It’s time to start talking Turkey

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As of today, there are only 16 days left before Thanksgiving. Somehow that always seems to sneak up on me every year – probably because after getting through Halloween, and then my birthday less than a week later, I usually start concentrating on and panicking worrying about Hannah’s birthday, which falls on the 29th. And probably because we go to Ron’s parents’ house every year, so there’s little, if nothing, that we need to do, other than to show up on time (and preferably avoid getting stuck in the snow).

Well, bringing our appetites usually helps too.  Although that’s not usually a problem.  🙂

You may not believe it, but I have never cooked a turkey before. Ever. Oh, I’ve watched, and when I was a kid I can remember helping my mom stuff the turkey. But I’ve never been completely, solely and 100% responsible for ensuring that there’s a tasty Thanksgiving dinner on the table.

I have the feeling that might change in the next several years. Ron’s mom’s health hasn’t been great (although she has been doing much better since her kidney transplant this past spring), and besides, if there’s ever an extremely snowy Thanksgiving day again, we’ll probably avoid getting stuck by sticking around home.  In which case, cooking dinner would fall… well, to me.

I had the opportunity this week to chat with one of the over 50 experts who staff the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line® during November and December every year. Not only did she answer my questions, but I found out a lot of things that I’d never known before – both about the Butterball Talk-Line and about cooking turkeys in general.

The Talk-Line is staffed by dieticians, home-ec majors and other volunteers and has been going strong for 28 years now – wow! They field over 100,000 calls, plus e-mails, texting, web chats, etc. This year’s Talk-Line opened last Monday. And there are a lot of ways to get a hold of them, other than just by picking up a phone.

For instance, did you know that starting in October, you can email them at Or that you can text the word “TURKEY” to 36888 to have weekly turkey tips, thawing reminders, and cooking alerts sent straight to your mobile phone? Or even that you can log on to Web chats on with your favorite Turkey Talk-Line experts on November 11, 18, and 25 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. CST?  That’s a lot of expert turkey help right at your fingertips, no matter where or how you can access it.

This year, the Talk-Line has added three bloggers! They are Chris Jordan from Notes from the Trenches, Susan Wagner from Friday Playdate, and Roxanna Sarmiento from Miguelina. You can read their turkey-oriented blogs over at or chat with them during the Web chats or via e-mail.

Turkey expert Mary Clingman was kind enough to take a few minutes to talk with me about everything Thanksgiving and turkey. She’s been involved with the Talk-Line for over 24 years and is a media pro who’s given turkey advice to everyone from CNN, MSNBC, USA Today and even The David Letterman Show.  Talking with Mary was so much fun – I felt like we were having an enjoyable conversation that just happened to center around Thanksgiving and turkey talk.  🙂

I asked Mary what kind of questions they get this early on, with Thanksgiving still so many weeks away. She replied that the questions change as Thanksgiving gets closer – right now people are working on their early planning, and on getting their ‘game plan’ together. Some people are organizers and have everything figured out weeks ahead, while others wait until the last minute.

Here are some of the other tips that Mary gave me – in no particular order:

  • A non-cooked turkey can last for over a year in a freezer, if solidly frozen through. After a year or two though, you may not want to use it as your ‘main’ turkey on Thanksgiving.
  • When deciding how big of a turkey you need, start with determining how many leftovers you want to end up with.  A good rule-of-thumb is 1-1/2 pounds of turkey per person. You can go slightly lower if you don’t need or want many leftovers, or you can go higher if you want to send leftover turkey home with all of your guests or have a lot of it left for yourself.  🙂
  • You can go down to a pound per person if you don’t need leftovers, but you also want to make sure that you’re getting the best value, especially in today’s economy. There are a lot of things you can do with leftover turkey – as long as your pan and oven are big enough it makes sense to cook a larger bird than you may strictly need.
  • The turkey is really the simplest part of the meal – it’s the side dishes that get more complicated. Since Mary works every Thanksgiving, her family does dinner the pot-luck way with everyone bringing their favorite side dish. Not only does this help with the preparation, but lets everyone sample various dishes that they may not already be familiar with.
  • The best kind of pan to cook a turkey in, is a shallow open one, where the sides are no more than 2 inches high. If your pan has high sides, then cook with the lid on in order to cook the turkey more evenly.
  • Use a 325-degree oven, and a meat thermometer is highly recommended. Mary suggests the kind that has a ‘candy-cane’ looking probe that attaches with wires out to a box on the counter. Different parts of the turkey are done at different temperatures, such as 160 to 165 degrees in the breast or 175 to 180 degrees in the thigh. If you stuff your turkey, one idea is to put the probe in the stuffing – that way once it’s done, you know the rest of the turkey is as well.
  • Don’t overcook your turkey! About 2/3 of the way through the cooking time, put tinfoil on the breast of the turkey to act as a shield so the breast won’t overcook while the rest of the turkey is cooking.
  • There are a lot of variables that can impact total cooking time, like whether or not the turkey is stuffed, if it’s partially frozen when you begin cooking it, if the oven temperature changes, or if you baste the turkey.  A general guideline though is that an unstuffed 12-pound turkey will need about 3 hours to cook.
  • If you only have one oven to use for all of your Thanksgiving dishes, schedule things so that your turkey is done about an hour ahead of time. Take it out and cover it with foil and a bath towel to keep it hot, then you can use your oven for your side dishes, and you’ll have your pan available for making gravy.

Wow, that’s a lot of advice and some great tips – thank you again to Butterball, and to Mary Clingman for putting my mind at ease about cooking a Thanksgiving turkey! I’ve already talked to Ron about our heading up to his parents’ house early this year so I can be there to help his mom with the preparations – and so I can put this new knowledge to the test by helping to cook the turkey.

Would you like a little bit of help with your Thanksgiving turkey this year?

No, I’m not going to come over and cook yours. Nor am I going to ask Mary to come over to cook it for you.  😉  But, thanks to Butterball, I do have a couple of coupons for $15 off a turkey to give away to two very lucky readers!


If you would like to win one of these to help out with your Thanksgiving turkey cost this year, here’s how to enter:

  1. Please leave a comment and tell me your best Thanksgiving-oriented story. Did you get stuck in the snow like we did? Did you over or under cook the turkey? If you don’t have a great story, then just share your favorite Thanksgiving recipe. Please don’t just say ‘choose me’ or I will discard your entry.
  2. Since I want to make sure that the winners get their coupons in time for Thanksgiving this year, this giveaway will end on Wednesday, November 19th at 11:59 pm EST. The winners will be randomly drawn and contacted via e-mail. You can also check back on this post to see if you won. If either of the winners hasn’t responded after 3 days, then an alternate winner will be drawn.
  3. Going along with the previous – please leave a valid e-mail address or other way to contact you if you win!

Yes, there are extra entry options available. For extra entries, you can:

  1. Subscribe to my site (click on the orange RSS icon in the upper right sidebar, or subscribe via e-mail) and leave a comment letting me know for one extra entry.
  2. Blog about this giveaway on your own site and leave a comment with a link to your post for one extra entry.
  3. Either Twitter about, Stumble, Digg or Kirtsy this post and leave comments letting me know for one extra entry per method.

That’s a total of 6 possible extra entries, if you do them all (don’t forget to leave a comment for each different extra entry method).

Good luck!  🙂

PS – Just wait, after Thanksgiving comes Black Friday. And after that, there are only 26 days left before Christmas…

THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED – see who won here!