WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — As Thanksgiving Day approaches, our thoughts turn to the traditional meal and the main dish. Most folks still prefer the dry, oven-roasted turkey. Many others prefer a tender, juicy, smoked turkey, and they’re willing to pay for one.

That means big business and a couple of busy weeks leading up to Thanksgiving for local barbecue joints and anyone who’s a master of a smoker.

Buddy King of Wichita doesn’t roast his turkey breasts in an oven. No way.

“No, no. We work on a pretty fancy JP custom offset smoker with pecan wood. Real wood,” says King.

King, the owner of Barrel Boys BBQ LLC, is a competition team smoker who invested in a custom trailer smoker. His team has won many awards, including a reserve champion trophy for turkey at the American Royal, the world’s largest BBQ contest.

Wednesday morning, he was busy smoking eight turkey breasts and several hams for customers.

“This year, we got a lot of calls early, so we didn’t really advertise too much that we were going to be selling turkeys because we filled our plate by word-of-mouth and our regular repeat customers,” says King.

King and just about every barbecue boss in Wichita spent the last weekend smoking tons of turkeys to fulfill Thanksgiving orders. The pitmaster at Delano Barbeque Company has been working almost nonstop, smoking 110 turkeys.

“He comes in at two in the morning and don’t get off work until 2:30 in the afternoon. So, it’s been quite busy,” says Delano Barbeque server Cody Couch.

On the west side of town at When Pigs Fly BBQ, staff smoked turkeys and hams for about 40 hours over the course of three days earlier this week.

“This year, we did close to 200 smoked turkeys and about 100 hams. People call in a lot earlier than they normally do,” says When Pigs Fly owner Kendra Choy. “But yeah, we did about two and a half tons of ham and turkey for Thanksgiving.”

When Pigs Fly BBQ sells their whole birds for $65. King sells his smoked turkey breasts for $16.99 per pound. So, why do people choose to buy smoked turkeys?

“I think a lot of people don’t know how to cook anymore. Especially a turkey, and it can be a very daunting task when you have 12 to 15 people sitting around the dinner table, and you have to put food before them, and you don’t really know how to do it,” says Choy.

Of course, don’t forget to buy a pie! Spear’s Restaurant & Pie Shop has been a Wichita tradition for 65 years.

“So, this week, we’ll be making about 4,000 pies during this time. So, it’s a busy time for us,” says Spear’s owner Dan Crandall. “But we got a lot of great people that have worked with us for many years. So, it’s kind of like a dance for us. It’s choreographed, and it all kind of flows together, and this is the week that most businesses want.”

Spears Restaurant and Pie Shop preparing for Thanksgiving (KSN Photo)

4,000 pies?

“Wednesday and Thursday are our biggest days. So, it’s concentrating on the pies, but we also do the Thanksgiving feast,” says Crandall.

Spear’s will also be open on Thanksgiving Day from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. for its traditional Thanksgiving buffet. Crandall expects 600 to 700 people to go through the buffet.

“You know, there’s a lot of restaurants are closed on Thanksgiving. But we’re a family-style restaurant. We’ve done Thanksgiving buffet for many, many years. And it’s a big deal to us,” says Crandall.

So, it’s homemade pies and smoked turkeys for Thanksgiving, except for those who have spent hours smoking all of those turkeys. King says his family will eat sushi.

“We’re pretty tired of turkey. We’re going to have steak this year,” says Choy.