One of the Minnesota State Fair’s favorite food vendors knew that to stay on top, you can’t rest on your tail feathers. So the “Turkey to Go” stand added a Giant Juicy sandwich, designed by AURI meat scientist Carissa Nath.

This summer, the turkey sandwich debuted at Target Field where Twins fans could grab a taste of turkey near home plate at 81 home games. The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, owner of the “Turkey to Go” brand, licensed a food vendor at the ballpark to promote Minnesota turkeys and the farmers who raise the birds.

Photo by Rolf Hagberg

MTGA also licenses the brand to Chef Tim Malloy for two mobile food carts in downtown Minneapolis. Malloy, who has been cooking for 27 years, has operated the turkey food carts for the past three years, selling a couple hundred sandwiches a day to workers looking to grab a healthy, tasty lunch on

the run.

“We get nice crowds every day,” Malloy says. The sandwich is “moist, tender, has good flavor — it’s a good product. People really like it.”

Malloy says he likes to be the first vendor out in the spring and the last to shut down in the fall — as late as mid November. If the turkey carts aren’t out, phone calls and emails

start coming.

He uses social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, to announce daily where the mobile lunch will be, opening a new platform for connecting consumers to producers.

A sandwich is born

MTGA has operated a turkey stand at the State Fair since 1958 and its famous turkey drumstick has made it a “must stop” destination for thousands of visitors. But as fairgoers often want a taste for something different, MTGA sought AURI’s help several years ago to come up with a new recipe.

“We needed to change our cooking procedures to keep up with demand,” says Steve Olson, MTGA executive director. “We were deep frying whole birds and with that process and the room we had, we were maxed out.”

Olson enlisted Nath’s help to develop a turkey sandwich that could be a prime offering on the fair menu.

As with many formulations, developing a winning recipe involved more than a little trial and error. Nath estimates it took more than six months and a dozen attempts before the right seasoning mixture was developed. Because of turkey’s mild flavor, it easily takes on the taste of whatever ingredients are added.

Nath and AURI food scientist Charan Wadhawan worked on refining formulations that Nath would make in the AURI meat lab in Marshall, then take to Turkey Growers taste tests.

The resulting Giant Juicy Turkey Sandwich has been on the menu for the past three years and draws rave reviews from fairgoers. Some have even tried, unsuccessfully, to coax the “top secret recipe” from the Turkey Growers’ staff.

“It was fun and challenging, which is one of the exciting things about research and development,” Nath says. “It’s rewarding when you can help a client get a product they are happy with.”

Olson says the sandwich has helped MTGA realize a 25 percent increase in turkey consumption at the fair over the past three years. Serving sandwiches and drumsticks consumes more than 3,100 Minnesota-grown birds during the 12-day run.

“This gives us a chance to take a different type of product to consumers,” Olson says, “and to promote Minnesota’s turkey growers.”

AURI and Turkey to Go

Carissa Nath, AURI meat scientist, designed a juicy, seasoned turkey sandwich for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association.

Idea to opportunity: Design a turkey sandwich to supplement the popular grilled turkey legs at MTGA’s Minnesota State Fair “Turkey to Go” stand.

Outcomes: The “Giant Juicy” sandwich is not only popular at the State Fair, it’s now served up at Target Field and downtown Minneapolis mobile food carts.