The owner of D.C. restaurant Medium Rare came up with the idea of deep-frying turkeys for free back in 2007, mostly for friends so they didn’t burn their houses down. The first year, Mark Bucher said he only fried about 20 turkeys.
It is more than 600 each year now, and during the pandemic in 2020, it ended up being thousands — so many that Bucher struck a deal to move the event to Nationals Park.
He expects about 600 again this year, and it is quite an operation.
“We rent 20 fryers and use 200 gallons of fryer oil,” Bucher said. “We have about 50 volunteers, who give up the morning and afternoon of their Thanksgiving Day to truly come together and help others.”
They’ll fry anybody’s turkey for free, as long as it’s thawed and between 8 and 12 pounds, though you’re encouraged to make a small donation to Bucher’s nonprofit Feed the Fridge, which provides meals daily to food-insecure families around the D.C. region.
It was those families that led Bucher to think about the turkey-frying event differently. Many families who come received a free turkey and maybe other meal ingredients from various nonprofits and jurisdictions that support families around the holidays. Bucher found that out the very first year.
“When we got done that first Thanksgiving, we were getting all cleaned up, and we loaded up in our car to go home for our Thanksgiving,” Bucher said. “There was what appeared to be a parking ticket on my car. It turned out it was a thank-you note from a family that lived in a shelter across the street, and it simply said, ‘Without you, we wouldn’t have Thanksgiving this year because we get our free turkeys every year, but we have nowhere to cook them.”
He said it is a misnomer that giving families free food as a well-intended gesture is something that they know how to prepare safely.
“You can give someone the ingredients for a Thanksgiving dinner, but you can’t assume they know how or have the wherewithal to cook them,” Bucher said. “A lot of folks who are food-insecure are like, ‘I can’t afford to go to urgent care because I did not prepare the meal safely, nor do I have an oven or a roasting pan.'”
About 90% of those who come to Medium Rare’s free turkey fry fall into that category, he said.
Bucher’s nonprofit will continue another holiday tradition — planning to deliver some 2,500 free Thanksgiving meals with turkey and all the trimmings to isolated seniors in the area. It’s through a partnership with food delivery company DoorDash.
Feed the Fridge was launched during the very early days of the pandemic and has grown to include refrigerators in more than 30 locations in D.C. Parks and Recreation Centers, Boys & Girls Clubs locations, Latin American youth centers and in other locations. Bucher and his restaurant partners now prepare some 3,000 meals a day for the program.
Since its launch, Feed the Fridge has provided more than 1 million meals and has paid local restaurants more than $3 million in donated funds to prepare them.
Because of that model, Feed the Fridge was also an income lifeline for participating restaurants during the first year of the pandemic, whose businesses were closed or severely limited.
Medium Rare’s turkey fry is on Thanksgiving Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the restaurant’s Cleveland Park location at 3500 Connecticut Ave.