for directions?” says Carol Miller. “They do, because they’re calling us. They are asking for directions.”
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