Butterball Turkey Expert Explains What To Know Before Thanksgiving

Every year, thousands of home cooks find themselves in charge of cooking the family turkey on Thanksgiving, and every year, thousands of home cooks find themselves struggling with the assignment. Cooking a turkey is rarely an easy feat, especially considering the majority of home cooks only practice their turkey-cooking skills maybe once or twice per year, at most. Luckily, Butterball is here to help — and has been for decades.

In 1981, Butterball launched its Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, allowing home cooks to call in leading up to and on Thanksgiving with their most pressing questions about how to best thaw, cook, and store their turkeys. Today, that Talk-Line still exists, but you have more ways than ever to get your questions answered, via chat, text, email, and still, of course, an old-fashioned phone call.

Andrea Balitewicz is a Butterball Turkey Talk-Line supervisor with an impressive resume to back up her turkey know-how. Previously, she's worked in recipe development for Pampered Chef, in the test kitchens at Kraft Foods, and with marketing teams at household name brands such as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Jell-O. She's been working as a Turkey Talk-Line expert for seven years this season, so Mashed recently caught up with her to learn more about the Turkey Talk-Line, her top tips for roasting a turkey, and Butterball's latest offering for stressed home cooks, the Turkey Talk-Line Comfort Calendar.

You have a ton of experience in food, and you've worked as a Butterball Turkey Talk-Line expert for several years now. How did you become a Butterball Turkey Talk-Line expert? Why is that something that you wanted to do?

Yes, I've had a lot of cooking experience. A lot of my time was spent doing recipe development [and] some product testing. I decided to stay home when I had my children. I was doing some consulting work, and a girlfriend told me about the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. It intrigued me right away because, through all these years of the cooking that I've been doing [and] the recipe testing, I've always had girlfriends that call me or I always have family that are calling me for advice. I have neighbors that run over at the last minute and need a thermometer. So it was something that I was already doing — talking to people, providing them some support, giving them cooking advice all along — and I absolutely love that. I enjoy talking about food. I enjoy helping other people, and this was something that I was so interested in.

When I joined the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, it couldn't have been better. We're a staff of 50-plus food professionals, and there's so much knowledge within our team. It's like nirvana. We all click together. There's so much to talk about, and there's so much knowledge. We have chefs. We have registered dietitians. We have food professionals and culinary professionals, like myself. It's a great group to be with, with so much knowledge.

The staff's tenure is amazing. We have staff that have been there 20 or 30 years. They keep coming back year after year. It's almost like a family reunion now.

What does that look like when you're actually working with the Talk-Line? Are you sitting at home in front of your computer answering questions? 

We have a location in Naperville, [Illinois]. It's our call center for the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. We have rows of computers, and we all have our headsets. When the staff comes in for their shift, they each have a spot to sit. It's great because people will line up next to their friends or next to the people they know. Sometimes, they'll put a consumer on hold and ask someone else a question, just to get a little reassurance or some advice from a neighbor.

We're [working] in the office; 2020 was the first year we actually did some remote work, but we love being in the office so we can share those stories and share ideas as we're talking to our consumers.

Is it set up like a typical office job, where you come in for eight hours and work your shift?

Yes. We provide our availability to our boss, and she sets up a schedule. There are anywhere between four- and eight-hour shifts. Definitely, the week of Thanksgiving, it's fully hands-on. Everybody's there. Everybody has an eight-hour shift. The most exciting part of our job is Thanksgiving week, so we all want to be there.

What are some of the most common questions that you hear from people who call in to the Turkey Talk-Line?

Year after year, the number-one question is how long to thaw your turkey. When we do our staff training, we spend a ton of time talking about how to tell consumers how to thaw a turkey. They don't realize that it takes so long because typically, people are not thawing that large of a piece of meat. The formula is one full day will thaw every 4 pounds of turkey. So if you have a 20-pound turkey, it could take five days to thaw in your refrigerator. [In response], we have what we have termed "National Thaw Your Turkey Day." It's the Thursday before Thanksgiving. This year, it's November 17, and it's listed on our Butterball Turkey Talk-Line Comfort Calendars.Then, there are lots of questions around mistakes that people have made when it comes to thawing. You definitely have people calling at that last minute. They'll say, "Oh my gosh, I completely forgot to thaw my turkey, and Thanksgiving is tomorrow." Or they call on the day of. We have some tips, and we always provide them with some solutions.

For someone who [is] ahead of the game and [has] successfully thawed their turkey, should [they] really only leave [their] thawed turkey in the fridge for a certain amount of time once it's thawed?

Yes, absolutely — four days. Once the turkey is completely thawed, the meat is good for four days, and then they have to cook it.

What are some of the weirder or more unusual questions that you've gotten over the years?

It's all common mistakes, where they've left the turkey maybe in the garage because there was so much excitement when they were bringing home all these groceries, and everybody went out to help, but the turkey was so heavy that they put it down, and then days later, they find the turkey in the garage or in the car.

Those are some of the odd questions. The turkeys are everywhere. They're outside. They're placed all over the place when people are rushed or excited or in a panic. Those are the unique questions where we have to then determine, is that turkey going to be safe for them? And Butterball is always going to err on the side of food safety. If the turkey has not been held properly, we will tell them that it's best to discard the turkey.

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