Like Christmas in June? It's the Aneta Turkey Barbecue

Whatever tops your list as the most important event of the summer, the equivalent of a large Christmas gathering, show up for it. Your example sets the tone for the next generation.

More than 300 turkeys roast over an open charcoal pit in Aneta, North Dakota, annually on the third Saturday in June. Four generations of Katie Pinke's family gather annually for the event. Photos from the June 19, 2021, event.
Katie Pinke / Agweek
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It’s almost time for my family’s Christmas in June celebration. Do you hold one summer weekend in high regard? Maybe it’s a small-town festival, church picnic, family reunion or group of friends who meet the same weekend every year.

On the third Saturday of every June, you’ll find our family at the Aneta Turkey Barbecue. After the event was canceled in 2020, the turkey roasters returned, and cutters fed 312 turkeys to a couple of thousand people. The northeastern North Dakota town of Aneta’s population was listed at 188 in 2020. A village of committed volunteers hosts the event and the importance to many across multi-generations continues each year.

A few years back, my sister-in-law explained to co-workers that the turkey barbecue is a bigger deal to my brother and our family than Christmas. While we’re not celebrating the birth of Jesus and giving gifts, we’re more committed to showing up as a family on the third Saturday in June than any other day of the year.

Nathan Pinke and Fred Lukens cut turkey on June 19, 2021, at the Aneta Turkey Barbecue. In 2021, after being canceled in 2020, every last turkey was cut and no one went away hungry in Aneta, North Dakota, population 188.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

My adult cousins, and now their spouses, from across the country make the trek by car and plane to be here.

I grew up attending every Aneta Turkey Barbecue with my great-grandparents and their siblings; my grandparents and their siblings and spouses; and my mom, her siblings and their families.


Do we show up every year to enjoy a turkey meal in a small-town outdoor park? Of course not.

We show up for one another, for the connections and the community. Last year, a friend active in the Aneta booster club asked if our small business would sponsor the ice cream bars. After helping us hand out the ice cream bars, my mom, who’s attended a lifetime of turkey barbecues, announced she might have found the best job at the entire event.

Jane Lukens and Elizabeth Pinke hand out ice cream bars at the 2021 Aneta Turkey Barbeque.
Katie Pinke / Agweek

Everyone loves being handed an ice cream bar and we had a chance to see and visit with guests to our little town we would have otherwise missed in the park over the course of a few hours of serving.

The turkey, which is open roasted over charcoal, reigns supreme and truly is the star of the event. If you have lousy food, no one comes back year after year. Sharing superb food with family and friends kicks off the first days of summer every year for me.

While writing this column, I’ve seen four tractors in different fields from my home office. A wet spring led to a late planting season. I hope everyone in area farm fields and yards can hop off tractors and sprayers by late afternoon on June 18 and get to town for fellowship and food. On Sunday morning, at the all-faith service in the park on Father’s Day, our son is part of the service.

Whatever tops your list as the most important event of the summer, the equivalent of a large Christmas gathering, show up for it. Your example sets the tone for the next generation. If our small towns and rural areas don’t have volunteers and people who show up, we die. We fail.

Nathan and Katie Pinke alongside Katie's dad, Fred Lukens, at the 2021 Aneta Turkey Barbecue. Katie Pinke shares that whatever tops your list as the most important event of the summer, the equivalent of a large Christmas gathering, show up for it. Your example sets the tone for the next generation.

Come get yourself some turkey on the third Saturday of June and I’ll be waiting with an ice cream bar.


Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.

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