Turkey Leadership may be the most important document you read this year. It may save your home and your life.
The following story is the one I wrote a few years ago for fun after frying my first turkeys. I hope you enjoy this tongue-in-cheek review of
Have a safe holiday!
We have a lot to be thankful for! . . . Lee
The following letter is from a friend of mine at Disneyland® Paris who was aware that I was deep- frying my turkeys this year for the first time.
Following her letter is my letter back to her! . . . Lee
Well, I’m longing to find out how the holiday cooking turned out. Is this going to be a tradition? It seems that this was all the rage this year.
An editorial from The Washington Post indicated that “Turkey frying, which seems to be done mostly by men, reflects features of the national character
for which the nation can be thankful: inventiveness, imagination, a desire for excellence in all things, and an unconquerable individuality. Unfortunately, it’s also a procedure that requires a very un-American degree of preparation, attention to detail, and patience . . .” Since you are 110 percent American, you are certainly an exception to this
I had a good four-day break but didn’t risk indulging in the leftovers in the middle of the night; but I did like the little story that you sent to me about the urge to get up and eat leftovers in the middle of the night on Thanksgiving night.
My friend returned to New York today, so my sightseeing and hosting duties are over . . . you surely know how that is. Now it’s a straight line to
Frying Turkeys Takes Patience and
Attention to Detail . . . Like Most Things in Life That You Want to Have a Good Ending!
Good Afternoon, Nora:
I am an expert in turkey cooking now. Wednesday night I was not, and Thursday at 5 p.m. I was! That is what experience does for people. I practiced many of the leadership lessons I have learned over the last few years to have a perfect outcome.
I first sent an e-mail to every Chef I knew and others to see what their advice was on frying turkeys. I then went on the Internet and read everything I could find out about frying turkeys.
I bought the Turkey Frying Unit at Target® for $49. I refilled my butane tank at Home Depot® for $17. I bought two fresh turkeys at Fresh Market, which were 12 pounds each (the recommended weight is 10 to12 pounds). Bigger ones get too brown on the outside before they are done on the inside. I bought four gallons of peanut oil at COSTCO® for $20. I bought an injector from Williams Sonoma. I already owned asbestos cooking gloves and a denim apron.
The original investment on a per-pound basis was high, but now I have all of the equipment for the next 32 Thanksgivings that I have a chance to celebrate if I continue to be healthy by going to the gym . . . watching my diet . . . and getting that annual checkup . . . plus not talking on a cell phone while I am driving . . . or trying to use my wireless BlackBerry™. As usual, the original capital investment is high, but the return over 32 years is really good.
On Thanksgiving morning, I washed the turkeys, dried them really dry with paper towels, and injected them with unsalted butter, chicken stock, fresh herbs, kosher salt, and some pepper. I took them out of the refrigerator about three hours before cooking and brought them down to room temperature per your instructions. No worry about any bacteria issues. The 400-degree oil takes care of that.
Early on Thanksgiving morning, I put a three-foot ring of sand on the driveway and set up the frying unit the recommended ten feet from the house on top of the sand to catch the oil splats.
I placed my all-purpose fire extinguisher and fire blanket near by. I filled the frying pot with water and did a displacement test using one of the actual turkeys. This test showed the right level of oil to add. I then did a test lighting of the burner, and it was 100 percent successful. I then poured out the water and filled the pot with the peanut oil to the correct level to cover the turkeys during frying. It is now 10 a.m. Thanksgiving morning.
The tension in the air was as thick as an afternoon San Francisco fog as my entire family was giving me advice on what to do and not do. I maintained my composure and did not react to their continued nagging and safety precautions. After all, I have done hours of research on this subject and have taken every precaution for this first attempt.
I continued to monitor ABC and CNN for the final tips on “How to Fry a Turkey” and on how not to burn the house down or to suffer any degree of burns to my body.
At this point, everything was ready for a 3 p.m. launch. All systems were go!!!
At 2 p.m. I took a shower and prepared to suit up. I did not add the usual French mousse to my hair as it has the potential to ignite during the frying. I put nothing on my body that comes in an aerosol can. I went to my closet and got out the oldest, most ragged pair of jeans I own and should have thrown away years ago. I put on my asbestos undershorts, my jeans, a pair of thick white socks, a long-sleeved shirt, and a pair of old shoes that can handle oil splats . . . I am ready!! We begin a 30-minute countdown until ignition. I will light the burner at 3 p.m. sharp.
From 2:30 p.m. until 3:25 p.m., I continue to get way too much advice from Priscilla, her sister Cherry, and Cherry’s husband, Bob. Their daughter Kate was very respectful and gave me her full support.
I finally had to insist that we were nearing the launch window and that I must concentrate for safety reasons, and they should all go in the house and work on the green beans, yams, heavenly hash, and whatever else they had to do. They reluctantly agreed and departed.
Priscilla looked back with a concerned but loving smile. You would have thought that she never expected to see me again. Bob, who is a National Park Ranger, a trained firefighter, and a law enforcement officer, wanted to help; but I knew that I had to do this alone. I just could not take a chance with his life. His daughter Kate still has to go to college. Maybe after she leaves home and graduates, I will let him assist me with future Thanksgiving frying.
A few minutes later, Priscilla yells out from the kitchen to me; but I could not hear exactly what she said so I went in to see what the problem was. I could not stay long because the launch window was about to open.
She told me that ABC and CNN were both reporting that a third house had burned down during a turkey-frying attempt. One was in California, one was in Maine, and one was in Oklahoma. They reported that this seems to be just a series of accidents and nothing to do with terrorism. The only peculiar thing was that “men” were the ones who were present when the fires broke out.
The Oklahoma fire really surprised me because they fry everything there. Then I remembered that a lot of homes did burn down around dinnertime when I was growing up there. This news added to the stress I was already feeling, but I shrugged it off. I knew that I was a professional, and I was ready. There was no turning back now!
With everyone watching, I confidently arranged the first turkey on the cooking spit that holds it upright in the pot. I took one more glance at the television and saw the Oklahoma home crumble to the ground. Apparently, everyone got out without harm, including the turkey, which by then was ready to eat. The yams, dressing, and cranberry sauce did not make it. The Jello® salad never even had a chance.
I moved toward the garage door to go outside to the driveway launch pad to insert Turkey No. 1 into the 400-degree oil. I looked back, and there is the entire family again. This time, though, they said nothing. They just watched in silence. They had gotten my message and were cooperating. The pressure on me was intense. I was excited about lift-off but a little nervous at the same time since I did not do a test turkey earlier in the week. I now regretted that decision, but it was too late. Our Guests would be arriving in 90 minutes. It was go or no go at this moment. We are at 30 seconds and counting.
I kept thinking that this could be the best Thanksgiving ever, or it could be the first vegetarian Thanksgiving ever in the 381-year history of our family since that first Thanksgiving in 1621. I must admit that it is exhilarating to be in the spotlight and a little sickening at the same time. This could be a new tradition in the making for the Cockerell family or a story that would be enhanced over the years with me being the brunt of many jokes to come. I tried to get these thoughts out of my mind and focus on the mission. I just could not stand the thought of my grandchildren, Jullian Charles, Margot Sunshine, and Tristan Lee, ever hearing that I had failed on such an important American holiday. No one in the history of our family had not come through with a turkey on Thanksgiving Day.
I knew also that some day the turkey-frying equipment would be left to my son, Daniel, and his wife, Valerie; and I wanted them to be proud to own it and to have fond memories of that first fried turkey. I had updated my will a few days before, not knowing for sure what might happen on Thanksgiving Day.
I also knew that I had used every leadership competency that I knew to prepare for this moment. I had the right organizational structure in place. I had the right talent to do it—me. I had involved others to get a lot of advice and technical information. I had the proper resources and equipment. I had followed directions and procedures properly and double-checked them along the way. I had redundant safety systems in place. There was really nothing else I could do. I had prepared for this moment since late October when we made the fateful decision to fry for the first time.
The future was now in God’s hands. I had done everything that I could humanly do to ensure a successful launch.
Earlier at 3 p.m., I had fired up the oil. It took 30 minutes to get to 400 degrees. I slowly lowered the first turkey into the oil, and slowly is the important thing here. The turkey reacted in a fit of bubbling and hissing, and the oil started to rise with the intention of bubbling over, which is the worst thing that can happen. When oil meets a flame, the outcome is usually a disaster like the owners of those homes in California, Maine, and Oklahoma had already learned earlier in the day. I pulled back on the turkey, and the oil immediately settled down. That was a close call, I thought!
The team at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort had given me this important piece of information. They simply said that it may take several attempts for the turkey and the oil to accept each other. Like any new relationship, this turned out to be true . . . and patience did turn out to be a virtue, as it always is.
I lowered it again with the same reaction, so I pulled back again; but I had gotten further the second time than the first attempt, so I was encouraged—even though my heart was racing faster than it does when I am on the Stair Master® working out.
I lowered and raised the turkey time after time; and on the eighth attempt, we were at full lift-off. It was now 3:35 p.m. I could no longer see Turkey No. 1. I placed the lid on the pot and placed the 18-inch thermometer through the small hole in the lid to consistently monitor the oil temperature, adjusting the butane flow up and down to keep the oil at a steady 340 degrees. At one point, I had to go to full throttle for a few seconds; and then I pulled it back a bit. That test firing earlier in the day was paying off.
During the next 38 tense minutes, all I could do was to wait and watch. The instructions said to cook the turkey for 3½ minutes per pound, which would have been 42 minutes. I had done the calculations and checked them several times: in at 3:35 p.m. and out at 4:17 p.m. was the plan. I made a judgment call at 38 minutes to pull out, and that turned out to be the perfect decision. Turkey No. 1 was golden brown; and when it was sliced later, it was perfectly moist! It was still moist and delicious the next day, unlike roasted turkeys which look like and taste like cardboard the following day—and sometimes as early as later on Thanksgiving night.
I later recalled that as Turkey No. 1 came up out of the oil there was a round of cheers from my entire family. Everyone was doing high fives. The sound was deafening . . . like it is when Oklahoma beats Texas in their annual game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
I could see on their faces that they were a little sorry that they had given me so much feedback earlier in the day. I actually overheard Priscilla say to Bob and Cherry how proud she was of me and how relieved she was that I had survived this first try without any injuries.
The local hospitals had, in fact, staffed up between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. expecting to receive many men who had been frying turkeys, just as they do on Saturday mornings when men get out their chain saws.
I then repeated the same procedure with Turkey No. 2, and it turned out perfect too. Turkey No. 2 was a lot easier and much less stressful, and it actually seemed to slide right into the oil without any fuss. I did not have to do several pullbacks like I did with the first turkey. Maybe it was my just being very careful on the first try. Maybe the bubbling and hissing was all in my mind.
Experience does have a way of calming you and making doing something the second time much less stressful and simpler. No one was even there to cheer as No. 2 emerged from the oil.
It is recommended that no children or pets be anywhere in the area during these procedures, including hours later as the oil continues to cool down.
We had a great Thanksgiving this year, and I was the center of attention. Everyone was in awe of me for what I had done. Most people had heard about this, but none had ever had the courage to do it for two reasons: First, it sounds like a bad idea to fry a turkey. Second, messing with tradition is always risky . . . but most of all, you really have to spend a lot of time preparing—not only yourself but also those around you—for big change; and I know that my time-management skills and leadership studies were really a big part of preparing me for this moment.
I slept really well that night. Just before I went to sleep I checked my e-mail, and there were numerous messages congratulating me. Just before I feel asleep, Priscilla gave me a kiss and quietly said, “I was so proud of you today.”
That night I dreamed of being on every talk show on Friday morning, reliving this experience for the American people. I dreamed that with my encouragement every American could have the chance sometime to experience a deep-fried turkey, which is every citizen’s God-given right. I dreamed that this right was originally intended to be in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution but somehow was left out (this was the nightmare part of the dream). Every American, I believe, has the right to bear a turkey fryer and to keep one in his or her home.
In my dream, the American Turkey Fryer Association continually fights for this right and has one of the largest lobbies on Capitol Hill. It has given not only a premium turkey fryer to every U.S. congressman and to every senator, but it also has guaranteed them a lifetime supply of butane. The dream went on to show The American Turkey Growers Association joining forces with the American Turkey Fryers Association to give each legislator two, twelve-pound turkeys a year.
I suddenly awakened from this dream early on Friday morning and went out to the driveway where I had left everything in place from the day before. I got some cheesecloth from the pantry and filtered the oil, which was easy because all the turkey residue had sunk to the bottom of the pot. I put the filtered oil back into the original containers and stored them for the next launch, which could be soon.
I washed up everything and put all of the equipment away, swept the sand into the bushes and then went into the house. Everyone was still sleeping, so I just went ahead and had a piece of pumpkin pie for breakfast . . . and later that day, I had the best turkey sandwich I had ever had in my entire life.
I turned on ABC and CNN to see if there was any news about price fixing on turkeys this year, or if any congressman had decided to return the turkey fryers for fear of negative press from the Association of Vegetarians, who control a huge vote in this country.
I knew it really had been a dream when all I saw on the news was the report of several more homes burning to the ground. Happy Holidays for 2002! . . . Lee
PS: I think we will just roast a little tenderloin for Christmas dinner this year!
Sounds bad…but turns our good!
“Let’s Talk Turkey!”
Just as the original idea of frying a turkey after roasting one in our home for 37 years seemed like a bad idea at first . . . so might other changes that are implemented in your areas.
I know one thing for sure, and that is that many things are hard before they are easy. Getting used to new ways of doing things is always a little frustrating for a few reasons:
- The first reason is that we don’t know how to do it.
- The second reason is that it takes time, attention to detail, and just plain old hard work.
At first there are people who are the naysayers. You have to ignore their negative attitude and work on educating them so that they can be part of the solution—instead of part of the problem.
As the old saying goes, “Bad attitude, bad results. Good attitude, good results.” This saying is 99 percent accurate in most cases.
Most people want to do the right thing, but sometimes they are wired to be in the negative zone. It is our responsibility to prepare ourselves and our team for any important project, thus ensuring that it goes right.
I hope all of you will remember the lessons of Turkey Leadership when we have to make any changes related to our culture, our processes, and our business practices.
Don’t be a turkey when these opportunities present themselves. Be a Leader who figures out how not only to get the project done, but also one who gets everyone on board as a team. I wrote this back in 2002. Seven years have passed now. Today I am retired, but my personal responsibility to be a good leader has not changed. This year we have 13 guests for Thanksgiving dinner which is set for 4 pm on Thursday November 6, 2009. Priscilla and I had a tough year with her serious illness and my bout with depression over her illness. We are both 100% fine now and have more to be thankful for than anyone I know. I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Life is short and fragil….enjoy every minute that you can…..Happy Thanksgiving……Lee
Lee, you know you can eat Thanksgiving meal at Perkins for about 12 bucks a person? I hope you at least reclaimed the oil for biodiesel. Hope you and yours have a good holiday. Jim
Great article Lee. Change management is a tough thing, especially if you are working with turkeys.
My cousin placed the Turkey fryer on the deck of his home along the back of the house (much to the dismay of his wife!!). He made a perfect turkey. Took the turkey inside for the feast. His wife kept “nagging at him”
is the oil turned off?? Will that hot oil be OK so close to the house?
The family was just finsihing dinner when a neighbor came rushing over to tell the family that the back of the house was fully engulfed in flames from the turkey fryer.
The entire home burned to the ground. It made the front page news. No one was hurt.
Sometimes there are steps that we must follow to do things right …we may not always want to follow these steps but these steps make life easier in the end.
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