I’m not the greatest cook. Hell, I’m not even a good cook. I get by in the kitchen, but when it comes to making dinner, I make reservations. So I’m glad to see there’s a support group for people like me when the going gets tough.
NAPERVILLE, Ill. — The internet should have killed the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line years ago, but all the Google searches, YouTube videos and turkey tweets in the world can’t match the small-bore magic that happens here on the fifth floor of a suburban office building 34 miles southwest of Chicago.
Each year from Nov. 1 through Christmas Eve, 50 Butterball experts ease more than 100,000 nervous cooks through their Thanksgiving meal, either over the phone or, more recently, through text, email or live chat sessions.
The talk line started 38 years ago as a marketing gimmick, and has grown into a seasonal slice of Americana as sturdy and reassuring as a Midwestern grandmother with a degree in home economics, which many of the experts are.
“People can be just paralyzed with fear,” said Phyllis Kramer, who first took the seasonal job 17 years ago after retiring as a home economist. “All they usually need is someone who takes the time to be personal and sympathetic.”
Ms. Kramer embraces the talk-line ethos, which requires a cheery, solution-oriented and nonjudgmental demeanor. But who doesn’t love a good kitchen disaster story? It doesn’t take much to coax the experts into spilling some tea on America’s turkey illiteracy.
Their version of comedy gold often centers on thawing, the most common topic among callers. People ask if they can thaw a turkey in the dishwasher, under an electric blanket or in the backyard pool. One man threw a wrapped turkey in the bath water with his two children.
Here’s a classic: A man called in, worried about whether his bird would thaw in time. “What state is your turkey in?” the expert asked, trying to do a little culinary detective work. “Florida,” he answered.
Then there was the woman who wanted to know if she could check the turkey temperature with a fever thermometer, another who used dish soap to wash the turkey and the newlywed who called from a closet, fearful that her mother-in-law would discover she didn’t know how to roast a turkey.
Ms. Kramer’s favorite call came five years ago, when a group she suspects was fueled by a few holiday cocktails complained that the 21-pound turkey they had just pulled from the oven had barely any meat. She was puzzled, but then had a moment of what she called divine inspiration. “Turn the turkey over,” she suggested. They had cooked it breast-side down.
“The internet isn’t going to tell them that,” Ms. Kramer said.
Even the leader of the free world can avail himself of it.
Failing that, I’ve come up with a foolproof way of making sure I can just enjoy someone else’s hard work.
Don’t worry; I’m bringing a pumpkin pie from Publix.