11/01/2011 05:18 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

The Real Story Behind The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line

It's Thanksgiving day, and you have a turkey emergency. Or, you've read about 101 ways to prepare the giant bird and you're flummoxed about which method to try. If you need someone to hold your hand -- or help you put out a fire -- Butterball's Turkey Talk-Line is here to answer your questions.

When it opened in 1981, the Turkey Talk-Line's six home economists responded to 11,000 phone calls. Now, a team of 50 turkey experts in Naperville, Illinois, provide answers to more than 100,000 questions each November and December. According to Butterball.com, they've handled calls regarding everything from "how to cook for a whole firehouse, how to impress the in-laws, and how to serve international students their first American Thanksgiving dinner."

How To Work For The Talk-Line

To work for the Talk-Line, you have to be serious about food. Each of the college-educated turkey experts come from food-related backgrounds: they are dietitians, home economics teachers, test kitchen workers and food stylists. And before taking calls, prospective experts are required to attend "Butterball University," an intensive full-day class in which experts experiment with up to twelve different ways to make a turkey in the Butterball test kitchen.

Carol Miller, a Turkey Talk-Line supervisor, has worked for the Talk-Line for 25 years. "That's a lot of years of reciting, 'Butterball Turkey Talk-Line! How can I help you?" she says. "Although sometimes I goof up and say "Talky Turk-Line."

"The university is hands on," she says. "We don't focus on specific recipes -- we test various [cooking] methods."

When the time comes to brave the phones, each Talk-Line expert is given a four-inch thick blue binder with "at least 50 tabs." And most of the returning experts have its myriad of turkey facts pretty much memorized. Has Miller ever been stumped by a caller's inquiry? "Gosh," she says, "I probably shouldn't say this, but we now have Google."

Common (And Not-So-Common) Questions

Though Miller says callers span all ages and abilities, there are typical questions. The most common inquiry, year after year, inevitably has to do with thawing. According to Miller, seven out of 10 people buy frozen turkeys. And every Thanksgiving, it feels like most of those people call the Talk-Line with a turkey icicle on their hands. Every four pounds of turkey takes one day of thawing in the fridge, so Miller advises to "buy early so you can you can thaw easy." Of course, she knows plenty of tricks to help rescue a rock-hard bird, but they take time. "I can help those people, but they might have to serve the pumpkin pie first." (Check out Butterball's thawing how-to video below.)

And what about the offbeat questions? After all, any job that involves interacting with the public is going to get a little weird. Miller can recall a couple crazy ones. "We did have this one young woman who put the turkey on a rack like you would a pizza. She wanted to know why it was smoking."

Another woman admitted that she snapped up a prepared turkey from her supermarket deli, but was desperate to convince her guests that she made it herself. "She wanted her whole house to smell like turkey," Miller says. "She wanted to know if there was such a thing as a turkey-aerosol can."

And then there were the times Miller advised callers to hang up and dial 9-1-1. "One man reported to us that the wires in the back of his stove were smoking ... And we once got a call from a dad: 'My wife's in labor, what should I do?'"

Best Part Of The Job

What makes her day, Miller says, is the gratitude some callers express. "A lot of people call back to say thank you. One man wanted to send in a donation!" Surprisingly she doesn't even mind working on Thanksgiving day. (Every single Turkey Talk-Line expert has to work an eight-hour shift on the holiday.) "I never miss Thanksgiving because I share it with my Butterball family," she says.

The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line helps more than 1 million cooks in November alone through Butterball.com, Facebook, Twitter and 1-800-BUTTERBALL.

Turkey Talk-Line: 1-800-BUTTERBALL
Email: talkline@butterball.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Butterball
Twitter: http://www.facebook.com/Butterball


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