The basics: Charlie Bakker, 59, owns a dairy west of Visalia.
What he does: For Thanksgiving and Christmas, he cooks dozens of turkeys for Visalia Rescue Mission.
Why he does it: “I just saw the need for this,” Bakker said. “I can’t imagine trying to farm out all these turkeys.”
The turning point: In 2003, his son Kevin was helping out at Visalia Rescue Mission and needed volunteers to cook turkeys for Thanksgiving dinner. He asked his father to help him cook turkeys at the family ranch. That year, he and his father cooked 25 turkeys. The rescue mission was so impressed with the results that the management asked Bakker to cook all their turkeys from then on. This Thanksgiving, Bakker cooked 65 large turkeys.
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Details, details: Bakker cooks turkeys the deep-pit barbecue way. At his ranch, there is a hole in the ground about five feet deep. He burns wood for about 10 hours to heat the earth and make a proper bed of coals.
Bakker wraps the turkeys in foil and places them into the pit, then covers it with a metal lid and sand to create a seal. “I keep them in there about eight hours,” he said.
Last year, he made a large metal tray to hold the turkeys and used a forklift to get the tray in and out of the pit. But that’s just the technique. The fun part is delivering them after they are cooked.
“It’s really neat going down there with a bunch of smoking turkeys in the back of my truck,” he said. “They just pull the bones out. It’s so easy for them.”
What others say: “This guy has faithfully deep-pitted 100 turkeys for us every year for our Thanksgiving and Christmas meals and then he just disappears into the night like Batman,” said Ryan Stillwater, Visalia Rescue Mission’s director of development.