If you think the radio talk shows get a lot of strange calls, take a look at some of the questions that the folks at the Butterball Turkey Talk-line have fielded over the years.
DIAL "T" FOR TURKEY
If you bought a Butterball turkey in the 1970s, it would have included a sheet of cooking instructions, just like they still do today. But people still called the company to complain when their birds didn't come out right, which made Butterball wonder if people even bothered to read and follow the instructions. Disappointing dinners make for poor repeat business, so in 1981 Butterball started printing a toll-free number on the packaging and inviting customers to call in with any cooking questions they might have.
In those days 800 numbers were fairly rare, and the idea of calling one to get free cooking advice was a novelty. The company wasn't sure that callers would get the concept or even understand that the long-distance number was free. But they hired six home economists, set them up with phones in the company's test kitchen, and waited to see if the phone would ring. They were flabbergasted when more than 11,000 people jammed the line during the holiday season, especially on Thanksgiving, when the company figured hardly anyone would bother to call. An American institution was born.
CLUELESS ON LINE 4
Today Butterball has an automated phone system and a website to handle the most frequently asked questions. Still, more than 100,000 people call in each year to talk to the 50 turkey experts who staff the phones from November 1 through December 25. The advent of cordless and cell phones has put the Talk-line in even greater demand: People now call right from the dinner table to have someone talk them through the carving of the bird!
What's your favorite way to cook a turkey? Over the years, Butterball has tried to come up with cooking tips for every weird turkey fad that has come down the pike. In the early 1980s, they perfected a technique for cooking turkey in the microwave- which, believe it or not, was the third-most popular question in those days. (By 1987, it had dropped all the way down to #20.) Do you cook your turkey in a big brown paper bag? In a deep fryer? In a pillowcase smeared with butter? On a countertop rotisserie? The Butterball people won't always approve, but they will try to help.
DO TURKEYS HAVE BELLY BUTTONS?
Butterball has fielded some pretty bizarre questions over the past 25 years. Here are some favorites, along with the answers.
* Should I remove the plastic wrap before I cook my turkey? Yes.
* I don't want to touch the giblets. Can I fish them out with a coat hanger? Yes.
* Can I poke holes all over the turkey and pour a can of beer over it to keep it moist? You'll do more harm than good- the skin keeps the moisture in. Poking holes in it will dry it out.
* Can you thaw a frozen turkey using an electric hair dryer? Or by wrapping it in an electric blanket? In the aquarium with my tropical fish? In the tub while the kids are having their bath? No, no, no, and no. If you're in a hurry, thaw the turkey in the kitchen sink by immersing it in cold water. Allow half an hour per pound, and change the water every half hour.
* How can I thaw 12 turkeys all at once? The caller was cooking for a firehouse, so Butterball advised them to put them all in a clean trash can and hose them down with a firehose.
* The family dog bit off a big piece of the turkey. Can the rest of it be saved? Maybe. If the damage is localized, cut away the dog-eaten part of the bird and serve the rest. Disguise the maimed bird with garnishes, or carve it up out of view of your guests and serve the slices. The less your guests know, the better.
* The family dog is inside the turkey and can't get out. A few years back, Butterball really did get a call from the owner of a chihuahua that climbed inside the raw bird while the owner's back was turned. The opening was big enough for the dog to get in, but not big enough for it to get back out. The turkey expert instructed the owner on how to enlarge the opening without injuring the dog. (No word on whether the bird was eaten.) Butterball has also fielded calls from owners of gerbils and housecats. "I was told not to talk about that," one Talk-line staffer told a reporter in 1997.
* I need to drive two hours with my frozen turkey before I cook it. Will it stay frozen if I tie it to the luggage rack on the roof of my car? The caller was from Minnesota, so the answer was yes. If you live in Florida, Arizona, or Hawaii, the answer is no.
* I'm a truck driver. Can I cook the turkey on the engine block of my semi while I'm driving? If I drive faster, will it cook faster? There've been cases in wartime where soldiers cooked turkeys using the heat of Jeep engines, but Butterball gives no advice on the subject.
* I scrubbed my raw turkey with a toothbrush dipped in bleach for three hours. Is that enough to kill the harmful bacteria? The heat of the oven is what kills the bacteria; scrubbing the turkey with bleach makes it inedible. (In extreme cases like these, or anytime the Talk-line staffers fear the bird has become unsafe to eat, they advise the cook to discard the bird, eat out, and try again next year. If the caller can't imagine Thanksgiving without turkey, they can get some turkey hot dogs.)
* I don't want to cook the whole turkey, so I cut it in half with a chainsaw. How do I get the chainsaw oil out of the turkey? Toss the turkey and go get some hot dogs.
* The turkey in my freezer is 23 years old. Is it safe to eat? Butterball advised the caller that the bird was safe to eat, but that it probably wouldn't taste very good. "That's what we thought," the caller told the Talk-line. "We'll give it to the church."
MORE QUESTIONS FOR THE TALK-LINE
* How long does it take to thaw a fresh turkey?
* How long does it take to cook a turkey if I leave the oven door open the whole time? That's how my mom always did it.
* Does the turkey go in the oven feet first or head first?
* Can I baste my turkey with suntan lotion?
* When does turkey hunting season start?
* How do I prepare a turkey for vegetarians?
(All images from the Butterball website)
___________________The article above was reprinted with permission from The Best of the Best of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader.
Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts.
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