The Top 5 Questions (and Answers) from Butterball’s Turkey Talk-Line

For the past 35 years, the poultry company has been answering America’s most troubling turkey questions. We’ve got the most frequently asked questions—and the pros’ advice.

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Photo by Iain Bagwell/Getty Images

When Butterball started its Turkey Talk-Line in 1981, six home economists worked the phones to answer 11,000 turkey-cooking questions from home cooks struggling to produce the perfect turkey during that first holiday season. These days, more than 50 experts field nearly 12,000 calls to 1-800-BUTTERBALL on Thanksgiving Day alone.

But calling may soon be for the birds. For the first time this year, home cooks will also be able to text their questions (to 844-877-3456), 24 hours a day, from November 17 to 24. To save yourself a call or text, here are five answers to the most common Butterball questions—straight from the experts.

  1. How long should you defrost a turkey? Any thawing secrets?
    Believe it or not, it takes one day for every 4 lbs of turkey, so most turkeys need about a week in the fridge before the big day! For the best results leave the turkey in its packaging and place breast side up on a rimmed baking sheet in the bottom of the refrigerator. After the turkey is thawed, it can be kept refrigerated for up to four days before cooking.
  2. How long should you cook it and at what temperature?
    Cooking times vary based on size, cooking method and whether you stuff the bird or not. For a 20-lb unstuffed turkey, it’ll take approximately 3.5 to 4 hours—but the best way to check is a meat thermometer. It should be 180 degrees in the thigh and 165-170 degrees in the breast.
  3. What’s the ideal ratio of pounds of meat per person?
    We all love leftovers right? So Butterball recommends 1.5 pounds of turkey for each guest—they’ll be full and you’ll have leftovers to send them home with.
  4. To stuff or not to stuff? Also, thoughts on pre-stuffed turkeys?
    That’s the age old question–some people love stuffing and some do not. It’s perfectly safe to do as long as you check the temperature (if a thermometer inserted in the center of the stuffing registers 165 degrees, then it’s fully cooked). I do not recommend pre-stuffing the turkey but you can prep the night before—chopping vegetables, cooking any meat you included, etc. and then stuff when it's time for roasting.
  5. What’s the ideal temperature for cooking a turkey? Should you start at one temperature and then lower the heat?
    When in doubt, Butterball recommends roasting a turkey at 325 degrees throughout the entire cooking time. Makes the cooking process easy!

For our editors’ best holiday turkey tips and recipes, visit Real Simple’s Thanksgiving Headquarters.