Greenberg fulfills Smoked Turkey Wishes for All
BY CHRISTINE GARDNERfood@tylerpaper.com
Santa Claus lives in the hearts and minds of children around the world. In Italy he is called Babbo Natale, in France Pere Noel and in other places Father Christmas, Kris Kringle and St. Nicholas. They write letters to the North Pole asking for presents and hoping for a special delivery.
In Tyler, the same can be said for more than 200,000 grown-ups who faithfully email, write or call Sam Greenberg and his staff of faithful elves requesting a Greenberg Smoked Turkey. Anxiously they await its arrival sometime between Nov. 15 and Christmas Eve.
Just walking through one of the freezer facilities where the turkeys wait to be shipped is reminiscent of the North Pole. Thousands of red and white boxes are stacked floor to ceiling in an icy cave of a warehouse -- each one proudly stamped with the trademark 'Holiday Aristocrat' turkey logo created by Greenberg's father.
This operation -- just like that of the North Pole -- is a well-oiled machine that produces and ships more than 200,000 smoked turkeys annually and fulfills the wishes of each person who is waiting to bite into the smoky, seasoned meat of a Greenberg turkey.
It's an impressive process that after almost 75 years is still done by hand, from start to finish, by a group of 200 skilled, seasonal workers. Many have been coming back for years and proudly take their place in the smoked turkey production line.
Bertha de la Piedra has worked at Greenberg since 1981.
"This lady here on the end tying the legs has been here for more than 25 years. Other ladies here in the room -- 18 to 20 years," Greenberg said. "She started out working here at night while holding another job during the day. She would take the turkeys out of the package to thaw, or clean the offices. She's held many roles."
This year, she is the turkey trusser, tying the legs of each turkey that comes through the line before it is hung in one of Greenberg's 20 smokehouses.
The Greenberg Turkey tradition is a family business that began in the 1930's when Sam Greenberg's grandfather, Samuel Isaac Greenberg, first started smoking the turkeys and shipping them on trains to Dallas.
The business has been passed down from father to son and now grandson, but includes several key people considered part of the Greenberg family because of the loyalty and camaraderie that comes from working together moreso many years.
Tracy Lisner, general manager of the Greenberg operation, has been part of the company since 1977 when Sam Greenberg's father hired him as the company's first full-time employee.
Until then all of the employees were seasonal workers that had been welcomed back year after year from mid-September until December 24.
"Tracy was working for Continental bakery and was about to be transferred and mentioned to my Dad if he ever considered hiring somebody full time he would be interested. It was 1977 and we didn't have anyone full-time on the payroll," Greenberg said. "I was a senior in high school and he wasn't sure what I was going to do, so he decided to try it out for a year. He's still here and I can't imagine a single day without him. He's that good."
Although Greenberg is in production all year to fill retail orders with FRESH by Brookshire's and Central Market, the majority of the work is done during the holidays and 50 percent of the year's orders will come in between December 1 and Christmas Eve.
I will go from 14 full-time employees to around 200 seasonal employees this time of year," Greenberg said. "At holiday time, with all of the hustle and bustle and everyone in a festive mood, you get addicted to this," Greenberg said.
Greenberg never planned to take over the family business but started coming there with his dad and grandfather at an early age.
"I was about nine or ten years old and climbing around on the stacks of unmade boxes in the back. One of the ladies told me to get down because I was going to get hurt. She went and told my dad and he got really mad at me," Greenberg said laughing. "I turned to the lady and said, 'one of these days I am going to fire you.' She retired from here about four or five years ago."
It was not my plan, and my parents didn't expect me to do it, but I knew early on," Greenberg said. "I didn't have to do this, but I never knew to do anything else. I just wanted to go and smoke turkeys."
If he had to choose, Greenberg likes the fire room the best.
"This is like the candy store," Greenberg said. "Building the fires all day - it's great."
Each of the 200,000 turkeys that travel through the Greenberg facility goes on a four day journey from receiving to shipping.
All of the turkeys come in boxed and frozen from a Minnesota turkey farmer co-op. They are brought into one of the five freezer facilities that are located nearby Greenberg's main facility on McMurray drive in north Tyler.
During high production, approximately 2500 to 3000 turkeys per day are brought to the McMurray location where they are unboxed, removed from their packaging and placed in large vats with constant running water.
They thaw over night and then go through trimming and cleaning.
"This is where what we do differs from what everyone else does," Greenberg said. "Each turkey is cleaned by hand, individually, just like you would at home."
The trimming room is made up of a team of what Greenberg calls wing cutters, fat pullers, jabbers and picklers.
First, the wings are removed. During smoking, the turkeys shrink to half their original weight. The wings contain very little meat and shrivel when smoked.
"It would be extra weight you would pay for that you can't eat," Greenberg said.
After removing the wings, extra neck skin is cut off, fat under the skin is removed and pin feathers pulled out. Then the turkey is moved down the line to a group of men who cut slits where the spices will be placed. The slits are made by hand with a knife.
"I am very particular where the slits are and how the spices are applied," Greenberg said.
A group of women then apply the spices.
"They do it all by feel," Greenberg said. "After you do it awhile you know how much to put on."
At the end of the line the legs are tied and the turkeys are loaded back into large vats.
"These turkeys will go into the smokehouse tomorrow morning," Greenberg said. "They've applied the love and now they will sit overnight until they go in the smokehouse."
Moving into the smokehouse, the turkeys are hooked and hung in one the 20 smokehouses. Each smokehouse is ten feet by ten feet and has pipes across the ceiling for hanging. Depending on the time of year sometimes the turkeys are double hung to increase capacity. Between 100 and 150 turkeys can be hung in each smokehouse.
Underneath each grated floor of the smokehouse are three fires that will be tended to throughout the day to maintain a constant temperature between 200 and 250 degrees.
The turkeys are sorted by weight and hung accordingly.
"They'll start checking turkeys around 4:30 and some will take up to 16 hours. Each turkey is different," Greenberg said.
Moving into the fire room below the smokehouses each fire is rebuilt every two hours; 60 hickory-wood fires, or three drawers of fires per smokehouse, keep each of the twenty smokehouses within their designated temperature range.
Roughly a cord of wood is used per day to maintain all of the fires.
"Each smokehouse has a character of its own - just like any oven or grill," Greenberg said. "The one's on the end get more draft from outside and turkeys come out of there quicker."
Originally the Greenbergs smoked all of the turkeys in a barn but in the early 1950's there was a fire.
"One night they were getting rid of the ashes on Christmas Eve and it burned down," Greenberg said. "My father built the first ten smokehouses and I have since added ten more."
After the turkeys come out of the smokehouse they are loaded onto racks and then moved into a refrigerated room where they are chilled to 40 degrees.
The USDA requires they go from 120 degrees to 55 degrees within five hours.
Once chilled, they go through the boxing process where the hooks and strings are removed, and excess smoke or grease is rubbed off and squeezed out from under the skin.
The turkeys are then bagged, boxed, weighed and bar coded according to weight. Generally they run from five to 15 pounds.
They can be bought unfrozen at the facility and walk-ins are welcome throughout the year. Whatever does not sell each day is put into one of the freezer facilities and held for shipping.
The Greenberg packaging has stayed the same for years. The white turkey bag, recipe inserts and holiday aristocrat logo on the box are all the same.
"People love it. I want it to look the same as it did when you were a kid and the same for your kids when they get older. What we are doing is the exact same way my grandfather did it," Greenberg said. "We have more volume and more people working but the process hasn't changed."
As the business has grown the product and production has remained the same, but the ordering has changed to keep up with changing technology. In recent years the increase in email and Internet orders meant Greenberg had to start taking credit cards.
"We used to have two cardboard boxes at the front of the room for Thanksgiving and Christmas orders," Greenberg said. "200 pieces of mail would come in everyday and that's how we would gauge our business. Now it all comes in over computer and the buzz of the room isn't there anymore."
The call center still employees around 48 people during the holidays, but the back half of the room where several people were proofing and keying orders has changed. 35 percent of the orders are from the internet, 20 percent from email, 25 percent from phone calls and about 14 percent are holiday time walk-ups.
Some of the growth in the business can be attributed to national recognition in 2003 when the Greenberg Smoked Turkey was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and in 2010 in the New York Times and subsequently in the Wall Street Journal wine section.
"We don't advertise except for a small ad in the Tyler Paper and generally we would increase our customer base by five, seven or eight thousand per year. The year of Oprah we got 22,000 new customers within two weeks and 17,000 the next year - that was like the gift that kept giving," Greenberg said.
But a majority of his customers are faithful, repeat customers who are extremely loyal.
"People will order their turkeys at almost the exact same time every year. It's like clockwork," Greenberg said. "Our customers are fanatics and they are great customers who we can rely on. It's like comfort food to so many."
"It's all so great. I have got the absolute best people working out here and walking in the door to buy the turkeys," Greenberg said smiling. "I love it."Recipes
Roy's World Peace Greenberg Smoked Turkey Green Chili
"Being a misplaced Texan living in NYC there are a few things you need to make the city home. Getting my Greenberg Smoked Turkey is one of those things that make living here possible. It may be the memories it brings back from my youth, or it may be the way that it makes my house smell like home. Either way, it brings a smile and brings me back to the place I love," Roy Schneider, New York City.
2 pounds chopped Greenberg Smoked Turkey (Mix Dark and White)
6 poblano peppers
1 large jalapeno
3 medium shallots
juice of 1 small lime
5 cloves of garlic
12 ounces lager beer
1 to 2 cups of chicken stock (depending on thickness desired)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons of salt
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
2 tablespoons ancho or regular chili powder
1 small can cannellini beans
In a roasting pan mix poblano peppers, jalapeno, tomatillos, shallots, garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook in a preheated (400 degree) oven for about 30 minutes (turning once) or until the peppers skin is charred. Remove peppers and put in sealed tupperware for 15 minutes. Remove skin and seeds from all peppers and combine all roasted items and lime juice finely in a food processor. In a large soup pot, heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil until almost smoking. Add turkey and let cook until it gets a crust formed. add roasted vegetable mix, stir until well incorporated. Add the remainder of the ingredients (except cannellini beans) and stir well making sure to get all the crusted bits from bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil then put on low and cover and simmer for a ½ hour. Add cannellini simmer for another ½ hour. Serve with a dab of sour cream, shredded longhorn cheddar, and a few tortilla strips for garnish.
Recipe by Roy Schneider, New York CityGreenberg Smoked Turkey Stock
This stock makes a superb base to enhance your favorite savory winter soup.
1 turkey carcass
2 yellow onions, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 sprigs thyme
3-4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 gallon water, or enough to cover carcass
Remove all skin from turkey. Cut or break carcass into smaller pieces and place in a large stock pot. Add vegetables, seasonings and water. Place pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Strain stock, reserving liquid. Once solids have cooled to a manageable temperature, pick through and reserve any turkey meat that has fallen off the bones. See that no turkey meat remains on the carcass. Set meat aside for use in soup. Unused portions may be frozen for later use.
Recipe from gobblegobble.comGreenberg Smoked Turkey Quesadillas
Large flour tortillas
Grated Monterrey Jack cheese
Sliced Greenberg Smoked Turkey
Fresh cilantro sprigs
For each quesadilla: Heat a cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Do not add oil. Place one large tortilla in skillet. Sprinkle a handful of cheese (about ½ cup) evenly over tortilla. Add a handful of sliced turkey, cilantro and jalapeno slices. Top with second tortilla and cook until cheese begins to melt, about 3 minutes. Using 2 spatulas, turn quesadilla over and continue cooking another 3 minutes to crisp bottom tortilla. Slide onto plate and cut into 6 wedges. Serve with shredded lettuce, pico de gallo and sour cream, if desired.
Recipe from gobblegobble.comGreenberg Smoked Turkey Pate
Finely grind turkey in food processor with metal blade inserted. Mix with just enough mayonnaise to spread easily, approximately 1 cup of mayonnaise for each pound of ground turkey. Serve on crackers, or the Greenberg family favorite way: scoop with your favorite potato chip and top with a jalapeno slice; or use on plain white bread as a spread for finger sandwiches. Ground turkey can be frozen in plastic bags for later use.
Recipe from gobblegobble.comGreenberg Smoked Turkey Cheese Ball
1 cup finely ground smoked turkey
1 eight ounce package cream cheese
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Combine first three ingredients well. Chill for several hours. Shape into one or two balls. Roll in the pecans and parsley. Wrap well, freeze or refrigerate. Note: To freeze, omit mayonnaise. To grind turkey place slices in a food processor inserted with a metal blade.
Recipe from gobblegobble.com