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Talk Turkey to Me

The sides may be on point, the desserts delectable and that certain uncle can be on his best behavior. But if the turkey is more foul than fowlicious, your Thanksgiving meal may be a bust.

Donna Leahey
October 28, 2018

It’s Thanksgiving and the family has gathered. The grandparents are there with gramma’s traditional sweet potato casserole topped with toasted marshmallows. All the uncles and aunts are there, and the kids’ table is already full of youngsters eyeing the side table laden with pie, cake, and brownies. Your cousin has brought her roommate and a vegan side dish; your other cousin has brought his fiancé and a green salad. The table is set and covered with bowls and platters full of stuffing, gravy, cornbread, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. The wine is decanted, the candles are lit, and the guests are hungry. All that’s lacking is that perfect, golden brown turkey to reign over the feast.

This would be the worst time to discover your turkey didn’t defrost all the way and isn’t fully cooked. Fortunately, someone has your back. You have experts with more than 30 years of experience helping hosts through turkey emergencies.

“The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line has more than 50 food experts behind you to help quickly,” says Sue Smith, co-director of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. “The No. 1 question that the Talk-Like receives every year pertains to how to thaw a turkey.”

The answer to that question is important both for food safety and for a delicious feast. The recommended method is also the slowest. Put your frozen bird in the refrigerator, breast side up, still in its wrapper and resting in a shallow tray. A frozen turkey takes about one day per 4 pounds to thaw, so your 20-pound turkey will take five days. If you don’t have that kind of time, you can defrost your turkey in cold water.

“Again, leave it in the wrapper,” says Smith. “This time breast side down, for 30 minutes per pound. Be sure to change the water every 30 minutes.” So, using the cold-water method, your 20-pound bird will take 10 hours to defrost.

And if you didn’t remember that you needed to defrost your bird until a few hours before it was supposed to go in the oven? “It’s not ideal, but you can cook it from frozen. It will take another few hours to cook, but you can,” she says.

If you’ve got questions, like how much longer it will take, the Turkey-Talk Line can answer that question for you.

If you prefer to avoid questions of defrosting entirely, Butterball has ready-to-roast turkeys that go straight from the freezer to the oven, and fresh turkeys that haven’t been frozen. Fresh turkeys will have a “sell by” date that should be observed, but they do allow you to bypass the defrost step entirely.

Whatever defrost or turkey choice you make, “Your meat thermometer is your best friend,” says Smith. “A properly cooked turkey should be 170 degrees in the breast and 180 degrees in the thigh.”

Food safety isn’t a step you want to skip, and the Talk-Line Experts can help you with those questions as well. Spending the holiday weekend suffering from food poisoning is no one’s idea of a festive holiday.

What’s the best way to cook your bird? There’s always a new trend for cooking method. You might prefer yours smoked, or deep-fried, or cooked inside an oven bag, or slathered in Twinkie filling (yes, that’s a thing people do). While the experts at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line would never want to squash your creativity expressed through turkey, “We recommend roasting your turkey in a shallow pan in a 325-degree oven. We think that’s the best cooking method. We’ve never tested the Twinkie method,” Smith says with a laugh. “People have asked us about White Castle Sliders, too.”

Another common question has to do with the turkey taking longer to cook than expected.

“Usually, we find out they’re opening the oven frequently to baste. Every time you open the oven, you let out the heat, and it increases the cooking time. It really doesn’t need to be basted,” says Smith. “Just brush it with vegetable oil before you put it in. We also recommend using aluminum foil to shield the breast after about two-thirds of the cooking time, to keep it juicy and moist while the rest of the turkey cooks.”

If you’re in need of help from the experts at Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, there are so many ways to reach out to them. You can get help through Facebook and Twitter. You can text your question to 844-877-3456. And for more than 30 years, they’ve been a phone call away.

The Turkey Talk-Line experts are not just knowledgeable and helpful; they’re creative too.

“If people realize they don’t have a rack, we can advise them to put carrots or celery under the turkey or make a rack from balls of aluminum foil. Anything to elevate the bird, get airflow underneath it.”

You work hard to make your Thanksgiving celebration wonderful. Never forget you’ve got the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line experts behind you to help you through big crises or small. “We’ll be there through Dec. 24,” says Smith, “empowering them to host like a boss.”