Thanksgiving ’02 memory: I will start by saying that Thanksgiving was my favorite day…one of the few days of the year where the dysfunction was kept at bay. So I always looked forward to them.
In ’02, I happened to be deployed to a small, remote fire base. We would, however, be regularly resupplied via helicopter. On one of those resupply sorties, we got a few frozen turkeys. Funny thing was, we had absolutely no way of cooking those turkeys other than roasting over a campfire. Being an expert in turkey frying, I knew that we could make it work with the proper pot and some peanut oil. I figured that the nearest town could have some, as earlier that week I saw a pelican on a leash on the side of the road. Any town that has one of those must have everything, so peanut oil couldn’t be that hard to find.
So the plan was simple: All I had to do was build a brick bed in the center of the fire pit, start a bonfire early enough prior to cooking to ensure I had enough coals to heat the oil to the proper temperature, and find a way to hoist the pot on/off the coal bed. The pot had a sturdy metal handle, like a bucket, and I found a large iron pipe. I then ensured that the pipe was long enough so both guys would be nowhere near the flames when lifting/lowering the pot of oil. It all looked good. I even did some walkthroughs with some of the guys that said they’d help.
Now the cooking part was the trick. As I stated before, the turkeys were frozen. This was November…this was Afghanistan…thawing the thing fully was not going to happen. So this is pretty much a disaster waiting to happen. We have open flame (in the form of a big bonfire), we have hot oil and a large bird that is essentially a block of ice. I mitigated the entirety of the risk by clearing a path that led to an area devoid of anything flammable, completely away from the flames, where we could take the pot of oil and drop the turkey in, then let it flame up until all the water burned off. Then we would just carry the pot back to the pit if the oil got too cold.
All was going to plan and going well, and it was nearing time to begin the cooking. I took one last look at the thermometer and it was just as I wanted it…about 360 degrees. Knowing that I wanted it cooking at 350 degrees, and that it might take 10 minutes for the oil to stop splashing after we dropped the turkey…360 was good.
I told some of the guys that we were almost ready to start cooking. Just prior to this, one of the support guys came up and started poking at the bonfire. I told him to standby while I took a bathroom break and to coordinate some of the other people in the camp. Just as I was returning, I see this moron holding a 20-pound frozen turkey over a pot full of 360 degree oil in the middle of a bonfire.
I tried to tell him “NO,” but Mr. Derp-a-derp decides that when you don’t know what you are doing…just be decisive and do it. The peanut oil-fueled ball o’ flame probably went up 20′ and it took us about an hour before the flames died down enough to retrieve what was left of our boiling oil. Dude was a dumbass for that, but he did not ruin everything…just the turkey. We were able to find a few small pieces off that bird that were worth eating, so…small victories.
Written by John Nolan, former Delta Force operator.
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