The experts at the Butterball Turkey-Talk Line share the questions they get asked year after year.

For 40 years, the pros at Butterball's Turkey Talk-Line have been answering turkey-related questions from home cooks throughout the holiday season. The line is open every November and December, and 50 experts answer more than 100,000 questions posed by thousands of households across the United States and Canada. They're even available via online chat, email, text, Facebook, Instagram, and now TikTok, which is new this year. We wondered what turkey dilemmas come up most year after year so we talked to Bill Nolan, who, in the course of his career on the line, has helped countless cooks solve their turkey-related quandaries. Ahead, Nolan shares some of the most common questions he hears.

roasted thanksgiving turkey resting in pan on table
Credit: Edalin / Getty Images

How Do I Thaw My Turkey?

This is the number one question Nolan's team gets year in and year out. "A turkey's imposing—it's a large piece of meat, and most turkeys that people buy are frozen. It's a little bit daunting [to figure out how to thaw it], so we try to walk them through it." Nolan usually guides people in one of two directions, depending on how much time they have. If they've got several days, he advises putting the turkey in the refrigerator (no surprise he's a big fan of National Thaw Your Turkey Day—otherwise known as the Thursday before Thanksgiving), using the "one day for every four pounds" rule of thumb. If people only have a few hours to thaw the turkey, Nolan directs them to the cold water method. Leave the bird in its plastic wrapper and place it in a clean kitchen sink. Fill the sink with cold tap water and change it every 30 minutes. The general guideline for this technique is about 30 minutes per pound.

How Much Turkey Should I Buy?

It can be tricky to know how big of a bird you need, but Nolan has that answer down pat. He suggests 1 to 1½ pounds of turkey per person, and notes, "It's always better to have leftovers than to run out." Butterball's website has a few handy calculators, too, one of which is a portion planner that helps you determine how much you'll need.

Help! The Turkey Is Done but We're Not Ready to Eat Yet

Even if the calculator tells you one thing and your mother-in-law tells you another, the bird is only done when it hits 180 degrees F in the thigh and 170 degrees F in the breast. That may mean that your turkey is cooked before every guest has arrived, or when you're still enjoying cocktail hour. Not to worry: You can safely hold that turkey for up to two hours. Wrap it up tightly in foil (you can even place some towels over the foil to help insulate it) and make sure the internal temperature reads at least 140 when you're ready to dig in.

How Long Can I Keep the Leftovers?

It's hard to imagine Thanksgiving without leftovers, and Nolan gets that—with the caveat that you can enjoy them for three days. That means that foods that were cooked on Thursday are good through Sunday. After that, he advises wrapping the leftovers tightly with plastic and then foil, and freezing them for about a month for optimal quality.


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