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Butterball Talk Line Operators Help Chefs Avoid Turkey Trauma

Popular turkey line helps talk Thanksgiving cooks through holiday food prep drama.

They work faster then Santa's elves on Christmas Eve and prevent more disasters than Superman on his best day. They are the 50 turkey aficionados working the Butterball Turkey Talk line, located in a top secret location in a discreet office building on Diehl Road in Naperville.

On Thanksgiving day alone, this highly trained team of home economists and nutritionists, all graduates of "Butterball University," will answer the call, or gobble, of more than 10,000 consumers facing severe turkey trauma. Over the course of 12 hours, that's about 200 callers per expert.

Jan Allen, a home economist from Elk Grove Village, has been smoothing the ruffled feathers of stressed out Thanksgiving chefs for 29 years. She estimates she has logged in about 8,000 hours on the phone solving assorted turkey related dilemmas.

Since it first opened up its phone lines 30 years ago, the hotline has fielded calls ranging from simple questions about thawing and cook times, to more pressing issues including how to rescue a small dog that climbed into the turkey cavity when it was done cooking and advising a caller NOT to eat the turkey she had just bleached to make sure it was really clean.

"One of my favorite calls was from a family who didn't have enough room in their refrigerator to keep their turkey cold," Allen said. "They had about a foot of snow on the ground so they thought it would be ok to bury the turkey in the snow overnight. Unfortunately, when they went to retrieve the turkey the next morning, they discovered it had snowed even more and couldn't find it! They called us wanting to know if we could help them find the turkey...if we had tracking devices in our birds."

Other unusual experiences the talk line experts encountered?

  • A turkey expert patiently waited on the phone with an anxious Thanksgiving cook as he wandered through the grocery store making sure he bought he everything he needed.
  • A caller was frustrated that the turkey he bought was too big for his oven. While on the phone, he wrapped the turkey in a towel and stomped on it to break a few bones so it would fit in the oven.  
  • A family called claiming there was no meat on their turkey after it was cooked. Turns out, they had cooked the turkey upside down. When they turned the bird over, the callers began cheering and hooping.

Allen's favorite turkey advice revolves around what she likes to call the "three T's:"

  • Thawing. If you bought a frozen turkey, a quick rule of thumb (or wing) when it comes to thawing is to allow one day for every four pounds of turkey. While it is best to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, you can give it a jump start by soaking it in cold water. Make sure the turkey is completely submerged at all times and change the water frequently. Check out this video for more thawing know-how. Once completely thawed, a turkey may remain in the refrigerator for four days before cooking.
  • Tent. For a supermoist, juicy turkey, "tent" your bird in aluminum foil for the last one third of the cooking time. Up to this point, it should be left uncovered to get that brown, roasted look.
  • Thermometer. To prevent any last minute trips to the ER on Thanksgiving day, make sure your turkey is thoroughly cooked. Your turkey is done when it registers 180 degrees in the thigh/leg or 170 degrees at the breast. If your turkey is stuffed, it should register at least 165 degrees at the center before serving.

You can reach a Butterball Turkey Talk-Line expert by calling 1-800-BUTTERBALL weekdays between 8 a.m and 6 p.m CST. On Thanksgiving Day, the experts will be fielding calls from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. You also can email questions and talk turkey via their website, Facebook page or Twitter account. And for the first time this year, the call center will also be available for live chats via the website.

Story written by Suzy Ravasio Chudzik

Jennifer Moore November 22, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I've met several of these ladies. They come into the store I work at to get their Butterball turkeys. They test cook the birds themselves waaay before Thanksgiving, so when you call them, they've already done it! You can easily spot them, they're the ones buying the turkeys in the summer time. :) Happy Thanksgiving!

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