It would be crazy to think that I came to this event without some preconceived notion of what goes on behind the scenes at this Thanksgiving institution. I suppose in some way I thought of it as a phone room much like a television shopping station or those people who call to sell insurance and timeshares via phone. I imagined people who simply went to work each day, looked up turkey questions and went back home to their lives. Boy, was I wrong.
The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary helping both new and seasoned cooks maneuver their way through the traditional holiday meal. Led by a staff of home economists, the 55 Turkey Talk-Line experts were a warm and welcoming bunch. While I didn’t get the opportunity to see them “in action,” my couple of days spent with them allowed me into a world where the turkey is HONORED and the camaraderie cherished.
My first day of Butterball University (yes, there is an actual Butterball U training school) was chock full of one-on-one learning. Led by a team of Turkey Talk-Line veterans, I spent my first day with the “freshmen” (experts who have been with the Talk-Line for 3 years or less) cooking turkey, learning how to properly thaw, cook and carve. There is so much to learn and the two full days that I spent there were not enough. Fortunately, I was able to learn some of the very basics like how to choose my turkey (do I want fresh or frozen?), how to use proper thawing techniques and MOST of all – how to cook the PERFECT Holiday Turkey.
Donning our Butterball aprons, each of the fourteen freshmen (including six bloggers) was assigned a different cooking method. Luckily, I was expected to cook my turkey in the more traditional open pan method (something that I’ve been doing for many years). The difference was that instead of using a rack, I placed carrots underneath to not only keep the turkey up off of the pan, but they also provided a little extra flavor. The big reveal came when all of the turkeys were fully cooked and we had to guess which one was our own. Among the methods were the traditional open pan, microwave, oven bag method, and closed roaster. As you can see, having made the turkey similar to what I had in the past, the open pan method pretty much ensures that the turkey will be that beautiful golden brown color. If it’s cooked at 325 until the stuffing is 165 and the thigh is 180, the meat will be tender and juicy.
Master Chef Tony Seto (formerly of the Culinary Institute of America) gave a lesson on the proper way to carve (this after I hacked my turkey into stringy bits). Okay, so that was always a task best left to Mr. S or the staff. Chef Tony tried to tell me that my knife wasn’t sharp enough (but, my guess is that he was just attempting to spare my feelings). I came away feeling like I could certainly have a crowd over for Thanksgiving and be able to handle dinner with ease.
Instructors Carol, Marge, and Marty taught the proper ways to thaw a turkey, food handling techniques and even ideas for some great side dishes. The first thing I did when I got home….buy a NEW thermometer. I’ve been using the same one for so many years, and not only is it difficult to read, but I’m sure that it’s way off.
When it’s NOT holiday time, I like grilling my turkey outside. I learned some great techniques for grilling as well, including EXACTLY how many charcoal briquettes to use (I was using too many, as well as how often to replenish them during the grilling process.
By the time day one was over, I felt exhausted (and HUNGRY).
Day two brought out the entire Butterball Turkey Talk-Line staff, from newbies to twenty-five-year veterans. Spending the day with these women, I understood why they return year after year to help consumers through their holiday dining dilemmas. There is a very strong camaraderie between the experts who work on the Turkey Talk-Line. It seems to be more than just the fact that they’ve worked together for so many years; there is a genuine love for the company as well as helping consumers have the BEST holiday meal possible. While I only got to spend two days with these remarkable women and the instructors at Butterball U, I’m very proud to be an honorary member of their team.