Butterball University or: How I got over my fear of handling raw poultry

Last week I kissed my family goodbye, got on a plane headed to Chicago, and put my life on hold for three days. And I did it all in the name of turkey.

I was really nervous about the whole thing - what, exactly, am I supposed to do in a room full of home economists and nutritionists? We’d have nothing in common! The closest thing I have to a Home Economics degree is a relatively new copy of the Joy of Cooking. I knew I was going to be in way over my head - but thankfully I would have Susan and Chris with me for moral support.

(BTW - this was the first time I met them and they’re seriously some of the loveliest people ever! They had me laughing at all hours, enabled my little shoe shopping habit and forced me to take pictures in bathrooms. I’m kinda in love with them and was hoping to convince them to leave their families to move to Boston. Surprisingly, they passed on my offer. Fools.)


I decided that what I needed to do in a room full of turkey experts is be quiet (so HARD) and learn. Because I had a lot to learn.

The second I walked into Butterball headquarters my mentor, Diana, ran up to hug and greet me. She and I chit chatted away immediately and right then and there I decided that Diana would be my Chicago Best Friend Forever. She knows everything there is to know about turkey, and she knows it in English AND Spanish, so she’s kind of like Ginger Rogers, who can do everything that Fred Astaire can, but backwards and in high heels. I’m in awe of her, clearly.

The first couple of days were a whirlwind of activity and information. We tried to soak up as much of it as possible - learning about the temperature “danger zone” and that a frozen Butterball turkey doesn’t need to be basted or brined. (Did you know that? Me either!) We watched the Masterbuilt turkey fryer boys (their words, not mine) deep fry a  whole turkey, right before our very eyes. It was very much like living in an infomercial. Scratch that, it was EXACTLY like living in an infomercial.

But of course, the first two days were merely a warm up for the day we would actually roast a turkey. We were told early on that we would be paired up with an actual expert, so I was pretty relaxed by the time we sat to watch the cooking demonstration. We watched Carol prepare a turkey, which seemed easy enough: free a defrosted turkey from its packaging, take out the bags containing the neck and giblets, pat it dry, and stuff it. It was all pretty tame stuff, until she picked up the turkey to drain it and all the bloody juices came out.

Woo boy, was I ever glad I was going to have a cooking partner.

It was around that time that I learned that everyone BUT ME would have a partner. I wanted to know why I was singled out, and I was told something about a special oven? And that I was going to cook a Lil’ Butterball instead of a full-size bird?


We were offered plastic gloves (in case someone didn't want to touch raw poultry) but no one took them - not even my blogging buddies, so I declined. Then I was presented with something that can only be described as a glorified toaster oven, and was handed a 10.4 lb defrosted bird and I was told that the oven manufacturer’s  instructions say that you can only use the oven on a bird that’s smaller than 9 lbs so, you know, good luck.


I'm not going to lie - at first I was a little disappointed that I had to cook in this little thing:


While everybody else got to use the awesome Wall of Ovens:


But what can you do? I got my scissors and cut through the bag that held my little bird. I really wanted to grab a pair of gloves, but all around me people were touching raw turkeys and I didn’t want to be the only wuss that wouldn’t touch the bird with her bare hands. So I untucked its cute little legs, reached into the cavity and removed the giblets and a packet of gravy (it only comes with the Lil’ Butterballs), closed my eyes and picked up the bird to let the juices out.

It wasn’t that bad. I can be a bit DRAMATIC sometimes.

Then I started patting the inside dry, and the nice lady next to me reminded me that I needed to remove the neck (oh, that) which was in a nice little bag under the neck flap. Oops.


But then I was done with the worst part. Phew!


I was so proud that I grabbed the bird (with my bare hands, even!) and went over to Susan's table because I'm an insufferable show-off and she and I were giggling and chatting until Chris came over because she was done. Done as in all done: Her turkey was already stuffed and it was in the oven. What a show off.

The fact that she was done turned on my competitive switch and I worked on that turkey with the speed and intensity of a cooking show contestant:


In less than ten minutes, my bird was stuffed and in the oven. It was easy - once you take out the prepackaged giblets and the neck, all that’s left to do is pat the bird dry and stuff it. Then you spray some oil on it (just to make it look pretty) and then in the oven it goes.

Like I said, easy:


(Your eyes are not deceiving you: Chris is indeed laughing at me, because I was REALLY getting into the spraying oil on the turkey part. So sue me - it was FUN.)

Everyone tried slightly different techniques, and at the end of the day we had a big reveal and we all got to eat the birds - all eleven of them. They were all great - but I was particularly proud of my little bird. It was delicious! Even Mary thought so, and Mary is the Butterball Talk Line Boss Lady - so she knows of what she speaks!

Proof that anyone can cook a tasty turkey - even you! (I'd recommend a nicer platter):