ANETA, N.D. – Tons of birds will roast on spits over coals at the 60th annual Aneta Turkey Barbecue on Saturday, June 19.
The barbecue, which started in 1960, is back after being sidelined by COVID-19 in 2020. From 2,500 to 3,000 people typically attend the event, swelling the town’s population by more than tenfold. The town’s residents claim it's the biggest turkey barbecue in the world.
The Turkey Barbecue, which costs $12 for adults, $6 for ages 6 to 13 and is free for preschoolers, will be held from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Aneta City Park. There will be six lines, and the Downtown Horns will play music during the event.
This year, the barbecue is being held in conjunction with Aneta’s 125th anniversary celebration. The four-day anniversary celebration runs from Friday, June 18, through Sunday, June 20..
Turkey feed companies held the first barbecues to thank farmers for raising the fowl, said Paul Retzlaff, who has helped organize the event since the early 1970s.
“They call me the head turkey,” Retzlaff said. "I came back from Vietnam in '72, and they made me secretary of the booster club about that first year. The person who was running the food part was the elevator manager, and he got transferred to Wolf Point, Mont.”
The elevator manager took all of his knowledge about the turkey barbecue with him when he left because he never recorded on paper anything about it, Retzlaff said. He and the other booster club members figured it out through trial and error, and Retzlaff has made sure to write down all of the details for future organizers.
“We put the turkeys on the spit at 10:30 Saturday morning, cook them throughout the day so the first batch is ready by 4:30,” Retzlaff said. The turkeys are on a 180-feet-long spit, which is placed over burning charcoal that is placed on aluminum foil.
The turkey barbecue food crew has a couple of tons of charcoal on hand so they don’t run out if it is windy or cloudy. Under those conditions it takes longer to cook the turkeys, and the cooks don't want to run out of charcoal and have to drive to neighboring towns to find it like they had to do a few different years, Retzlaff said.
Besides 312 turkeys weighing from 12 to 14 pounds, the barbecue organizers also buy a thousand pounds of potato salad, a thousand pounds of beans, gallons of pickles, more than 200 dozen buns, potato chips, beverages and more than 2,000 ice cream bars.
Other events during the 125th celebration include rhubarb tasting from 2 to 4 p.m., Friday near the Aneta Orchard. Tasters will be able to view recipes for the rhubarb delicacies, which aren’t the run-of-the-mill variety.
“A lot of the ladies will make different rhubarb things, rhubarb salsa to rhubarb bars. It’s not rhubarb crunch and rhubarb crisp,” said Deb Johnson, a member of the Aneta Booster Club.
Before the Turkey Barbecue on Saturday, the events include a parade, games for children, classic car and snowmobile displays and an antique tractor pull. The 125th celebration will conclude with an all-faiths church service at 10 a.m. Sunday at the Aneta City Park.