This Now-Extinct Dog Was An Essential In Medieval Kitchens

By Ashley Tyler

There's a kitchen gadget for just about everything these days. Mandolins, mixers, strainers and spatulas... you name it, and it's out there. But the one thing you'd never expect to see in your kitchen arsenal is a dog, unless you lived in Europe during the 1600s.

Turnspit Dog
credit: NPR

Preparing a grand feast of perfectly roasted meat is no easy task, and it was even harder hundreds of years ago. Back then they used open flames to cook with which needed to be tended to and the meat had to constantly rotate to ensure even cooking. They could have either done this by hand, which was grueling, sweaty, tiresome work, or they could invest in the new hot gadget on the market: a turnspit dog

This Now-Extinct Dog Was An Essential In Medieval Kitchens
credit: BBC

According to an article by Atlas Obscura, the turnspit dog (AKA dizzy dog, kitchen dog or turn-tyke) ran inside a wooden contraption that looked like a hamster wheel hooked to ropes that spun the cooking meat over the flame.

The dogs were bred specifically for this job and were described as short (so they'd fit in the wooden box) and heavy set (so they'd be strong enough to power the ancient rotisserie wheel). While the exact breed in not known, they were likely either Welsh Corgi or some type of terrier. They didn't just turn meat though, they also were taught to churn butter and power water pumps and fruit presses.

It wasn't until the 20th century that people began to question the morality of forcing an innocent dog to do the dirty work in the kitchen. In 1850, one man named Henry Berg was so enraged over the treatment of turnspit dogs in a posh Manhattan hotel, he actually went on to found the ASPCA.

Fortunately for him, and the dogs, a new fangled machine called the clock jack was all the rage. It consisted of a weighted pulley that turned the meat automatically, thus saving these poor dogs from hours upon hours of back-breaking work. Then, gas powered stoves made open flame cooking a thing of the past, just like the turnspit dog.

Even in the 20th century, people were just trying to keep up with the Joneses.