Grilling plans run afoul as turkey burger takes flight

Guest Columnist

It’s time to talk turkey—turkey burger, that is.

I’m not a big grill guy. I do the basics. Merkley burgers, chicken breasts, Merkley smoked wieners. I love the pop and sizzle when the charcoaled heat bursts thru and splits a Merkley wiener’s casing. It’s my summer sonata.

And, yes, I grill turkey burgers.

Stop rolling your eyes. I know what you’re thinking, “A turkey burger is not a real burger.” I get it. It’s akin to admitting you like Hawaiian pizza. Which I do. Say Hawaiian pizza and people immediately zero in on the poor pineapple. Pineapples don’t belong on pizza, they say. “Au contraire,” I respond (French for something), which is the only non-English phrase I used while in Paris, positioning it as a universal phrase for just about anything. “Au contraire? (Excuse me, sir—where is the toilet?).” Followed a few minutes later by, “Au contraire? (Sorry to bother you again, but exactly how does one use a bidet?)”

Turkey hotdogs suffer the same stigma. I grilled them too, back when the kids lived with me. It seemed like a healthier food substance to put on a bun. I called them hotdogs, to fake them out, but my kids weren’t easily fooled and refused to bite into a turkey dog, as if the feathers were still attached.


Seven-Year-Old: “A turkey hotdog is not a real hotdog.”

Me: “Au contraire (smother them with ketchup and you can’t tell a difference).”

Three-Year-Old: “We’re reporting you to child and welfare services.”

Me: “C’mon. You EAT turkey on Thanksgiving.”

Seven-Year-Old: “Not in cylindrical form.”

Three-Year-Old: “Yea, dad. Cylindrical.”

Seven-Year-Old: “We want real hotdogs. I mean divorce was tough enough on us.”

Three-Year-Old: “When are you going to stop calling us Seven-Year-Old and Three-Year-Old and give us real names?”

Me: “Eat your turkey cylinder.”


My neighbors aren’t too excited about my turkey burgers. As is custom, when someone is grilling, a neighbor is supposed to holler across the yard, “Smells good. What are you making?” Then, the griller will answer steaks or porkchops or hamburgers. Then, the other person will say, “Great. What time should I come over?” Then, both laugh heartily at this self-invitation to someone else’s supper, both knowing no one in our neighborhood shares what they grill. The turkey burger changes this whole dialogue, though. “Smells good. What are you grilling?” I’m asked. “Turkey burgers,” I say. The neighbor says nothing, eyes me sadly as if I’ve just told him about my mom’s colon cancer, and then he goes inside.

I don’t mean to brag, but my turkey burgers are delicious. I brush olive oil on both sides of the patty before placing it on the charcoal grill. I sprinkle cracked pepper and squirt Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce on them, at the start and after the halfway-mark flip-over. I melt Wisconsin Smoked Cheddar Cheese on them. I smear Crofter’s Organic Seedless Blackberry Premium Spread on the bottom bun. I add lettuce, tomato and avocado. Delicious. I’m fantasize how if Jimmy Buffett dropped by and tried one, he’d write a song called “Turkey Burger in Paradise.”

The other day, I accidentally lost a turkey burger.

I had two on the grill. Both for me. At the onset of mid-life, I became a two-portion guy (it’s my right as an American), as if I had shape shifted into a species that must nutritionally plan for imminent hibernation.

Apparently, the hibernation prep work has caught up with me.

I know this because a very slender Chinese friend who visits the U.S. on occasion typically looks me up and down and states that I obviously take good care of myself. I always looked forward to her annual reaffirmation. But earlier this year, she saw me and said unapologetically, “It looks like you’re eating more. You must be happy with your fiancé.” Since her last visit, I married. I dread what she will say next visit: “You must be really, really happy.” It’s official: insults are now made in China just like everything else.

Five minutes into grilling, I flipped the turkey burgers with a spatula. The first burger was a flipping success. But the second burger slid from the spatula before a full flip could be performed and dropped vertically through the grate, coming to rest into the ash below. Though it seemed like this occurred in slow motion, I couldn’t react fast enough to save it. And though my friend Terry Severson, who battles wildfires throughout our country on behalf of the U.S. Forest Service, is wont to say, from his hellish experiences, “A little ash never hurt anyone,” I wasn’t going to pluck the patty from the embers. Besides, five seconds had already passed. Rules are rules.

I felt my stomach try to swallow itself and shudder, as if issuing its final breath. I am conditioned for that second helping. A primal chant filled my head: winter’s coming, winter’s coming, winter’s coming. My inner Call of the Wild was released, filling the neighborhood with words unfit for print in a family newspaper. Au contraire! Au contraire! Au contraire! Pardon my French.

Apparently, even my grill was trying to tell me I might want to consider reducing my meal portions—yes, the grill was made in China. I stared at the lone Turkey Burger in Paradise on my plate, then I gobbled.

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