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How to Keep Your Turkey From Laying an Egg

Written By Scott Joseph On November 23, 2010

Note from Scott: This is an article I wrote a long time ago, 1987, when I was the food editor for New Times in Phoenix. Jean Schnelle, whom I quote in the story, is no longer with the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, and some other things have changed, but pretty much all of the information is still valid.

Also, check out this recipe for a yogurt turkey marinade from the Divas of Dish, Pam Brandon and Anne-Marie Denicole.

You’re cooking the family dinner this Thanksgiving.

The turkey doesn’t quite seem to be done yet. You’ve invested more money in this one meal than you normally spend

big tandoori

Your turkey can look as good as this one from our own Divas of Dish if you follow some simple rules.

on food in a whole month. And that group of people sitting in the dining room staring anxiously at the kitchen door is about to change from the Waltons to the Addams Family.


Just try to stay calm. Don’t panic.

Most likely, it’s the pressures of the day and the size of the meal that get even the most experienced cooks flustered over preparing the big bird. But if you plan ahead and follow some rules, Turkey Day will turn out fine.

Not that you should relax altogether. As a matter of fact, if you’re not careful, Thanksgiving could end up with another family get-together — in the emergency room of the local hospital.

Now you’re upset again.

Let’s start at the beginning and go through the rules. Luckily, you have the good fortune to learn from the past mistakes of others. The experts who man the phones at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line have heard all the turkey tragedies.

Jean Schnelle, director of the talk line, has been with the service since it began in 1982. Back then, there were only five or six women to answer calls. They were in a kitchen at the Swift-Eckrich facility in Oak Brook, Illinois, using regular phones, which they had to cradle on their shoulders while they talked. Today there are 44 operators, all professional home economists, with the convenience of headsets. They need to be comfortable to answer all those calls. The operators are armed with all the answers, and more than just a little compassion.

“We never laugh at anyone,” says Schnelle. Not even at the man who called when his wife got her hand caught in the metal clasp that holds the drumsticks together. The turkey was still frozen and the clasp wouldn’t budge. The man called because his wife had panicked and gone running through the house, attached to the turkey. It didn’t quite take the Jaws of Life to rescue her, but the fire department did solve the problem.

Then there was the woman who called because the family’s German shepherd had grabbed the finished turkey off the counter and dragged it out to the back yard. The woman had placed parsley in the tooth marks and wanted to check if that was all right.

Another guy — Schnelle’s all-time favorite — called the hotline because his wife went into labor shortly after putting the turkey in the oven. Then man would call periodically to find out what to do next. “He called all day to give updates on the baby and to find out how to cook the turkey.”

Luckily, he didn’t end up basting the baby.

Many of the callers are men. In fact, says Schnelle, it’s an inside joke around the phone room that half of the callers are the husbands of the operators who have to work on Thanksgiving Day. To help ease the crush of phone calls, I asked the Butterball Talk-Line experts to share some of the most common problems associated with cooking a turkey.

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