Tuesday, November 22, 2016

TOP STORY >> Butterball’s crises hotline

Did you hear about the woman who called the Butterball hotline and asked how long it would take to roast her turkey? To answer the question, the Talk-Line home economist asked how much the bird weighed. The woman responded, “I don’t know, it’s still running around outside.”

Or the one about a restaurant owner who called wanting to know how to roast a turkey for a vegetarian menu. He was from California, of course.

Or the woman who complained that her turkey didn’t have any breast meat. She had placed the bird upside-down in the pan.

Then there was a woman who couldn’t find the turkey she buried in a snowbank, a guy who wanted to know how to carve his bird with a chainsaw, and a mechanic who worried about using motor oil as a baste.

One caller told the operator she had always cut the legs off the turkey before putting it in the oven, thinking that was the method everyone used, because that is how her mother had always done it. As she later learned, her mom did it that way because her oven was small.

Then there was the time a lady was picking through the frozen turkeys at the grocery store, but couldn’t find one big enough for her family. She asked a stock boy, “Do these turkeys get any bigger?” The stock boy replied, “No ma’am, they’re dead.”

Haven’t heard these? That’s OK. Jan Allen and her cohorts at Butterball Turkey Hotline have.

Allen, a home economics teacher by trade is in her 34th year as a hotline consultant. She is one of up to 50 experts who man phones, emails, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. Between now and Thanksgiving, the experts are even available for texting 24/7. “Just text 844-877-3456,” Allen said in a Sunday interview.

The regular Butterball hotline number is, naturally, 1-800-BUTTERBALL.

Allen handles between 200 and 300 inquiries every day during Thanksgiving week, and after 34 years manning the phones she said the No. 1 question is still how to thaw a turkey. One recent Thanksgiving a man called and said, “OK, I’ve got my frozen turkey ready to thaw, and I have one question: What number should I set the dial to on my electric blanket?’” she recalled.

Allen says all the consultants have a food background, a frequently-asked-questions guidebook, charts on the wall with cooking times and years of phone-bank experience, but still get stumped.

“Just last week,” she said, “I got a call from a guy who wanted to do something different. He wanted to take his turkey out to a remote area and dig a hole, line it with hot coals and bricks and cook it like he was at a luau.”

“We don’t dig a lot of holes up here (near Chicago) so that’s not a cooking method we’ve tried. I gave him some tips, but it’s hard because the temperature would be so inconsistent. I finally suggested he go to that remote place with a grill or smoker,” Allen said.

“Food safety is our No. 1 concern when we give advice.” she said. “We want everyone to have a happy Thanksgiving.”

Then there was the call from a lady who instead of traditional stuffing wanted to know if she could stuff the bird with bratwurst and German potato salad. “That was a new one,” Allen said, adding from a food safety side it was OK. “But I told her while turkey drippings add flavor to traditional stuffing I wasn’t sure of the taste quality with her idea.”

Another recent call that Allen handled was from a woman who was having several tall men over 6 foot 3 inches attend her Thanksgiving feast. “Will they eat more turkey?” the women asked. Allen said the rule of thumb is 1.5 pounds of turkey per person. “That’s usually enough for dinner and leave some leftovers. But I told her if it made her feel better to buy a turkey a couple of pounds heavier than normal. The worst that could happen is she’ll have plenty of leftovers.”

Allen, like most of the consultants, have a cornucopia of stories about their work at the hotline.

Some of Allen’s favorites: The time a young wife was cooking her first Thanksgiving turkey and both her mom and her mother-in-law were giving her advice. “It was often conflicting advice,” Allen said, “so she snuck into a closet with her cell phone and called us, asking how to prepare it. She followed our suggestions, and afterwards thanked both moms privately for their wonderful advice.”

A flustered father who called the hotline a few hours after his wife had given birth to their first child. He was concerned that their Thanksgiving turkey had been thawing in the fridge for too long while he was at the hospital. When asked the man how much it weighed, he replied, “The turkey or the baby?”

Or the woman who was walking into the dining room with her turkey on a platter all decorated, garnished and ready. Yep, she tripped, and it fell on the floor and everyone was instantly devastated. “Her quick-thinking husband said, ‘Don’t worry honey, we’ll just bring out the other turkey,’” Allen said, adding there was no other turkey.

“They took the dropped one, cleaned it up, re garnished it, brought it out on a different platter and everyone had a great meal,” Allen said.

And I say, “See, husbands can be useful.”

Happy Thanksgiving!