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Turkey hotline regulars return to work with (cranberry) relish

The 32th annual Butterball Turkey Talk-Line has professional home economists nutritionists hanswer questions.

The 32th annual Butterball Turkey Talk-Line has professional home economists and nutritionists on hand to answer questions.

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Top tips

Allow plenty of time to thaw the turkey, generally a day for every four pounds it weighs. A week in the refrigerator is ideal.

Use a meat thermometer. The turkey is done when the thermometer registers 180 degrees deep in the thigh. If it’s stuffed, the center of the stuffing should reach 165 degrees.

Set the finished turkey on the counter, covered with foil and a bath towel for at least 20 minutes before carving. If a large cooler is available, put it in there, and it will stay hot for up to two hours; this is helpful if there is only one oven.

Cut up the remnants and refrigerate them within two hours after they come out of the oven.

Don’t panic! For expert advice, call your mother-in-law — or 800-288-8372 (BUTTERBALL).

Updated: December 8, 2012 6:02AM

November is here, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time to talk turkey.

At least, that’s what they’ll tell you over at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, which picked up the seasonal conversation for a 32nd year last week in recently updated space on Diehl Road in northeast Naperville.

“We’re very proud of it. It’s just light and airy,” said Downers Grove resident Mary Clingman, the help line’s director, who has worked the lines for 28 years.

The team starts out small, just three per shift as the season begins. By Thanksgiving Day, when everyone is required to work an eight-hour day, the floor is filled with some 50 experts. Most of them have been on call for the holiday for at least a dozen years.

“It’s kind of like our family,” said LaGrange Park resident and longtime turkey talker Marjorie Klindera, 76. “We go back and get caught up on what’s going on in each other’s lives.”

Their turkey toolbox is more full than it used to be. The new work space includes a social media area where designated experts address queries coming in via assorted alternatives to the telephone.

“We have a lot more technology now that we’re using,” Klindera said. “When I started 30 years ago, we did record our calls on computers, but today we have so much more with our web page (and) you can go on Twitter, Facebook, live chat.”

The schedule has been expanded this year for live chat, which in the past was available for just a few hours each day.

“That’s gotten to be a big thing,” Clingman said. “When you look at the numbers, you realize you were missing a lot of people.”

And if you’re standing in the supermarket wondering how much turkey it takes to feed 20 guests, pull out your smart phone. Now there’s a Butterball site designed specifically for mobile devices.

Still, sometimes when stress is picking up steam, it can be hard to beat the reassuring sound of another human voice.

“I think it is frustrating sometimes because you can go online, and lots of luck finding the specific information that you’re looking for,” Clingman said.

However they contact the holiday therapists, the cooks frequently have one or another of a short list of issues on their minds. Most often, the bird is taking longer than expected to defrost.

“We like to encourage people to think about it in advance,” said Klindera, alluding to what the talkers call “golden Thursday,” a full week before the holiday itself. “That’s the time to get your frozen bird in the refrigerator.”

Some calls come from first-time holiday cooks, who often are intimidated by the task of upholding tradition in a timely and tasty manner.

“Most of their fear is over the fact that they haven’t cooked such a big piece of meat before, or they’re cooking for guests that they haven’t cooked for before,” said Klindera, who finds the callers are often relieved to learn it’s easier than they expected.

The simplest approach, all the Talk-Line staff will say, is roasting the turkey in a shallow, open pan at 325 degrees, with a copy-paper sized sheet of aluminum foil set loosely atop the breast so it won’t overcook while the rest of the body reaches proper doneness.

To be certain, some questions come in that no one saw coming. A caller who was doing a practice run phoned on opening day last week, wanting to know if her bird might be done at 75 degrees. It took some back and forth, Clingman said, before the phone line operators realized the caller was referring to the Celsius temperature scale.

Another memorable conversation transpired in a past season, when a man who was showing signs of postpartum exhaustion, rang Clingman’s line. It had only been a few hours earlier when his wife gave birth to their first child, and he was worried that while the couple was absorbed in the blessed event, their Thanksgiving turkey might have been thawing in the refrigerator for too long. Clingman wanted to know how much it weighed, and the man replied, “The turkey, or the baby?”

With the correct poundage and the thawing time established, she was able to assure the new dad that Thanksgiving dinner could still go on for the newly expanded household, albeit belatedly.

Chats like that one are especially satisfying for those who tow the turkey line, when the time comes to hang up and head home for their own feasts on Thanksgiving evening.

“You work hard, you talk to people all day, and then you realize you saved the day for a lot of people,” Clingman said.

That doesn’t mean they feel they’ve learned all there is to know about the ins and outs of turkey preparation. Every year, the employees return to “Butterball University,” where each student is required to cook the bird in a new way. It was there where Klindera learned about “spatchcocking,” or removing the turkey’s backbone and flattening it out for roasting. The technique helps prevent dried-out and under cooked portions, but it does sacrifice the iconic slicing of the whole bird at the table.

“The turkey cooks very evenly,” Klindera said. “And if you want to have stuffing, you can put it underneath.”

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