What They Teach at Butterball University
Starting from a kitchen in Naperville, Illinois in 1981, the Butterball Turkey Talk Hotline, has become a ubiquitous part of Thanksgiving, offering up real time help to those in desperate turkey need, answering questions about everything from turkey cook time to what happens if you cut your turkey with a chainsaw (almost certainly nothing good). And the Turkey Talk Line has evolved over the years, like when it added the ability to text and tweet your poultry problems last year. According the Turkey Talk Line talkers, they fielded over 10,000 texts alone. The small group of turkey prep evangelists, now at 50, has cycled through personnel over the years. Some of them are chefs, some of them are food educators, some are food stylists, but the one thing they all have in common is they all "graduated" from "Butterball University." The turkey company makes all hotline workers go through an intensive course each of their first three years where they get instruction on how to best answer the myriad questions they're likely to get when the Hotline opens on November 1. I got to drop in for a special accelerated course at Butterball U and here's the curriculum:
Thawing a turkey
According to Beth Somers the most frequently asked questions at the Turkey Talk Line are about thawing a turkey. And while going from frozen to raw is certainly the ugliest part of the entire turkey cooking process, for health reasons it may also be the most important. The official word from the Turkey Talkers is that turkeys should be thawed in the refrigerator one day for every four pounds of turkey. Alternatively, you can try the cold water thawing method, submerging the turkey in cold water, which takes 30 minutes for every pound of turkey (NOTE: If you try this, make sure you change the water every 30 minutes to ensure efficient thawing).
Turkey Cooking Time
While people generally figure about 15 minutes per pound to cook a turkey in a 325 degree oven, that isn't what Turkey Talk Line emphasizes. Instead they focus on internal temperature. But if you're checking with a instant read thermometer, make sure you check both the white meat and the dark meat, because they should be cooked to different temperatures. They say white meat should be cooked to 165, but dark meat should be cooked to 180.
Basting a Turkey
Don't do it. That's likely what you hear if you call in. When she teaches new Hotline employees, 33-year Turkey Talk Line veteran Carol Miller makes the point to them that constant basting is not a useful technique because the liquid won't penetrate the turkey's skin. Instead, she says, rub butter under the skin or glaze the turkey during the end of the cooking process. (TIP: If you're going to put butter under the skin, a clean and easy way to do it is to spread it on a piece of wax paper, chill it until it's a solid square and then cut squares or discs of butter out of the square and slide them under the skin.)
Resting a Turkey
After it comes out of the oven, let the turkey rest for 20 minutes. But make sure you carve it within two hours.
Moving a Turkey
Getting a turkey from a hot roasting pan to a cutting board for carving is not necessarily the easiest thing to do. The recommended move is to put a spoon in the cavity of the turkey, hold the other of the bird with a paper towel use the spoon as a handle to move it.
Carving a Turkey
The hotline's Christopher Clem says that turkey carving can actually be the most stressful part of the entire cooking process. He encourages even experienced carvers to cut the bird in the privacy of their kitchens because "no one wants an audience." But whether you're carving in public or not, he says to first cut the drumstick away at the joint, exposing the white meat. Then, cut the turkey breast along the bottom until you hit the breast bone. Next cut down from the top of the breast along the bone to completely separate it. Once it's separated you can slice the breast across the grain.