DEEP DIVE

A brief history of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, including the most bizarre questions ever asked

Get to know the service that allows home cooks to ask experts for advice about cooking the perfect turkey

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published November 21, 2022 4:59PM (EST)

Cooking turkey in an oven (Getty Images/alvarez)
Cooking turkey in an oven (Getty Images/alvarez)

Thanksgiving is an annual celebration of all things family, friends and food. Hosting the holiday feast is a simultaneously chaotic and rewarding experience.

After taking a step back, it's not hard to see why. First, there are hasty, oftentimes last-minute trips to the supermarket. Then, there are long hours of prep work, followed by even more hours of cooking, playing host (which may include navigating a conversation about politics at the dinner table) and cleaning up.

From a culinary perspective, the most stressful component may be preparing the turkey. Whether your showstopper weighs 12 pounds or 20 pounds, roasting such a hefty bird is no easy feat. Thankfully, there's 24/7 assistance at the ready if mayhem ensues.

Here to help with any problems or questions that arise is Butterball's Turkey Talk-Line, the beloved service that allows home cooks to ask experts for advice about cooking the perfect turkey. Here's a look back at its history, including how it has adapted over the years to changes in technology:

A brief history of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line

The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line was officially created in 1981 as a toll-free telephone line for home cooks to call for live advice and tips from turkey experts. In its first year, the hotline received 11,000 calls, which were fielded by a group of just six operators. As the volume of calls went up, so did the number of operators.

"Can you thaw a frozen turkey by wrapping it in an electric blanket?"

Only a few years later, the Turkey Talk-Line revamped its services to keep up with new technologies and modern household appliances. In 1984, the Turkey Talk-Line ditched its old-fashioned paper script and tally system and went electronic with computerized resource information for customers. The following year, the Turkey Talk-Line offered a turkey microwave recipe, which featured a browning sauce for a golden finish, in response to more customers using at-home microwaves to cook meals.

In 1995, the Turkey Talk-Line debuted on Butterball.com, allowing operators to provide customer service and instant answers 24/7. Thirteen years later, Butterball joined social media, specifically Facebook and Twitter, and became more mobile-friendly.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Turkey Talk-Line featured only female operators until 2013, when it employed its first male staffer on the team. In 2016, the Turkey Talk-Line expanded its services to text, allowing home cooks to more speedily contact experts. Two years later, it became accessible via Amazon Alexa.

"I don't want to touch the giblets. Can I fish them out with a coat hanger?"

Amid the pandemic, the Turkey Talk-Line operated remotely and launched its own TikTok account, where experts join in on trends and share Turkey advice and fun recipes.

Today, the hotline remains both booked and busy with more than 50-plus experts, who answer more than 100,000 questions throughout November and December.

The zaniest customer questions

For more than 40 years, the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line has readily answered questions from customers — no matter how bizarre they might be.

Here are some of the strangest questions ever asked, courtesy of a 2015 article by Sarah Burris:

  1. "I left the bird in the snowbank to thaw and now I can't find it. Now what??"
  2. "I left my turkey in the car overnight. Is it still OK to eat?"
  3. "I carved my turkey with a chainsaw . . . Is the chain grease going to adversely affect my turkey?"
  4. "Can I baste my turkey with suntan lotion?"
  5. "Can I poke holes all over the turkey and pour a can of beer over it to keep it moist?"
  6. "The family dog is inside the turkey and can't get out . . . ?"
  7. "I'm a truck driver. Can I cook the turkey on the engine block of my semi while I'm driving? If I drive faster, will it cook faster?"
  8. "Is it OK if I break the bones so it'll fit in the pan?"
  9. "Can I slow roast the turkey for three or four days?"
  10. "It's my first Thanksgiving, and I have a tiny apartment-size oven . . . How much will my turkey expand when cooking?"
  11. "Can you thaw a frozen turkey using an electric hair dryer?"
  12. "Can you thaw a frozen turkey by wrapping it in an electric blanket?"
  13. "Should I remove the plastic wrap before I cook my turkey?"
  14. "I don't want to touch the giblets. Can I fish them out with a coat hanger?"
  15. "The turkey in my freezer is 23 years old. Is it safe to eat?"
  16. "I scrubbed my raw turkey with a toothbrush dipped in bleach for three hours. Is that enough to kill the harmful bacteria?"
  17. "How do I roast my turkey so it gets golden brown tan lines — in the shape of a turkey bikini?"
  18. "Why does my turkey have no breast meat?"

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon, covering Culture and Food. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.

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Butterball Deep Dive Food Food History Holidays Thanksgiving Turkey