Four years ago on Thanksgiving day, Neil Carr was sitting in his home watching a New Orleans Saints game.
At the halftime mark, the Kiwanis Club of New Orleans was invited to talk about its annual Thanksgiving event — a turkey fry.
As the fundraising chair for the Rotary Club of Columbia, Carr had been looking for a new event for the organization and decided to travel to New Orleans to learn more about the club’s large-scale poultry fry.
“They walked me through their entire operation,” Carr said. “They gave me a three-ring binder, which was basically a playbook. It had advertising, it had volunteer signup sheets, it had instructions on frying turkeys — it had everything. I brought it back to my club, showed them what we had, took a vote, and they said ‘let’s do it.’”
The Rotary Club of Columbia has been frying hundreds of turkeys on Thanksgiving since 2019.
In their largest fry yet, members of the Rotary Club of Columbia gathered at 3:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning to deep-fry over 350 turkeys at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
Of the turkeys fried this year, 107 will be donated to eight charitable organizations in Columbia: St. Francis House, Powerhouse Community Development Corporation, Voluntary Action Center, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Columbia Fire Department, Salvation Army Harbor House, Boys & Girls Club of Columbia and Welcome Home — A Community for Veterans.
The remaining turkeys were pre-sold at $50 a bird and available for pick up between 6:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.
The well oiled operation allows 39 birds to fry at a time in 13 barrels of oil. Placing three turkeys in each barrel, they let the birds cook for around 35 to 40 minutes before letting them cool and packaging them.
“We go ahead and take individual temperature checks for each turkey to make sure that it reaches the optimum temperature between 163 and 175 degrees,” said Marty Walker, head chef for the Rotary Club of Columbia. “Then we let them dry out here ... until they get to about 100 degrees temperature and then we go ahead and take them off of the hook and package them.”
The equipment for the fry was made entirely by members of the Rotary Club, around 95% of which was made from recycled items Walker noted.
“That cuts the cost for us and increases the turkey production for those that need a meal,” he said. “We don’t devote a lot of money to buy things, we devote a lot of money to cooking turkeys to get people fed.”
Walker is hoping at next year’s event, the Rotary Club will be able to fry over 400 turkeys.
“Each one of these turkeys will make somebody’s Thanksgiving, thankful,” he said. “We have a good meal for all those that need it, and that’s what this is about.”