From cooking method conundrums to thawing emergencies, learn from these turkey pros how to have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.

By Isadora Baum
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If you're a newbie in the kitchen or haven't prepared a large holiday meal before, there might be some confusion around Thanksgiving dinner and the meal prep that goes into it. That's where Butterball Turkey Talk-Line comes in handy. The Talk-Line gives people a chance to call and ask an experienced cook their major turkey-related questions and get answers from pros who know how to make a flawless Thanksgiving dinner.

Open every November and December, the hotline hosts 50 experts who can answer more than 100,000 questions for thousands of households around the United States and Canada. Every year the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line receives tens of thousands of calls, texts, emails, and live chats as home cooks prepare for Thanksgiving. Since turkey can be quite mysterious if you haven't cooked it before, we decided to reach out to the team and see what are the five biggest and most burning questions asked by customers.

Turkey Talk-Line Director Nicole Johnson offers the following advice to expertly pull off a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. These are the top five most common questions, so if you fall into the same boat and have been questioning these topics yourself, don't fret, because here are some answers to help you come Thanksgiving Day.

How much turkey do I need to buy?

Knowing how much turkey you need for your Thanksgiving meal is quite important. You don't want to end up with massive amounts of meat that go to waste or so little your crowd goes hungry. Their answer? Plan on buying 1.5 pounds per person to allow for leftovers, Johnson says.

Related: What Size Turkey to Buy and What the Labels Mean

When and how do I thaw a turkey?

People often struggle with knowing when and how to thaw a turkey. Since turkey is the centerpiece of Thanksgiving meals and new hosts are stepping into the kitchen every year, many home cooks want the reassurance of an expert that they are taking the right steps to serve a delicious meal to their guests. Allow enough time for your turkey to completely thaw — one day for every 4 pounds to thaw in the refrigerator or go with 30 minutes per pound in cold water, she says.

Related: How to Thaw a Turkey

What do I do if I waited too long to thaw the turkey?

If you have waited too long, don't panic. There are two options if you didn't thaw your turkey in advance. "The first option is cold water thawing, which takes about 30 minutes of thaw time per pound of turkey. Simply place your turkey in the sink or large bucket to thaw with turkey breast-side down, in an unopened wrapper, with enough cold water to completely cover your turkey," she says. You'll need to change the water every 30 minutes so it's still cold.

The second option is if the turkey cannot be completely covered, you'll follow the same method but also need to rotate the turkey every 30 minutes to keep it chilled, she says.

Related: How to Safely Thaw a Frozen Turkey

How do I cook for various methods?

The Turkey Talk-Line gets a lot of people asking for how to cook a turkey with different methods in place, like roastingair frying and grilling. "We know people are celebrating all kinds of Thanksgiving and might want to try different cooking methods to impress their guests or just try something new this Thanksgiving," Johnson says. "While pan roasting might be the easiest way to prepare a turkey, there are lots of other delicious and straightforward options, like air frying and grilling."

In general though, there's a magic formula for cooking a turkey in the oven. First off, if you are going to stuff the turkey, stuff it right before you put it in the oven, not in advance. You do not need to baste the turkey throughout the cooking process, either. Once the turkey is in the oven, there is no need to open the door to baste throughout the cooking.

In order to get that nice golden brown color, brush the breast of the turkey with vegetable oil right before you put it in the oven, and always cook your turkey on a rack. If you don't have a flat rack, you can use carrots or an aluminum foil "coil" to elevate the turkey off of the pan.

Now for the others.

To roast a fresh or thawed frozen turkey:

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Drain juices and pat the turkey dry with clean paper towels, then place the turkey breast-side up on a flat rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2½ inches deep.
  2. Turn the wings back to hold the neck skin in place. Tucking the wings will help stabilize the turkey in the pan and when carving. Brush or spray skin lightly with vegetable or cooking oil for best appearance. Place your turkey in the oven.
  3. When the turkey is about ⅔ done, loosely cover the breast with a piece of foil to prevent overcooking.
  4. Your turkey is done when the temperature with a meat thermometer is 180° F in thigh and 170° F in breast or 165° F in stuffing.
  5. Lift turkey onto platter, and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

To air fry a bone-in turkey breast:

  1. Preheat air fryer to 350° F.
  2. Thoroughly spray or brush breast with vegetable oil. Thoroughly spray fryer basket (if using) with vegetable oil.
  3. Place breast on side in fryer basket placed in lowest position or in fryer liner pan — making sure there is at least 1/2 inch of clearance from top heating element.
  4. Cook breast approximately 14-16 minutes/lb. Flip breast halfway through cooking cycle.
  5. Cook breast to internal temperature of 165-170° F. Remove breast from fryer & let rest 5-10 minutes prior to carving.

To grill a turkey on a charcoal grill:

  1. Prepare charcoal-covered grill by removing cooking grate and opening all vents. Place a drip pan in the center of the charcoal grate. Place 25 to 30 briquettes along each side (lengthwise) of drip pan. Burn briquettes until they're covered with gray ash, about 30 minutes. Place the cooking grate in grill over coals.
  2. Prepare fresh or thawed turkey by removing giblets and neck, draining juices and patting dry with clean paper towels. Turn wings back to hold neck skin in place and tuck legs. Brush or spray entire turkey with cooking or vegetable oil.
  3. Place turkey, breast-side up, on cooking grate over drip pan. Cover grill, leaving vents open.
  4. Add 6 to 8 briquettes to each side every 45 to 60 minutes.
  5. Using a meat thermometer, cook turkey to internal temperature of 180° F in thigh and 170° F in breast. Ten to 16 lb. turkeys will take 2 to 3 hours to grill. When done, remove and let stand for 15 minutes before carving.

Related: How Long to Cook a Turkey

How do I know the turkey is done?

"The only way to be sure of your turkey's doneness is to check the temperature. Always make sure you measure 180°F in the thigh, 170°F in the breast, and 165°F in the stuffing if you've stuffed your turkey," Johnson says. Here's how to check your turkey for doneness.

If you have more questions you need answered for holiday meals and cooking your Turkey, you can reach Butterball Turkey Talk-Line experts through December 24. Contact the experts via phone (1-800-Butterball), text (844-977-3456), Facebook and Twitter, email or live chat on Butterball.com, or try the Butterball Skill for Amazon Alexa. Additional how-to videos for the most commonly asked questions and preparation methods are available on Butterball.com and YouTube.

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