turkey fire

What remains of the factory floor
Greenberg Smoked Turkey, Inc. in Tyler, Texas, will halt all of its smoked turkey production for the rest of 2020 after a fire and at least two explosions destroyed part of the facility Nov. 6.

Greenberg has been smoking turkeys since the 1930s. Only in the past 10 years did the company start selling online and accepting credit cards.

The company sells about 200,000 smoked turkeys every holiday season. The Greenberg family has grown the 82-year-old smoked-bird business into a "holiday obsession," The Dallas Morning News wrote in 1998. The famous East Texas turkey landed on Oprah Winfrey's "Favorite Things" list in 2003.

Owner Sam Greenberg, the grandson of the founder by the same name, says a mechanical failure started a fire in one of the company facilities on Nov. 6.

A freezer holding 87,000 turkeys exploded and burned the boxes and bags nearby, which are used to ship hundreds of thousands of turkeys during the company's busiest season.

No one was hurt. A team of 24 firefighters fought the blaze and its aftermath for nearly two days, says Paul Findley, Tyler fire marshal and public information officer.

The heaviest damage was inside one of the large freezers, which Findley describes as "not just walk-in freezers; they're drive-in freezers." The room was stacked, front to back, almost to the ceiling, with smoked turkeys in boxes, Findley says.

After the fire, what was left was "a pile of turkeys," Findley says.

The smokehouse, which is located more than 1,000 feet away, was not damaged.

Since the business launched in 1938, the family has taken pride in keeping things simple over the years.

"My mom and dad, they used to do our mailing list on a card table in our garage," Greenberg says. "Now, we have a customer list close to 300,000." For decades, customers paid for their turkeys after they were eaten.

"We'd send you your turkey, and at the end of the month, we'd send you a bill," he says. "That's just what we did."

The company eventually added a website and started taking orders by phone. The family started selling turkeys inside Central Market in 2009. And they began accepting credit cards online in 2010. ("Not that I like it," Greenberg says.)

The spice mix, which is rubbed on the bird before it smokes for at least 14 hours, is a family secret.

Customers who had already ordered a turkey will get a refund by Nov. 13, Greenberg says. The only other way to get a Greenberg turkey this year is to race to Central Market, where some shipments had already been set out for sale for this holiday season.

Greenberg says the fire was "the perfect storm to put us out of business" — but not so fast.

"We will rebuild. We will be smoking turkeys in 2021," he says. "And to hell with 2020."