From Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, Sue Smith and her colleagues at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line answer tens of thousands of phone calls. On Thanksgiving alone, they hear from up to 10,000 home cooks wondering how to perfect their holiday meal.
“It’s always a great mix of people,” Smith said by phone recently. She has been answering calls on the talk-line for more than 20 years. “You never really know who’s going to be on the other line.”
There was the first-time Thanksgiving cook who just got married and was calling from her closet, where she was nervously asking for tips out of earshot from her in-laws. And the 92-year-old husband who was making Thanksgiving dinner for the first time because his wife was no longer able to.
One year, a group of college kids called with some questions on the day of their big meal. Smith recalls lots of laughing in the background.
“By mistake, when one of the guys went to put the turkey in the oven, he hit ‘self-clean’ instead,” she said. “So they went over to their neighbor’s house and grilled the turkey. They called us back later after they had a cooked turkey. It’s fun when you can help the callers out of a situation like that.”
Smith hears from chefs, food stylists, teachers, culinary pros and home cooks of all ages at toll-free 1-800-BUTTERBALL (1-800-288-8372). She has noticed that in recent years, millennial home cooks are celebrating throughout the month of November, hosting more Friendsgivings that may not happen on Thanksgiving Day.
“We’re seeing a new generation emerge, new chefs or home cooks, and they like to change it up,” Smith said. “It’s been a fun trend to see. You can fry, roast, grill — there are lots of ways to prepare your turkey.”
“How do I thaw my turkey?” is the number one question every year, Smith said. She recommends doing so beginning the Thursday before Thanksgiving, otherwise known as National Thaw Your Turkey Day.
In case you are also curious: “The best method is to take it out of the freezer and put it somewhere in the bottom of the fridge, breast side up on a tray to catch anything that drips off. I recommend one day for every 4 pounds of turkey."
Another popular query: How do I know when the turkey is done?
“A meat thermometer is really necessary to have on Thanksgiving Day,” Smith said. “Pierce that thigh meat, make sure it’s 180 degrees. And pierce the breast meat, too, which should be 170 degrees.”
For the first time ever this year, Butterball has recruited a celebrity guest to help answer calls: Actor Freddie Prinze Jr. will be taking questions alongside Smith and her team on Nov. 14.
Right after this season ends, the Butterball crew will be looking ahead to next year. They analyze trends from this season’s calls and use the data to get ideas for the next season.
“Every year, we have Butterball University for the staff,” Smith said. “We prepare the turkey all different ways, so we know how to do it and we know what it looks and tastes like. There is lots of advance prep that goes into it before we open Nov. 1.”