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Talking turkey with a longtime Butterball 'Turkey Talk-line' operator

Mary Alice Coffey as been a Turkey Talk-line operator for nearly 30 years.

AUSTIN, Texas — It's time to talk turkey. This week, many will make their Thanksgiving meals with a turkey as their centerpiece.

But so many things can go wrong when cooking this type of bird. That's why KVUE reached out to the Butterball "Turkey Talk-line," where operators have been answering all sorts of turkey questions since the early 1980s.

Mary Alice Coffey as been a Turkey Talk-line operator for Butterball for nearly 30 years. She joined KVUE Midday to answer some top turkey inquiries. 

Below is an abridged transcript of her conversation with KVUE's Jenni Lee.

Jenni Lee: What is the best way to thaw a turkey? And why is that so important?

Mary Alice Coffey: "Well, it's only important to thaw your turkey because if you don't, you're going to have uneven cooking and it just will not cook correctly. So, it's best to go ahead and thaw it. 

There's two easy ways to do it. In the refrigerator, it's 24 hours for every four pounds. But, at this point, you only have a couple of days, so I would recommend putting it in a cooler. You're going to fill it with cold tap water, and you're going to have it – takes 30 minutes a pound to thaw it out. Change the water every 30 minutes. I would do it today [Monday] or tonight when you get it time, you can break it up, do a little bit each night, Monday night or Tuesday night. 

And then always put it back on a tray in the refrigerator when you're done so it's always cold. But you can start thawing now. It's good for four days after it's thawed."

Lee: What is the best way to keep a turkey moist?

Coffey: "Well, the most important thing if you want a moist turkey is to not overcook it. So I would really recommend your best friend in the kitchen, which is your meat thermometer. And you're going to use that – make sure it's working well, it's not been bumping around in your drawer for 10 years. So, go ahead and stick your meat thermometer in the thigh of the turkey and the temperature will be 180, the breast temperature will be 170 and your stuffing temperature will be 165. And that way you can ensure that your turkey is safe and ready to go. A dry turkey is usually one that's left in the oven too long."

Lee: So three different temperatures that we need to keep in mind. Mary Alice, you've been doing this for 29 years. What are some of the more unusual questions you've gotten over the years?

Coffey: "Oh, my goodness, we've gotten so many particular problems with people. And, you know, I had a young man who was very nervous about making his Thanksgiving dinner for his new fiancée and her parents. But he followed all the Butterball directions, he did the best he could and he called us because when he put the turkey in the oven, he hit the button that said clean instead of bake. So the door locked and it went up to 500 degrees, and there was smoke filling in the kitchen. So, he was very upset and I calmly told him to hang up and call the fire department because you need to get that turkey out of the oven."

Lee: There are several ways to cook a turkey, right? You can roast it, grill it, smoke it. What is the easiest way to make a bird?

Coffey: "Well, the easiest way is the roasting method, which is Butterball's preferred method of cooking turkey. You just need a pan with a rack, you open up the turkey by the sink, let the juices run down the drain. Put the turkey right on the rack. You don't need to wash it or anything. And then you just pat it dry with some paper towels. 

"You want to set your oven at 325. And the average turkey is only going to take about three to 3.5 hours, but the only way you'll know it's really done is use the meat thermometer. 

"So, one thing you can do to prepare it before you put it in the oven is brush it with a little bit of oil or spray oil on the top. That will give it that nice golden-brown color. And also, I would recommend, if you're cooking a very large turkey, you might want to put a lightweight piece of foil. Just fold it in half, about the size of a notebook paper, and just lay it on top of the breast because that will slow down the breast temperature a little bit while the rest of the turkey is cooking and bring it up to temperature. So, those are the two little tips."

Lee: When you say large turkey, how many pounds is a large turkey?

Coffey: "I think a large turkey would be in that in the area of 18 to 24."

Lee: When can we start calling and texting Butterball?

Coffey: "Well we are open today [Monday]. All week long, we're going to be answering calls. You can reach us at 1-800-BUTTERBALL [1-800-288-8372] with any questions. If you don't have time, you can go to Butterball.com, where you can get a lot of videos, active videos, to show you how to do things. But also we have texting and chat, emails and we also have Alexa device. If you have that, you can ask Alexa about Butterball. So, there's many ways to reach us."

The number to text Butterball any question you may have is 844-877-3456.

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