(NEXSTAR) – Hosting a Thanksgiving dinner, especially for the first time, is filled with pitfalls not shared by other meals. Most people only attempt to cook a turkey once a year, if that, and the pressure to roast the perfect golden-brown bird can be nerve-wracking. The process of thawing a turkey, which alone can take days, is also a frequent point of confusion.
Samantha Woulfe, a dietitian and Butterball Turkey Talk Line expert, is one of the 50 operators who help people nail their turkey recipe — and also triage cooking crises.
For some, the desperate call to the advice line is made well before the turkey even enters the oven. But most of the disaster-related calls tend to revolve around the defrosting process, Woulfe said.
“We get a lot like, ‘I left my turkey in the car overnight,’ ‘I put it in the bathtub to defrost’ … or my favorite was they left it outside overnight to defrost it and a raccoon got to it,” Woulfe said. “They wanted to know if it was still safe to eat and cook it if they cut off the part that the raccoon got to.”
Woulfe’s advice was to get another turkey, “just in case,” she recalled with a chuckle.
Woulfe says the calls usually come in phases: planning questions in early November, cook-prep queries in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and then a crush of calls — many from people in the middle of a holiday meltdown — on the day-of.
“It’s literally non-stop. If you’re on the phones, it’s one call right after another,” she said. “A lot of troubleshooting, panic comes on Thanksgiving.”
Broken ovens and thawing mishaps are some of the more common problems, but she says “critter”-related calls come in more than most people might think.
“My favorite is when there’s either a husband and wife or a couple that are going at it about a certain situation and I’m called in as the tie-breaker, so that’s fun,” Woulfe said. “Whoever wins usually erupts in a ‘Haha, I told you!'”
“Overall we’re just here to just calm that host down,” Wolfe said. “We know there were a lot of first-time hosts last year during the pandemic and what’s surprising is a lot of those first-time hosts, per a survey we did, are coming back to host again, specifically millennials.”
The year 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the Turkey Talk-Line, which now includes advice via text, email, online chat, phone calls, and social media.