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November 24, 2013

Turkeys: The evolution of holiday feast

Updated cooking methods offer new dynamic for season

TERRE HAUTE — It was in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday in America.

Now, 150 years later, turkey has become the American standard for the November holiday feast. The ways to prepare a turkey, however, have evolved from simply roasting over a fire, to baking in the oven, to the popular deep-fried method that involves an outdoor cooker and a tank of propane.

Stacey Faith, health and human sciences educator of the Purdue Extension in Vigo County, said many websites offer tips on preparing turkey along with side dishes. Preparation for the big meal can begin a couple of weeks in advance with purchasing of supplies, planning of table settings and arrangements, and coordination of food contributed by guests.

Both www.Butterball.com and www.EatTurkey.com offer information that even first-time turkey basters can understand, she said, and the Butterball website has people on duty round-the-clock to answer questions and solve meal-prep problems.

Inviting inexperienced cooks to participate in the meal preparation is a good opportunity to prepare the chefs of the future. They will gain valuable experience and skills, and, it is hoped, have good memories of the occasion.

Deep-fried turkey originated in the southern United States, but the style is popular today throughout North America, according to the National Turkey Federation website.

As expected of the quick cooking method, deep-fried turkey has a golden brown crispy exterior with moist, fork-tender meat on the inside.

“It’s super juicy on the inside. It’s like candy, and it melts in your mouth,” said Lisa Gearld, department manager of sporting goods at Rural King, where turkey cookers were on sale this past weekend.

While sales of the outdoor-use units really pick up around the Thanksgiving holiday, Gearld said the cookers have become popular year-round, especially with men.

“Guys want them. They want women to buy them as presents so the guys can use them. It’s another way for men to cook besides using the grill,” she said. “You can give them a job at Thanksgiving when you are stuck with all the fixings to make, and this gives them something to do to keep them out of the kitchen.”

The cookers have a variety of cooking uses besides deep-frying turkeys. They can be used as steamers, or to boil items such as corn on the cob, potatoes, shrimp and fish.

Gearld said she makes shish kabobs in her cooker by placing ribs on a skewer and putting them in the deep fryer’s basket.

Depending on the size of the turkey, it can take an hour to fully cook the turkey in the cooking oil.

Sue Verdeyen of Terre Haute said her husband, Bill, has been making the Thanksgiving turkey for the past 10 years using the deep fry method.

“We use peanut oil, and you have to get it to 350 degrees,” she said. “Just be sure that the bird is dry when you put it in slowly or it will splatter the oil.”

The turkey meat is not greasy, she said, because the skin of the bird protects the interior.

“We started deep frying it because one year I baked a turkey and put a couple turkey breasts in the cooker, and they were done way before the turkey in the oven,” Verdeyen said. “So I said, ‘I’m not doing this again.’”

Thanksgiving meal preparation has become a lot more relaxed for her, she said, and everyone enjoys the moist turkey meat.

Several area retailers have been advertising fryers, smokers, cookers and the seasonings, rubs and injector marinades that go with the non-oven-centered cooking methods.

Rural King’s Gearld encourages people to go by the directions that come with the cookers to make sure everyone stays safe. Burns from the hot oil can happen, and fires have been known to start.

She said the cooking oil is also a popular seller. She recently sold an entire pallet of cooking oil and had two more pallets placed on the store floor on Friday.

Gearld said her family and many of her friends use their fryers year-round, for holiday get-togethers and even on camping trips because the large pot can be removed and the cooking unit can heat up other pots for chili, soups or even cooking morel mushrooms.

The National Turkey Federation reports that more than 248 million turkeys were raised in 2011, and more than 219 million were consumed in the United States, with an estimated 46 million eaten at Thanksgiving, 22 million at Christmas and 19 million at Easter.

With the average weight of turkeys purchased for Thanksgiving at 16 pounds, that means that about 736 million pounds of turkey was consumed in the United States during Thanksgiving in 2011.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com.

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