Food & Drink

The Dumbest Turkey Screw-Ups From the Butterball Turkey Hotline

Thanksgiving Turkey
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is not a simple process: You have to pick out the perfect bird, thaw it, roast it, stuff it, check to make sure it's actually cooked, and carve it, all while dodging heated political conversation with your extended family. So it's not surprising that some people manage to screw up one (or more) of these steps.

No one knows this better than Sue Smith, a registered dietitian and 17-year vet of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. Each year she fields questions from people on how to solve their crazy poultry-related conundrums.

Smith shared some of the most memorable calls she has gotten over the years, including stories of turkey-thawing mishaps and what happens when a plastic toy car melts inside stuffing. Hopefully they'll make you feel better about any Thanksgiving mistakes you might make this year.

Maybe wait until after bath time to thaw a turkey

"The No. 1 question we get through live chat, email, and on the phone is this: How do you thaw a turkey? Recently, a mom called us who was just getting home from work. She had asked her husband to thaw the turkey and get it ready for Thanksgiving. When she walked upstairs, she found her husband giving their twin boys a bath, and next to those boys was a turkey floating in the bathtub as well. He thought he was doing a great job. In order to thaw your turkey properly, we want it in its own cold water bath... in the sink."

Snowstorms will not help your turkey thaw faster

"We had a call from Denver where a woman was thawing her turkey outside, which is totally fine to do, as it was below 40℉ at the time. But then Denver got hit with a big snowstorm, and she could not find the turkey. Luckily she was able to run out and get a fresh turkey. She called back later because she sent her grandkids out on a mission and they dug up the yard and found the turkey. The good news is that they could use it for another holiday."

The case of the 30-year-old turkey

"We had a caller from Alabama who was at his dad's house and found a turkey that had been in the freezer for 30 years. He wanted to know the best way to prepare the turkey. Ideally we want to get a fresher turkey than that. He also found the top of his parents' wedding cake in the freezer and a snowball from every year that it had snowed in the state."

Melted plastic is not an ingredient in a good stuffing

"A woman's grandkids were helping her prepare the turkey, and as she was stuffing it, her grandson was playing with his matchbox cars and thought the cavity of the turkey was an ideal place to park them. So when they went to carve the turkey, they found the cars in the stuffing. They wanted to know if they could eat the stuffing or not. I told them to keep the stuffing aside and maybe just eat the turkey this time."

The mystery of the meatless turkey

"There are no dumb questions! But we did get a call once from a woman who was convinced there was no meat on the turkey. She said it was flat and there was no meat. After some probing, we realized the turkey was upside down. It was on its breast, right-side up, and of course there's not going to be much turkey meat on that side. When she flipped it over, she was very happy to see all the meat."

It's OK to come out of the closet

"I like hearing from the first-time cooks. A newlywed called in and was whispering real quiet. I could hardly hear her. I found out she was hiding in a closet upstairs, and she didn't want her in-laws to know she'd never prepared a turkey. She was so nervous she wasn't going to prepare it correctly. We walked her through it, and by the end she was talking loudly, feeling confident, and ready to go.

On the flip side, I had a mother-in-law call from the closet whispering because she was nervous her new daughter-in-law was cooking the turkey incorrectly. She was convinced she didn't know how to cook and wanted to go down there and help her out. But it turns out the daughter-in-law was right."

Spray attention to directions

"A woman called who was looking to bake some cookies for Thanksgiving, and the directions called for her to spray the pan. And we told her, 'You spray the bottom of the pan.' Well, she sprayed the bottom of the pan. Like, she flipped it over, sprayed it, and turned it back over to put the cookies on. We had to tell her, 'Spray it where the cookies go on.' We're happy we were able to help her with a non-turkey question."

This isn't a screw-up, but it will hit you right in the feels

"A 91-year-old man called us who was cooking turkey for the very first time. His wife had just passed away and he still wanted to carry on the tradition. His whole family was coming over, including his great-grandkids, and we walked him through the process from beginning to end -- it took over 40 minutes for him to learn how to prepare that turkey. And those are the calls that are truly great. You could tell he was so happy and thankful to have the Thanksgiving turkey on the table."

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Lee Breslouer is a senior writer for Thrillist, and cannot cook a turkey. Follow him to cooking lessons: @LeeBreslouer.