Melissa Harris-Perry: Thanks for sticking with TheTakeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. All right. Here's my question. Do y'all know about the Butterball Turkey hotline? They have actual turkey experts who will answer your turkey questions on Thanksgiving Day. I've always wondered who calls and what they ask so I'm going to make a call myself.
Bill Nolan: Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, how can I help you?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Hi, this is Melissa. I'm calling from The Takeaway.
Bill Nolan: Yes. How are you today?
Melissa Harris-Perry: Well, I'm great, but I am getting ready for Thanksgiving, and I felt like I needed a little bit of professional help with this turkey.
Bill Nolan: [chuckles] Well, you've called the right number. We're here to answer all your turkey questions and help make sure that you have a successful Thanksgiving meal.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Yes, y'all. This is Bill Nolan and he's a supervisor on the Butterball Turkey Line. How many folks flood your lines each year?
Bill Nolan: Oh, boy. We get about 100,000 calls a year, and our year is very short. It only ranges from November 1st to December 24th. We're very much a seasonal operation, but when we get calls we get calls. We're nonstop busy. Of course, we're here on Thanksgiving to answer calls and we love talking to our customers. We love to help people out.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right, so I'll tell you one of the big debates going on in my household right now, and that is roast it or fry it? Put it in the oven, or go outside and put it in a big old turkey fryer? Do you have expectations or advice on that?
Bill Nolan: We cook turkey in any way imaginable. We've done it all. I have fried turkeys and I've also roasted them. Really, to me, it depends on how much time I have. If I have enough spare time, I like to fry turkeys, but it takes a little bit more planning. It takes a little bit more. It's not as easy as popping it in the oven and letting it do its magic. Of course, frying will cook the turkey a lot faster. Now, that is one big advantage, but you have to heat the oil and you have to be very conscious of a lot of potential safety issues.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you're talking about the speed of cooking it, what about the frozen versus fresh question? Does that impact the actual speed of cooking or the quality of cooking? Or is it just making sure you take enough time to thaw it?
Bill Nolan: Yes, it's the latter. It's really making sure you take enough time to thaw it. Turkeys really need to be thawed in order to be cooked, of course. We can't cook a frozen turkey. However, it's interesting, if you do get in a bind and you forget to thaw your turkey, you can cook it in the oven frozen, but it's going to take a little bit longer.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You can actually put your frozen turkey in the oven if you forget to thaw it?
Bill Nolan: You can. You know what? If people don't believe me they can give a call to Butterball, 1-800-BUTTERBALL by the way, and we're here all day. It's kind of unusual when I first learned this, and I'm a professional chef by trade. When I first learned this, I thought, "Wow, that's pretty incredible." It's going to take about one and a half times as long. It's going to take time. The quality's going to be a little bit impacted from that, but you can do it. You can do it and pull it off.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's go back to where you're checking that temperature. Can I trust the little popup timer to tell me that it's done, that it's safe? Or are there some other places I'm supposed to be checking that out?
Bill Nolan: We advise not to go by the popup timer. Butterball does not use a popup timer in our turkeys that we sell, and we never have. We like to check the turkey deeper down into the meat number one. A popup timer's only going to be just below the surface. Always remember, a turkey is going to cook from the outside in. If the surface area, maybe a quarter of an inch down is 165 or 170 degrees, I can guarantee you that the core deep down inside is probably going to be in the 150s range. We recommend that you check the turkey in several different spots in the breast. The breast has two halves. You want to take the probe in a thermometer, stick it down into the turkey. When you hit bone, just pull it back up about halfway. That'll give you your best reading. You want to do that on both sides of the breast. Butterball recommends that hits 170 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Does that mean that I can't tell if my turkey's done simply by looking at the outside?
Bill Nolan: You really can't. We get a lot of calls from folks that say, "Well, I used to just wiggle the leg and if the leg wiggles, the turkey's done, or if the juices run clear, the turkey's done." This was before we really became cognizant of how important temperatures are in the area of food safety. Now, keep in mind, and I always tell customers like this when they call and I'll tell you as well, that taking the temperature is not just for food safety, but by taking the temperature, you're going to ensure that you don't overcook the turkey. Turkey can be delicious. The breast meat, even though it's leaner, can be delicious if you don't exceed 170 degrees or so.
A lot of people will call and say, "My turkey's really dry, how do I avoid that?" I'll say, "Well, what was the temperature when you took it out of the oven?" They'll usually say, oh, 180, 185, that will dry that turkey out. By taking those temperatures, you're doing yourself a favor food safety-wise as well as food quality-wise.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's say that I only have one oven. I don't have one of these fancy double oven kitchens, and I've got to get all the different parts of my meal together on the table, same time, ideally hot. When do I start the turkey? Do I make the turkey first, let it cool while I do my sides? When does that turkey go in?
Bill Nolan: I've got a really, really good secret for you. I make my turkey a day ahead of time. I take the turkey, I roast it. The only thing you have to do, you have to carve it then a day ahead of time, because you don't never want to put a hot turkey into the refrigerator or even a warm cooked turkey because the inside of it will won't cool down in time. What we recommend folks do, cook the turkey the day before, dice and carve all the meat off, cool it down, I like to put it on cookie sheets or sheet pans, put it into the refrigerator, and cover it tightly with plastic. The next day, all you need to do is turn your oven on to 350, take that Turkey out. I drizzle a little bit of chicken broth over all the meat. I don't want to saturate it.
Then I put a layer of tin foil over it, and I pop it in that 350 oven for about 20 to 30 minutes. I guarantee you it's going to come out moist, delicious, and hot, and people will think that you just pulled it out of the oven. The best part of this, I'm telling you all this now, you could also go to our butterball.com website and we have something there, this procedure called Make Ahead Turkey. That will outline everything that I just talked about and it's a fantastic way to go. That way your oven is free up until the 20 minutes that you need to reheat it for all those side dishes.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Bill, let me just ask. You clearly love talking turkey. Where did this love for this holiday and this food come from?
Bill Nolan: It's an interesting story, but for me, as again, like I said, I'm a professional chef. I did a career change when I was in my 30s, decided to go to culinary school. Quit my job, went to culinary school. The reason I went to culinary school is because I found that I liked to cook but when I cooked for people, they enjoyed it. I thought, what better way to show somebody you care and do things for others than to make them food? Share it at the table.
I went to culinary school, I worked in restaurants, I taught, which is what I do when I'm not at Butterball now, I teach cooking. I carried that into Butterball. Butterball opportunity came up to me six years ago and I thought, "Wow, this is just like teaching but we're doing it over the phone and over email and chats." To me, it's such a fulfilling job, exciting job, and my 50 coworkers here, we all feel the same way that this is the best time of year.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Bill Nolan is Butterball Turkey Line supervisor. Thank you for joining us today and possibly for saving many a takeaway Thanksgiving out there.
Bill Nolan: It was my pleasure. It was a pleasure talking to you, and a happy Thanksgiving to you.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Happy Thanksgiving to you as well.
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