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For the last 40 years, the experts at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line have dutifully answered the panicked phone calls of home chefs with all their Thanksgiving related queries. In 1981 the poultry behemoth launched the talk-line with just 6 home economists in a room with a rolodex of answers to the common questions they expected. Now, 40 years later, patient, kind folks on the other end of the phone answer on average about 100,000 questions a year from November 1 to Thanksgiving Day. On Thanksgiving Day alone, they average about 10,000 calls. They are also helping us in more ways than ever before—by call, text, Amazon Alexa, social media, and this year, they are even on TikTok.
Southern Living recently spoke to Turkey Talk-Line supervisor, Andrea Balitweicz, and she shared tips, tricks, and some interesting stories from the last four decades.
"Americans love thanksgiving. No matter what. You know last year we saw that the pandemic, where people were maybe away from their loved ones but they found a way to celebrate Thanksgiving," she said.
What's the most asked question? Balitweicz said they get the most questions regarding how and when to thaw your turkey. Turns out you should do it much earlier than you probably think.
"So, say they have a 20 lb. turkey. They're not used to thawing for such a long period of time. Because it does take one full day to thaw every four pounds of turkey. So, a 20 lb. turkey could take 4-5 days to thaw in their refrigerator. So, they don't realize how long it takes. And they also don't know that once the turkey is thawed, you still have four days that the turkey is still good before you need to roast it. We always tell people that Thursday before Thanksgiving is a great day to start thinking about thawing a large turkey so that you have plenty of time."
One of the most unique calls that Balitweicz remembers also involves a question of thawing. "One I remember, it was a dad, I think he was just trying to kill two birds with one stone, he had the kids in the bathtub, and he had to thaw that turkey and he just said well, I think I'm just going to put it in the bathtub with the kids. And low and behold, he must have had second thoughts because he did call us. And you know, we said 'oh my gosh! No! You really need to take that turkey out of the bathtub.' We talked him through some food safe ways to thaw the turkey and you know, I think everyone got a chuckle out of that. So that's just one of the many crazy stories that I remember."
Balitweicz also said they get a large number of calls from first time hosts. "I know that we've had callers, they'd be in the closet, whispering and saying well, I can't hear you. Can you speak up a little bit? And they say, well I don't want my mother-in-law to hear that I'm calling the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line for advice. I want her to know I know what I'm doing."
For those new hosts, the turkey expert recommends to always have their number on hand, 1-800-BUTTERBALL, and the best tool you can have on hand is a meat thermometer. "That is the only way to know that the turkey is cooked through and it is food safe. So I cannot stress that enough. I always say that meat thermometer is your best friend on Thanksgiving Day and every day." She added that "Butterball recommends 180F in the thigh, 170F in the breast, and if they stuffed the turkey, 165F in the stuffing. And that's for best eating quality and food safety."
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If you're seeking inspiration, turn to Butterball's TikTok. "We're going to be sharing some food ideas. And we developed what we like to call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Taste Kitchen. And that's where a group of us here at Butterball are going to be looking at the trends and testing them in the test kitchen and we're going to put our stamp of approval on them."
Happy 40th Anniversary, Turkey Talk-Line! Thanks for all the holiday meals you've helped to save!