With most of our holiday plans looking different this year, many people are finding themselves having to navigate new territory when it comes to celebrating. For some, that may mean taking on new responsibilities in the kitchen. Whether it’s your first time tackling cooking duties or you’re a seasoned chef, preparing an entire Thanksgiving dinner can be daunting and downright overwhelming at times. Thankfully, an expert ready to answer any and all turkey-related questions is only a phone call away on this Thanksgiving hotline.
Started in 1981, Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line was designed to help home chefs all across both the United States and Canada throughout November and December, who had questions and crises about cooking their bird. It began as a relatively small endeavor, with just six poultry savvy operators who set out to help others have the perfect holiday dinner. In their first year alone, they fielded over 11,000 calls and have since expanded in size as well as access. Along with providing Spanish-speaking experts, the talk line can also be reached via text, email, social media, and even through Amazon’s Alexa.
How does one become a turkey expert for this Thanksgiving hotline? Well, Butterball University takes care of that, educating their talk line experts on everything from food safety, cooking techniques, thawing, storing and more. Traditionally, those working the phone lines are in a Chicago-based office/test kitchen together, able to consult and bounce ideas off of each other. This year however, everything is able to be done remotely, from the safety of their own homes.
Butterball’s Turkey Talk Line isn’t the only one in the game anymore, but it remains the most well-known and arguably most trusted source for even the most obscure turkey-related quandaries. It was even referenced in an episode of The West Wing (season 3, episode 8, The Indian in the Lobby; great episode), where fictional President Josiah Bartlet anonymously calls the phone line to discuss the finer points of what makes a true Thanksgiving stuffing. With close to 40 years and over 200,000 calls every holiday season, the experts on the line have had their fair share of disastrous, comedic, and heartwarming stories.
One of those stories that tugs at everyones heartstrings is that of a man who called the talk line with a question about finding the right cooking temperature, when midway through the call, his wife went into labor. The caller phoned the operator back later that day, joking that both his 7lb baby girl and 10lb turkey were perfect.
While experts are well versed in food safety, some calls can put their knowledge to the test. There was a woman who phoned the talk line inquiring as to whether or not her turkey would thaw safely if it were strapped to the roof rack of her car. It turns out she was driving from California to Colorado for Thanksgiving, and was determined to successfully multitask. While she was indeed instructed to purchase a fresher bird when she arrived at her destination, she insisted she was going to do it anyway, and left the operator wondering about the efficacy of roof top defrosting.
Another caller used a chainsaw to cut his bird in half, and phoned the talk line wondering whether or not the oil from the chainsaw would render the bird inedible or not. That one, as far as I know, remains unresolved (although quick google search will tell you if you ingest chainsaw oil, give your doctor a call, just to be safe).
Perhaps my favorite Thanksgiving hotline talk line tale, is a caller who phoned in looking for advice on the best way to give their turkey tan lines. For no reason other than amusement, a trend largely born on social media popularized using tin foil shaped into a bikini as a means to give your turkey a “just came back from vacation” glow. Not as uncommon as it may sound, the operator who answered the call was well versed in this particular presentation, and was able to walk the caller through the best way to achieve their desired look.
While this holiday season is different for a lot of reasons, having reliable support (even if it is “just for turkey”) for everyone who needs it is, in essence, a great representation of the spirit of the season.
This article was originally published on November 25, 2020