As long as turkey maintains its status as a Thanksgiving must-eat, home cooks will stress over having to roast one.
And since November 1981, home cooks panicked over the states of their turkeys have turned to the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line for guidance.
Now in its 35th year, the Talk-Line’s services have expanded to include a 24-hour text line accessible in the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Master Chef Anthony Seta, director of culinary services at Butterball and a Talk-Line veteran, tells Mashable via phone that the text line drew more than 50 messages within its first 15 minutes live. A text element, he says, allows cooks a discreet way to ask questions without arousing the suspicions of nosy relatives.
Just a day into the text line’s inaugural week, Seta spoke with us about phone calls versus text messages, the kitchen item that helps ensure a perfect bird and the one Talk-Line question he couldn’t answer.
Mashable: How long have you been working on Talk-Line?
Chef Anthony Seta: I’ve been working on the Talk-Line for almost five years now and it’s really great to see how we have progressed over the years … We’re going to have 24/7 texting where you can text if you’ve got a question no matter what time of the day it is and that started yesterday on Nov. 17 and it goes through November 24.
Have you had a chance to answer any of the turkey text questions?
I will be doing that later on, but right now I’ve been manning the phones. I really enjoy doing the phones because I’m a talker and, you know, I get in there and I will help them.
Last year I even spoke to someone, we had their whole menu planned, we started their grocery store list and I think we were on the phone for about 45 minutes. When they got off the phone they knew what they were doing about turkey. But I’m looking forward to doing a little bit on the texting, yes.
Do you anticipate a difference in the kinds of questions you field over text versus the kind you’d field over the phone?
No, not really. I think they’ve been very close. This time, as we’re getting into the Thanksgiving week, many of the questions that we get are having to do with thawing. It’s the purchasing of the turkey— "How much turkey do I need to purchase for a family of 12 who are coming to my home?" So we help them out there with the size of the turkey. The second thing for that is how long — if they’re buying a frozen turkey — how long does it take to thaw? And the rule of thumb that I give everyone for every four pounds, it takes one day of thaw time to defrost a turkey. So if it was a 20-pound turkey, it’d take approximately five days to defrost.
As we start to get closer to Thanksgiving, it’ll turn to quick-thaw— "I forgot to thaw my turkey, what can I do to thaw it out quickly," and then we go into the water bath systems for quick-thawing a turkey.
Then it gets into the roasting of the turkey— "How long does it take," "What temperature do I cook the turkey to?" [Regarding internal temperature] the breast should be cooked to 165 to 170 and then in the thigh, we cook it to 180 degrees.
If I had to purchase or suggest a piece of equipment that would be necessary for one to have, it would be a thermometer. Because that shows you specifics. I’ve been cooking for quite a while, and I’ve cooked thousands of turkeys and I do a thermometer each and every time. A thermometer shows you how good you’re not when it comes to guessing what the internal temperature is.
A Butterball turkey tutor pictured in a 2002 "Ladies of the Talk-Line" calendar.
What’s one of the biggest mistakes people make when preparing a turkey?
Maybe using too high a temperature in the oven and [the turkey] starts to look dark, and then all of a sudden you’ll think it’s done and then pulling it out too soon and the temperature’s not up to 165 or 180. Those, I would probably say, are the biggest mistakes. Or overcooking it, because when you overcook a turkey, it dries out considerably. But you can produce a very, very moist turkey when cooking it to those specific temperatures of 165 and 180.
What’s your go-to stuffing? And do you prefer to cook it inside the bird or outside in a separate dish?
You know, I’ve done them all different kinds of ways. If you’re cooking inside the bird, which, it’s an excellent question— most stuffings contain egg. [In addition to the breast], the center of that stuffing needs to be 165 degrees also because it has egg in it. Now here’s the case: If I’ve reached the proper temperatures for the turkey, but the stuffing is not up to temperature, I pull the stuffing out, put it into a pan and then I cook it a little bit more in the oven to make sure it reaches 165 degrees.
I really like the flavor of the stuffing that’s been inside the turkey. It’s got that moisture that comes out of the turkey, it’s good, but I prepare them both ways. A bread stuffing is extremely important— I’ve made it with sausage, I make it with oysters, cornbread. Depending on where you’re from, that will then determine the particular style of dressing that you’re going to be serving.
Are there any unusual seasonings you’d recommend?
You know, that’s where I get into rubs. I’ve actually put a coffee rub on the outside of the turkey, then roasted it. [As for spices, there are] peppers, there’s garlic, there’s onion — all powdered — and then you rub that over the top of the turkey. You brush it with oil, then put the rub on it and that will then release a great flavor to the skin. Not too much seeps into the meat unless I get in there. I do put some of it inside the cavity too, so I can get that flavor to go through. And if I really get ambitious, I may rub a little bit underneath the skin so that flavor can then seep into the breast as it cooks through.
I’ve done a variety— Moroccan is also good, it gives a little more of a spiciness to it. Then you’ve got Cajun. Cajun has been very popular, especially when we get into another preparation which would be a deep-fried turkey, where I would then inject it with Cajun injections, add a nice Cajun rub and then deep-fry it.
[Side note: Pretty much every fire department will likely tell you that you probably shouldn’t deep-fry your turkey. Seta clarified that he agrees with the fire department on that warning, as many home cooks are inexperienced at handling large pots full of scalding oil. He does, however, occasionally deep-fry turkeys in Butterball’s custom deep-fat fryer.]
What’s the oddest question you’ve ever received?
The funniest one was we got a call on Thanksgiving day, and they put their turkey outside to keep it cold and to defrost and it snowed heavily. And they called us up and they said they couldn’t find their turkey.
Well, we don’t put a GPS in the turkeys so it’d be very difficult for us to find them.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.