The 5 Most Important Turkey Tips from a Butterball Talk-Line Expert

published Nov 23, 2022
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I am a home economist by vocation and have used those skills working on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line for more than 15 years. The Talk-Line started 40-plus years ago and it has evolved to include a large staff of food pros that includes home economists, teachers, chefs, and registered dietitians, who are available via phone (1-800-Butterball), text (1-844-877-3456), chat (from, social media, and Alexa-enabled devices every year from November 1 through December 24.

Each year we look at the research to track trends and the interests of cooks. This year we found that 90% of folks are excited and looking forward to gathering with family and friends and 85% of those will have turkey on the table! As one of more than 50 Thanksgiving first responders at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, I’m on alert to aid turkey cooks. The calls, texts, and chat messages to us come in rapidly and I can hear the escalating levels of panic as we get closer to Thanksgiving Day. Relax and exhale — these five tips will help you avoid holiday meal mayhem.

1. Be sure to thaw your turkey ahead — but don’t panic if you didn’t.

“Yes, they do take longer than we think to thaw.” This is one of my most frequent phrases when answering calls to the Talk-Line. I respond calmly to cooks hovering on the edge of panic.

My advice for the quickest thaw is to place the turkey breast-side down in its original packaging in a sink or cooler of cold (tap) water. Plan to change the water about every 30 minutes. If you need to continue the next day, place the turkey breast-up on a tray in the refrigerator overnight. Allow about 30 minutes per pound for the turkey to thaw— a 12-pound turkey will thaw in about six hours in cold water.

2. In a pinch, you can cook a frozen turkey.

If you forgot to thaw your turkey altogether, you can cook the turkey from frozen, but the cooking time is longer. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Remove the turkey from the bag. Place the turkey breast-side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan. Brush the skin lightly with vegetable oil. Place in the preheated oven.

After about three hours, insert an oven-safe meat thermometer into the turkey thigh to test for doneness.  While temperature recommendations vary, Butterball recommends an internal temp of 180°F to 185 °F for the thigh. (Kitchn typically recommends 165 °F.)

3. Use this simple tool to make sure your turkey is moist, juicy, and not overcooked.

The best way to prepare a turkey that will be moist and juicy is to invest in a meat thermometer. The thermometer will tell you when you’ve reached the correct internal temperature. You may use a roasting thermometer that stays in while the turkey cooks, or an instant-read thermometer that allows you to check the temp when you think the turkey is done.

The recommendations for internal temperatures vary, however Butterball recommends the following:     

  • Turkey breast: 165°F to 170°F
  • Stuffing: 165°F
  • Turkey thigh: 180°F to 185°F

4. Take these steps to make your turkey look as good as it tastes.

For the most beautiful bird, brush the turkey skin with vegetable oil, which will produce a turkey with an even, golden color. Place the turkey in the pre-heated 325°F oven uncovered, allowing it to brown. Once it is browned to your liking, cover the turkey breast with an aluminum foil tent to prevent over-browning. Let the turkey rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This allows the muscles to relax and the juices to settle, which will create a much better slicing experience. If you slice without letting the turkey rest, the juices will run out and the slices will be ragged and may shred.

5. Store your leftovers properly for delicious meals for days.

Once the meal is finished the food should be put away within two hours. If you’ve stuffed the turkey, remove any leftover dressing from the bird. Slice the meat off the turkey carcass and place the slices in airtight containers. If you have more leftovers than you’ll eat within three days, put the remainder in the freezer. Frozen dressing should be used within one month, and frozen turkey and drippings should be used within two months. The frozen carcass will make great soup — plan to use it within two months.