A year ago, Sam Greenberg was settled in at his lake house for the weekend. He and his mostly seasonal crew of employees had spent the previous month smoking, packaging, and freezing thousands of turkeys at the Greenberg Smoked Turkey facility in Tyler in anticipation of another successful holiday season for the 82-year-old company. After dinner on Friday, November 6, Greenberg received a text from a Tyler reporter. “I understand there’s been an explosion at your plant. Can you confirm?”
That was startling news to Greenberg. While running to his car, he got a call from his son. “Dad, it’s gone,” he said. The lake house is eighteen minutes from the facility, but “it was only about seven minutes away that night,” Greenberg said recently, laughing. He arrived on the scene with his wife. They peered through the blaze as firefighters battled it, and for a moment the smoke cleared enough for Greenberg to look into the massive freezer where 87,000 turkeys, ready for delivery, had been safely stored just hours before. “I caught a look inside that freezer and said, ‘We’re done,’ ” he told me. The family refunded all the orders that would go unfulfilled. The holiday season came and went without Greenberg turkeys.
The exact cause of the fire and subsequent explosion is still unknown, but Greenberg said the family suspects a fire in the refrigeration unit that began to smolder, building up dense smoke that eventually exploded into fire. The massive rolling door on the front of the facility was blown across the street. When it was safe enough for Greenberg to enter the ruins of the building, he saw turkeys everywhere. “Not a box, not a paper bag. It just burnt them all off, and [the turkeys] were all laying on the floor,” he said. Firefighters lingered for two days to ensure the fire was completely extinguished. Greenberg had an architect on the site to begin thinking about a rebuild before the fire was even out.
The burned building had housed turkey storage and packaging, separate from a massive smokehouse located down the street. Even Greenberg’s insurance adjuster was confused that the fire hadn’t started in the building where the company intentionally burns all that hickory wood. The remnants of the old storage facility were scraped away, and a new one rose in its place in the nick of time. Greenberg usually gets the gears in motion for the holiday season right at the end of September, and the new building was ready on October 4 of this year. “Customers are beating our doors down,” Greenberg said. He expects to sell about 20 percent more turkeys (on offer for prices ranging from $37.50 to $77.50, for turkeys from six to thirteen pounds) than the roughly 200,000 they prepared in 2019.
With the fire behind them, the Greenbergs can get back to what they do best: making turkey that tastes completely unique in its smokiness. The outer skin is blackened from nearly 24 hours of low cooking with hickory smoke. The turkeys are injected with a seasoning mixture heavy on the black pepper, and are best enjoyed chilled or at room temperature rather than heated in the oven. Greenberg prefers to eat his sliced with a smear of mayonnaise, Fritos, and cold beer on the side.
Families all over Texas are happy to have a smoked turkey on the table again this year, but Greenberg said he’s been most surprised by all the new corporate customers giving smoked turkeys as gifts. He reflected back on that devastating Friday evening last year, and put it into a greater perspective. “Nobody got hurt, we’re here, everybody’s happy, and we’re back in business.”