Do you have turkey problems? A hotline expert shares how to cook a turkey and common mistakes to avoid

Whether it’s your first time cooking a turkey or you’re a poultry lover, accidents can happen in the kitchen, especially at 11am. That’s where Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line comes in. For the past 40 years during the holidays, these hotline experts have been available to help people solve their turkey problems. Karen Wilcher has been a Turkey Talk-Line specialist for 10 years and shared her best tips and tricks for cooking a delicious turkey every time. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. CNN : If anyone has never cooked a turkey before, where do they start? Karen Wilcher: The easiest way to cook your turkey is to roast it in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re using a frozen turkey, make sure it’s thawed before Thanksgiving. It takes about a week to thaw a turkey, so it’s recommended that people move their frozen bird to the refrigerator the Thursday before Thanksgiving, which we like to call National Thaw Day. would recommend the water bath method. Here you submerge your turkey in cold water in its original packaging. You should change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. For a whopping 24 pound turkey, you can thaw it properly in 12 to 15 hours using this method. Once thawed, unwrap it and remove the giblet pack. Then pat the turkey dry with a towel, spread some olive oil on it and place it on a roasting rack in the oven. Butterball has plenty of recipes online for spice options. CNN: How long does it really take a turkey to cook in the oven? Wilcher: A 10- to 18-pound turkey without a stuffing takes three to 3 1/2 hours to cook, while a 20- to 24-pound turkey takes four to 4 1/2 hours. If you have filling in, add 45 to 60 minutes of additional cooking time. Stringing is also not necessary. Every time you open the oven door to baste, you slow down the cooking process. The liquid doesn’t necessarily penetrate the skin, so it doesn’t do much. This year at Butterball University, we grilled a turkey so everyone could get familiar with the grilling process. That’s another way to cook a turkey if you need to free up your oven or if your oven isn’t available. I’ve been grilling my turkey on a charcoal grill for two years now and have had a fantastic turkey for Thanksgiving.CNN: Why would people cook their turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit? Wilcher: We know we can safely cook it at 325 degrees Fahrenheit degrees. Many recipes add extra steps, such as starting with a high temperature and lowering it halfway through cooking. It’s such a busy day with so many things to do that you often forget to turn down the temperature. In addition, we don’t recommend turning up the temperature to speed up cooking time, as the breast meat could dry out. CNN : How does anyone know whether his turkey is cooked? Wilcher: It’s important to use a thermometer to measure the temperature of your turkey rather than looking at it. The center of the filling should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit, the chest should be 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and the thigh area should be 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re scratching your head because you don’t know where those parts are on a turkey, Butterball has a diagram on his website. CNN: Some people may be interested in frying their turkey. What are some tips for staying safe? Wilcher: You want to make sure your turkey is thawed. If you use propane, make sure you are outside and in a well-ventilated area to protect yourself and those around you. Before submerging the turkey, make sure you measure out the correct amount of oil so that this doesn’t happen. t spills over when you add the big bird. One way to do that in advance is to measure with water first to know how much oil you’ll need once submerged. Fried turkeys cook much faster than a roasted turkey, about three to four minutes per pound. Wilcher: I got a call a few years ago where someone was cleaning out his mom’s freezer and found a frozen turkey. It was easily 10 to 15 years old and they wanted to know if they could cook it. Honestly it was probably food safe but I guess after 15 years you may not want to share that anymore. One of my other favorite stories was about a gentleman whose wife asked him to help her thaw a turkey using the water bath method. He also knew that one of the things he had to do was bathe his kids. So he thought he could do both at once. Needless to say we do not recommend this. Finally, I had this man put his turkey outside on his deck to thaw, only to find that a raccoon had nibbled on some of it. While Thanksgiving is an opportunity to share your dinner, I think you might not want to share it with a raccoon.

Whether it’s your first time cooking a turkey or you’re a poultry lover, accidents can happen in the kitchen, especially at 11 a.m.

That’s where Butterball’s turkey talk line comes in. For the past 40 years, these hotline experts have been available to help people solve their turkey problems.

Karen Wilcher has been a Turkey Talk-Line specialist for 10 years and shared her best tips and tricks for cooking a delicious turkey every time.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

CNN: If someone has never cooked a turkey before, where do they start?

Karen Wilcher: The easiest way to cook your turkey is to roast it in the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re using a frozen turkey, make sure it’s thawed before Thanksgiving. It takes about a week to thaw a turkey, so it’s recommended that people move their frozen bird to the refrigerator the Thursday before Thanksgiving, which we like to call National Thaw Day.

If you forget to thaw it until the day before, we recommend the water bath method at this point. Here you submerge your turkey in cold water in its original packaging. You should change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed. For a whopping 24 pound turkey, you can thaw it properly in 12 to 15 hours using this method.

Once thawed, unwrap it and remove the giblet pack. Then pat the turkey dry with a towel, spread some olive oil on it and place it on a roasting rack in the oven. Butterball has many recipes online for spice options.

CNN: How long does it really take a turkey to cook in the oven?

Wilcher: A 10- to 18-pound turkey that has no stuffing would take three to 3 1/2 hours to cook, while a 20 to 24-pound turkey should take four to 4 1/2 hours. If you have filling in, add 45 to 60 minutes of additional cooking time.

Basting is also not necessary. Every time you open the oven door to baste, you slow down the cooking process. The liquid doesn’t necessarily penetrate the skin, so it doesn’t do much.

This year at Butterball University, we grilled a turkey so everyone could get familiar with the grilling process. That’s another way to cook a turkey if you need to free up your oven or if your oven isn’t available. I’ve been grilling my turkey on a charcoal grill for two years now and have had a fantastic turkey for Thanksgiving.

CNN: Why should people cook their turkey at 325 degrees Fahrenheit?

Wilcher: We know we can safely let it cook at 325 degrees. Many recipes add extra steps, such as starting with a high temperature and lowering it halfway through cooking. It’s such a busy day with so many things to do that you often forget to turn down the temperature.

In addition, we do not recommend increasing the temperature to speed up the cooking time, as this can dry out the breast meat.

CNN: How does one know if their turkey is cooked?

Wilcher: It’s important to use a thermometer to measure your turkey’s temperature rather than looking at it. The center of the filling should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit, the chest should be 170 degrees Fahrenheit, and the thigh area should be 180 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re scratching your head because you don’t know where those parts are on a turkey, Butterball has a diagram on his website.

CNN: Some people may be interested in frying their turkey. What are some tips for staying safe?

Wilcher: You want to make sure your turkey is thawed. If you use propane, make sure you are outside and in a well-ventilated area to protect yourself and those around you.

Before submerging the turkey, make sure you measure out the correct amount of oil so it doesn’t overflow when you add the large bird. One way to do that in advance is to measure with water first to know how much oil you’ll need once submerged. Fried turkeys cook much faster than a roasted turkey, about three to four minutes per pound.

CNN: What are some of your favorite stories from people who signed up after 10 years as a specialist on the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line?

Wilcher: I got a call a few years ago that someone was cleaning out his mom’s freezer and found a frozen turkey. It was easily 10 to 15 years old and they wanted to know if they could cook it. Honestly it was probably food safe but I guess after 15 years you might not want to share that.

One of my other favorite stories was about a gentleman whose wife asked him to help her thaw a turkey using the water bath method. He also knew that one of the things he had to do was bathe his kids. So he thought he could do both at once. Needless to say we do not recommend this.

Finally, I had this man put his turkey outside on his deck to thaw, only to find that a raccoon had nibbled on some of it. While Thanksgiving is an opportunity to share your dinner, I think you might not want to share it with a raccoon.

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