Why it’s important to mind your turkey fat this Thanksgiving

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Washing Thanksgiving fat

Preventing your turkey fat from entering the sewers has become more critical than ever this year.

Thanksgiving celebrations may feel a bit different this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but if there is something that certainly won’t change it’s the risk that all the turkey fat disposed of during the holiday poses to the American sewerage system. If one thing, the risk has only increased.

When discarded the wrong way, cooking fat becomes one of the main contributors to blockages, which in turn will cause all sorts of problems for households and businesses alike. Once in the sewers, fats, oils, and grease — or FOG — will meet other objects (also wrongfully) flushed down the toilet to form huge masses that are as hard as concrete, and can reach miles-long sizes.

These are the so-called “fatbergs,” a word that reimagines icebergs as if they were made out of, well, fat. Just like its frozen cousins, a fatberg keeps the majority of its body hidden so, at least at first, people will only see or feel its presence in a small way, without realizing there is a monster lurking underneath.

With time, however, these inanimate creatures bring several issues to both domestic and commercial customers, and they cost cities a lot of money. Think weeks-long removal procedures forcing road closures, or even interruptions in the water supply.

What is my part in this?

The suggestion that a subterranean monster can be linked to a single holiday might sound like a stretch, but it is important to remember that Americans consume about 46 million turkeys during Thanksgiving. This considerable amount of meat will consequently result in a sizable amount of fat so the country would already be in trouble if half of this material got poured down the sink.

To make matters worse, the situation became critical this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic since the sewers had to start dealing with single-use masks and more products such as wet wipes, which came to be toilet paper substitutes thanks to the panic-buying that preceded lockdown in some places. Together, FOG and these “unflushables” tend to become huge headaches for cities to deal with.

What can I do, then?

There are basically two ways of dealing with turkey fat, depending on how patient you are. The easiest one, if you don’t want to reuse this material or can’t recycle it, is to simply store it in a container until it cools down and then just throw everything away with common garbage. Problem solved.

You can also render the fat, separating it from everything else, and reuse it in other recipes — something that can take hours to do but is worth it for the results. In short, the process involves making a broth that should later be cooled down so that the fat will float to the surface and harden. The broth underneath can be frozen in containers, while the hardened fat — after being re-heated and filtered until there is no impurity left — is a good substitute in recipes that ask for butter or lard.

No matter the method you choose, the important thing is to make sure that not a single drop of this fat gets thrown down the pipes to end up in the sewers, where the leftovers from a celebration could become a powerful polluting agent.