More men tackling turkey at Thanksgiving

Sharon Ellman / Today
More men are taking on the turkey this year, and deep-frying is one method that tends to be their domain. Here, Joey Tidwell of San Marcos, Texas, checks on the status of his fried turkey outside of Cowboys Stadium before an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins in this Nov. 24, 2011 file photo.

Brining, deep-frying, slow cooking: This Thanksgiving, a growing number of men will be doing more than gobbling turkey — they’ll be cooking it, and they’re not afraid to experiment.

And if the results skew more mad-scientist than Martha Stewart, the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line will be there to help them. In a nod to the Thanksgiving kitchen’s shifting demographics, Butterball is adding male staffers for the first time in the 32 years it has run the annual helpline, which started taking calls Nov. 1. (It also launched a search for a male spokesperson.)

“Men are cooking more and more — 84 percent are involved in the meal and 42 percent are involved with the actual turkey,” said Talk-Line director Mary Clingman, who said about 25 percent of calls fielded by the helpline’s more than 50 staffers come from men.

An increase in sharing cooking responsibilities within families and a trend toward culinary experimentation, along with the logistics of getting a bevy of side dishes cooked, has prompted more families to boot the bird out of the oven and into grills or deep-fryers, which are traditionally male-dominated cooking methods.

Char-Broil, which introduced an oil-less turkey “fryer” six years ago (it uses infrared heat, instead), opened up its own Thanksgiving helpline three years ago. “We field thousands of calls each year and overwhelmingly, the callers are male,” a company spokesperson said via email.

“A lot of guys will roast or grill the Thanksgiving turkey,” said Mike Kempster, chief marketing officer of Weber-Stephen Products. Between 18 percent and 20 percent of American families cook their turkeys on a grill, Kempster said. Year-round, about two-thirds of grilling is done by men, and callers to Weber’s customer-service line around Thanksgiving are “predominantly” men, he said.

“When we hear this in focus groups, guys say, ‘Well, it's kind of a way to give back to my family or take some of the workload off my spouse at Thanksgiving,’” Kempster said.

Richard Rhoads is planning to give the turkey a try for the first time this year.

“For the last 66 years, everyone's been cooking for me for Thanksgiving,” said the church organist and music director in North Carolina. This year, Rhoads is turning to a favorite kitchen appliance — his slow cooker — to make a turkey breast for a small group of friends.

“I didn’t even know if you could do turkey that way, but sure enough, you can,” he said. “And I don’t have to be busy in the kitchen or anything like that.” Rhoads said he did a dry run to make sure the recipe he found online would come out well.

David Obelcz, a marketing manager in Washington state, has been cooking the Thanksgiving turkey for his family since he was in his 20s.  

“If you look at what’s going on in our society, traditional gender boundaries are becoming really blurry,” said Obelcz, 45. “I think this is just a logical evolution of what’s going on in our society.”

Over the nearly two decades he’s cooked at Thanksgiving, Obelcz said he’s experimented with regional flavors from where he was living at the time, adding chipotle peppers to a sweet potato dish when he lived in Texas and making a strawberry champagne sauce when he moved to the Pacific Northwest.

Thanksgiving might be the most traditional meal of the year, but we crave novelty so much we can’t help but tweak it, said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group.

“We’re looking for gadgets, looking for new ways to do things,” he said.

For Carlos Faxas, that means a meat thermometer that links to his iPhone so he can keep an eye on his turkey without having to be in the kitchen. The 31-year-old e-commerce manager for United Airlines in Illinois brines and roasts his family’s Thanksgiving turkey, and one year he experimented with deep-frying. 

“I think it’s more socially acceptable now and it’s sort of impressive,” he said of men tackling the turkey.

Faxas has been cooking his family’s Thanksgiving turkey every year since he was in high school and a magazine article about brining caught his attention.

“I somehow convinced my parents to let me take over this,” he said. “It came out amazing.”

But Faxas soon discovered what generations of Thanksgiving cooks have found when they step up to the oven, grill or fryer. “By default, every year I was responsible.”