Every year for the past 39 years experts at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, the unsung heroes of Thanksgiving week and the end-of-the-year holidays, answer hundreds of thousands of calls.
"You can sometimes hear the panic in people's voices if something's not going right. Our job is really to reassure them, and get them to relax, and to pull off a successful meal," says Bill Nolan, a Turkey Talk-Line supervisor — who's also a chef.
Every Talk-Line operator (there are 50 total) is a verified expert in the field of food and nutrition, and Nolan himself has been teaching cooking for 25 years.
Witness their expertise firsthand and be prepared to laugh — we've compiled a list of Turkey Talk-Line operators' most memorable stories.
1. Filled to the brim
One year a man phoned in saying, “We’ve got all the relatives coming, my wife has every inch of the refrigerator taken up, every inch of the freezer taken up, how am I going to thaw the turkey?”
But the guy had already taken matters into his own hands — and it didn’t go well.
“This gentleman that called said, ‘You know, I took my turkey and put it in the garage,’” recalls Turkey Talk-Line supervisor Bill Nolan.
The caller lived in Minnesota, so it was pretty cold out and the turkey probably would have been fine. That is, if the man had shut the garage door.
With the door open, some sort of animal came in and ripped the packaging. The man was calling to see if the turkey would still be OK to serve.
Nolan had to say, “There’s absolutely no way it’s safe to eat.”
2. Know how to multitask
Most of us have embarrassing photos of bath time tucked away in a photo album, ready to be cracked open when we bring someone special home for Thanksgiving.
One Talk-Line call took bath time embarrassment to a whole new level.
A Talk-Line staffer picked up the phone, only to be greeted by the sounds of splashing water in the background. It turned out that a father — stuck between bathing his young twins and thawing the turkey — decided: Why not do both?
The sounds were his toddlers in the bath — with the turkey. Dad called in to figure out if he could thaw the turkey in the bathwater and serve it to his guests.
We’re guessing that was a no.
3. The tables have turned
Some callers who phone in have interesting cooking arrangements.
One panicked caller had realized the turkey he was trying to stuff into his oven would never fit. And, it just so happened that this man was a part-time turkey roaster and a full-time landlord.
He came up with an interesting solution to his situation: The caller asked one of his tenants if he could rent their oven for $25.
The panic set in when the caller realized he’d have to enter his tenant’s home multiple times to baste the turkey. Maybe he was worried that the tenant would ask him to stop and fix a few things in the apartment?
At any rate, the Talk-Line expert assured him that Butterball turkeys come pre-basted and only needed to be basted just once.
4. Soaking up some sun
American hospitality is served up in big helpings on Thanksgiving. Hosts tend to go above and beyond to make sure everything is perfect — and every kitchen becomes a war room, with potatoes being mashed into submission, and gravy sizzling on the stove.
That’s why it’s extra special that one caller took some time out of her hectic day to make sure her guests from the Bahamas felt at home.
She called in hoping to figure out how to put bikini tan lines on her turkey — a tropical twist for her Bahamian friends.
The woman found out from Mary Clingman of Talk-Line that she could indeed make the star of her Thanksgiving dinner look as though it had been sunning on the beach, by using aluminum foil to shape a bikini on the roasting bird.
5. Sticking it to the in-laws
Imagine all the pressure of Thanksgiving, and then on top of that, you’ve got your in-laws (specifically your mother-in-law) not believing in you and not believing you can cook.
Whether or not they’re right is an issue for another day.
A woman in this situation called the Turkey Talk-Line, from inside a closet.
“Can you hear me? I’ve never cooked a turkey, and my mother-in-law is convinced I can’t cook — and I can’t cook, but I want to do it,” she whispered.
The hotline expert helped the caller through roasting the turkey but advised her not to baste the turkey (an optional step) — even if the caller’s mother-in-law insisted. And naturally, the mother-in-law did.
6. Classic mixup
A new addition to the family is not only a reason to be thankful on the holiday but can also make for a pretty funny story.
Just hours after his wife had given birth, a giddy and nervous father called the Butterball hotline to check whether his thawing turkey was still safe. It had been sitting there since the couple had left for the hospital.
The Talk-Line expert asked how much it weighed, and the new dad — full of endorphins, no doubt — responded, “The turkey or the baby?”
Armed with the turkey’s weight and thawing time, the expert reassured the new dad that his baby’s first Thanksgiving could be delivered on time.
7. It’s not Halloween
Although Halloween and Thanksgiving are a month apart, it seems some callers still mix up the two holidays.
One gentleman called to tell the Turkey Talk-Line operator that he took a chainsaw — Jason Voorhees style — to his turkey and cut it right in half.
The caller was wondering if the oil from the chain would adversely affect the turkey.
The answer? Potentially, but either way, if you decide to take a chainsaw to food make sure to check the labels on everything that may be coming in contact with your meal.
And maybe invest in an electric carving knife instead. There are even ones that look like chainsaws.
8. Three little birds
Another caller ran into a slew of difficulties while prepping her turkey for her first Thanksgivings with two different husbands.
With her first husband, she forgot to thaw the bird and ended up with a still-frozen fowl — plus a generous helping of disappointment — on the big day.
With her second husband, the caller’s foil pan bent and slipped out of her hand. Turkey down!
The flustered cook preemptively called the Butterball hotline to nail down the methodology for her third attempt.
Luckily Carol Miller, veteran Talk-Line expert, was on the case to make sure every little thing was going to be all right. With the turkey, that is — not necessarily the marriage.
9. If the bird fits...
Size matters, when it comes to turkeys. Always buy a turkey big enough to comfortably feed your guests, while ensuring that you’ll have enough leftovers for several post-Thanksgiving sandwiches.
And always make sure you have access to a suitably-sized oven.
A newlywed bride called the hotline, saying she planned to cook her first Thanksgiving ever in a smaller apartment oven.
She was especially concerned that her turkey might not fit — or even expand like a sponge cake — and get stuck in the smaller appliance. She probably imagined having to call in firefighters to rescue the bird using a Jaws of Life tool.
Note that while the turkey itself doesn’t get bigger, the stuffing inside needs adequate room to expand and should be packed in loosely.
10. Every dish needs a pop of color
It’s always nice to have your kids help out in the kitchen, and it’s great to get them interested in cooking from a young age.
One mother from Kentucky called while in a bit of a cooking conundrum. She had followed all the Butterball instructions perfectly, and the turkey came out of the oven a mouthwatering shade of golden-brown.
Once Mom started carving the turkey, however, she began to see strange bright red bits throughout.
It turns out that her son, eager to help Mom cook, stuffed the bird with some Lego blocks — so she decided to call in to figure out if the meal could be salvaged.
Maybe. Might have depended on whether the dinner guests could “Lego” of any misgivings about the meal.
11. Time to pass the torch
When does it end? When can you finally stop stressing over putting together a massive Thanksgiving feast for your whole family?
Some people hang on doing the honors for years and years, while their adult children feel uncomfortable taking on all of the responsibility.
One caller hoped the Turkey Talk-Line could help her cook her first Thanksgiving dinner, because her mother said it was about time she learned. Mom was tired of doing all the cooking every year.
The caller who was finally taking on the Thanksgiving gauntlet — was 70 years old.
And so the torch passed on from mother to daughter, seven whole decades later
12. Freezer gold
Sometimes when you go to visit family during holidays, you’ll dig through their fridge to find “treasure.” The kind that has an ancient expiration date and has become more of a science project than food.
Rifling through his father’s freezer, an Alabama man found a frozen turkey from 1969. The treasure hunter called in on the Talk-Line wondering if he could cook up that decades-old bird from the Woodstock era.
The Talk-Line staffer on the line typically recommended the open roasting pan method to cook most turkeys, but in this case she recommended just tossing the freezer-burnt fowl and getting a fresh turkey.
Other treasures from Dad’s freezer? Frozen wedding cake and a snowball from each snowstorm the old man had shivered through in Alabama.
13. Turkey class in session
Kids are fascinating little people who say the darndest things.
One Butterball hotline expert fondly remembers getting the cutest phone call from a third-grade classroom.
The teacher put her on speakerphone with the kids, and said: “Is it OK if my students ask you some questions?”
The expert said yes, and that opened the floodgates to questions like: How heavy are turkeys? How long they take to cook?
“How long do you think the turkey would take to roast in the oven?” the woman from Butterball would ask, and the kids usually came back with “like 2 minutes, 3 minutes” — with the oven at 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
For an 18-pound bird.
14. Protect your image
A New Jersey fireman called the Talk-Line while cooking dinner for his entire firehouse. He wanted to know where he should insert the meat thermometer into his turkey, for the most accurate reading.
After the home economist explained the proper technique, she went ahead and suggested he log on to Butterball.com to get free recipes, too.
The fireman was interested in trying the recipes but was worried that should any of his co-workers find out, he might lose his long-cultivated “macho” image.
After all, what would his fellow firefighters think if they discovered he was studying up to know as much about roasting turkeys as he did fighting fires?
They’d probably think they were in for some good eats.
15. It’s all about perspective
Every person phoning into the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line — the pros who need a quick refresher, the novices who need a crash course — rely on the experts on the other side to approach their problems from a different angle.
One woman called in disappointed and was wondering why her turkey seemed to have no breast meat.
After she talked with the hotline employee and described the bird, they both realized the turkey was in fact upside down.
It’s possible the caller was roasting her turkey using the upside-down method and forgot to flip her dinner after the fact.
Either way, that’s another crisis flipped off its head.
16. Doggone dinner
One Thanksgiving, a couple called into the Turkey Talk-Line with a mysterious issue.
The oven refused to move past the preheating phase, leaving them in a bind.
They wanted to know if they could use their grill as a backup plan, Esquire reported.
Shortly after the hotline expert gave them the go-ahead and began to talk them through it, the wife noticed something interesting.
Their dog knew how to fiddle with the controls on the oven — and had been turning it off.
17. Sn-oh no!
You might see fresh snowfall, but others see a versatile second fridge for beer and even food (if it’s cold enough outside).
Take one caller from Colorado, who asked the Butterball hotline for the best method to thaw her frozen Butterball.
With a quick back-and-forth about the turkey’s situation, she confided that her turkey was stored in a snowbank outside. Then, it suddenly occurred to the caller that she forgot to take note of the snowbank’s location, and to make matters worse, it had snowed overnight.
Of course, the caller rushed off the phone — presumably with a shovel — to start searching nearby snowbanks for her turkey.
18. Keeping up appearances
Innocent secrets start to slip within the first year of marriage as couples begin to feel even more comfortable around each other.
Maybe you hate olives but pretended otherwise, or your spouse doesn’t actually like Star Wars.
Being a chef’s wife, one Talk-Line caller felt a different sort of pressure to deliver on her first Thanksgiving with her spouse.
See, her husband thought she was an excellent cook — except she’d been sneaking restaurant meals into pots before he came home for his “homemade” meals.
Not wanting to dispel the “cooking” magic to on Thanksgiving Day, the would-be master chef was able to enlist the Talk-Line’s help to pull off a special meal that would truly impress Chef Hubby.
19. Where there’s a will...
If you feel constrained by your situation, try to force your way out of it.
One gentleman, fed up with his oversized turkey and undersized pan, decided he needed to do something about that.
He called the Talk-Line asking for next cooking steps, after wrapping his turkey in a towel and stomping it to oblivion.
He probably let out a whole lot of aggression, and the broken bones helped him fit the bird into his pan easily. But they cost him delicious whole-turkey-bone soup after carving for dinner.
20. Where are you?
Talk-Line staffers deal with all sorts of calls year-to-year. With the sheer volume of calls, miscommunication is inevitable.
One expert asked a caller, “What state is your turkey in?” hoping to learn more about the thawing situation.
The caller deadpanned, “Florida.”
(At least it wasn’t an overseas call. If he’d been calling all the way from the nation of Turkey, then things would have gotten really confusing.)
21. Done like dinner
When cooking turkey, it’s important to check the internal temperature as you go.
One caller felt worried — since her bird had been sitting in the oven for seven hours, but the meat thermometer read only 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
With an ideal internal temperature of 165 or 180 degrees Fahrenheit, the Talk-Line expert told the caller to take the turkey out of the oven for carving.
The second she picked it up and tried to relocate it to the carving board, the whole thing fell apart — to the amusement of the caller’s family.
It turned out that the bird was long done, and the caller’s meat thermometer was done, too. It was time to replace it with a new one.
22. On the road
Last year, AAA projected that 54 million people would be traveling for Thanksgiving.
Although it’s not uncommon for the Butterball hotline to receive calls from people on the go, there are some calls that stick out.
One man called in to ask, “How do I make gravy?”
Not a strange question on its own, but the operator heard a steady gravelly rolling sound in the background.
It turned out the man was rolling a suitcase down the sidewalk with him, on the way to his mother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Inside? A piping hot turkey, dressed and ready for the feast.
A great way to avoid Thanksgiving traffic.
23. Old habits
Every year, Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions pass from parent to child.
A lot of our cooking habits trace back to the very first time we saw Mom or Dad basting a turkey, or roasting it a certain way.
One year, a woman shared her inherited practice with the Talk-Line. She chopped the legs off the turkey before putting it in the oven — thinking it was a necessary cooking step. She learned this from her mother.
Imagine the caller’s surprise when she found out that the only reason her mother cut the legs off was that the family’s small oven would never fit their turkeys otherwise.
From then on, the woman’s turkeys were like pinup models: showing a lot of leg.
24. Soapy disaster
Marge Klindera, a Talk-Line expert with over 20 years of service under her headset, received a distraught call from a rookie home cook.
The woman phoned in with tears streaming down her face. She’d executed the turkey thaw perfectly, but just before prepping her bird for the oven, she gave it a rinse in the sink.
Once your turkey thaws, it’s best to avoid washing it entirely — unless you had it soaking in a brine.
Unfortunately, the caller took things one step too far, choosing to add dish soap to her unnecessary rinse. And that’s when the soap bubbles popped up all over the turkey and made it awesomely clean, but awesomely unappetizing, too.
25. Danger zone
With the hours that go into prepping the centerpiece of the American Thanksgiving table, it can feel downright disastrous when something goes wrong with the turkey.
A woman’s power went out about an hour into roasting her turkey. She called into the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Little hoping to salvage the blackout situation.
Thankfully, she was able to transfer the turkey to a gas grill to finish things up.
But what caused the outage in the first place? It turns out one of her neighbors decided to do some holiday hang gliding and crashed right into the neighborhood power line, leaving them all without power.
The poor guy spent the rest of Thanksgiving in the ER while his neighbors spent the holiday in the dark.
26. Proving grounds
Cheers to Mom. Mothers give their all during Thanksgiving, entertaining, cooking and cleaning. That’s not to say everyone else sits on their rears and does nothing, just that moms are the Thanksgiving MVPs.
That’s exactly why taking over for them can be an intimidating two-person job.
A Talk-Line expert received a call from two sisters huddled together in the closet of a spare bedroom in their home.
It was the year the sisters were supposed to be in charge on Thanksgiving, and they didn’t want their mom to know they were calling into the hotline.
She probably knew her daughters reached out for a lifeline. Mothers always find these things out, one way or another.
27. Jacuzzi time
One caller needed to defrost a 16-pound bird and had underestimated how long it would take. So the Thanksgiving cook went ahead and popped it in the family hot tub to speed up the process, according to Esquire.
The person called to find out how long before the turkey would be ready to eat. Unfortunately, the Talk-Line expert had to say never.
The turkey needed to be in cold water — the key to avoiding bacteria growth — not bubbling away in hot jacuzzi water.
It’s easy to get impatient while thawing your bird. Bill Nolan, Butterball Talk-Line veteran, recommends thawing the turkey in the fridge — a full week before Thanksgiving.
If you’re thawing it in the sink with cold water, it will still take several hours.
28. Turkey matchbox
With all the mayhem and stress on Thanksgiving, it’s easy to lose track of your kids and the mischief they spread through the house.
Butterball told Esquire about a mom who had to call in, thanks to her little helpers.
While she stuffed the turkey, they launched those little Matchbox cars straight into the mix, without her noticing.
When it came time to carve the turkey, mom found the stuffing full of Matchbox cars.
She called in to ask if the car-stuffed turkey was still safe to eat, and thankfully the expert said yes — but the Matchbox stuffing needed to be tossed into the impound.
29. The ultimate slow burn
Kids fuelled by innocent desires don’t always think things through.
A mother called into the Talk-Line to discuss her young daughter, who wanted to slow-roast the turkey over a three- to four-day period. The daughter’s reasoning?
The kid loved the smell of roasting turkey and wanted the aroma to permeate throughout the house — as long as possible.
The Butterball experts on the other end of the phone call stuck a pin right in that bubble. They recommended against cooking the turkey (especially unattended) for more than a few hours — let alone four days — in the oven.
If you want a pleasant scent to linger, you can always try using a candle. They really do sell candles that smell like Thanksgiving dinner.
30. Not wacky, but still memorable
The most memorable call Nolan experienced involved an 83-year-old man who called the Turkey Talk-Line the night before Thanksgiving.
He lost his wife just six months before and had never done a full Thanksgiving dinner in his life.
“I want to do this for my wife, I want to make dinner for my kids and my grandkids,” he said. The 83-year-old caller had his turkey thawed, he just needed guidance from there.
“If you lived down the street, I’d come over and help you do it,” Nolan said.
Nolan stayed on the line with him talking him through each step, so he could deliver for his family that year.
How to contact the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line
If you're looking to get in touch with the Butterball Turkey Hotline, you can reach them by: