Thanksgiving Turkey Trauma? Call the Butterball Hotline

Courtesy Butterball Turkey

One aspiring Thanksgiving chef who was short on time had a great idea: thaw his frozen turkey by wrapping it in an electric blanket. It was Nicole Johnson's job to tell him that wasn't the way to go.

Johnson is one of 57 food experts who will staff the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line this year. While most of us are enjoying our turkey dinner, they'll be manning the phones at hotline headquarters in Naperville, Ill. "We're here to counsel people through what we call 'turkey trauma,'" she told ABC News.

The Talk-Line got its start in 1981. That year 11,000 people called in during November and December, the two months when the help line is in operation. Last year, there were 12,000 calls on Thanksgiving Day alone and thousands more questions online and through social media.

Johnson, who has a degree in nutrition dietetics, says, "The number one inquiry we get is, 'How do I go about thawing my turkey?'" (Hint: Forget the electric blanket.)

This 11-year talk line veteran remembers one gentleman whose wife worked nights and left him a list of things to do. "On that list was, 'Bathe the twins and thaw the turkey,'" Johnson said. "He decided he was going to kill two birds with one stone and throw the twins and the turkey in the tub at the same time." (Hint: That's not a good idea either.)

The most important advice: Don't thaw the turkey on the countertop or in the sink, that's a perfect way to grow bacteria. The best method is in the refrigerator, but that takes a lot of time, 24 hours for every four pounds of turkey. You can also submerge the bird in cold water for a thawing time of half an hour per pound. But you have to change out the cold water every 30 minutes.

I have to confess my family has used the Butterball Talk-Line. One year, we were cooking the turkey for our annual dinner at a friend's house, and wanted to be able to serve it right out of the oven, piping hot. So we got the notion of cooking the turkey halfway, then transporting it to the friend's oven to finish it off. Is that safe? The kind person answering our call assured us it was not.

Talking turkey is serious business; those taking the sometimes frantic phone calls go through Butterball University to learn everything there is to know about turkeys and how to cook them properly. Of course on Thanksgiving Day, Johnson and her co-workers won't have time to cook their own turkeys; they'll be too busy telling callers how to safely and deliciously cook theirs. Johnson doesn't mind. For those in the turkey talk game, that day is the Superbowl.