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Posted at 11:37 AM ET, 11/24/2010

Butterball turkey: One turkey to rule them all

By Melissa Bell
Ines Sainz
Marty Van Ness of Naperville, Ill., a Butterball talk-line operator. (Butterball)

At what point did Butterball become the de facto anointed Thanksgiving brand? The adorably named brand has turned itself into the American mascot for Thanksgiving.

My Post pal Mike Rosenwald pointed to a delightful interview with the Butterball CEO, Keith Shoemaker, in the Financial Times today.

In it, I learned that the average consumer eats about 17 pounds of turkey a year. A "super turkey user," however, eats about 34 pounds. And, in the past few weeks, 1,200 tractor-trailer loads of Butterballs have headed out across the country to be delivered to grocery stores.

Shoemaker also mentioned that the Butterball hotline got about 20,000 calls last year.

It's this hotline, the "Turkey Talk-Line" (1-800-Butterball), that the Post's resident turkey expert, Bonnie Benwick, thinks helped build up the Butterball brand more than anything else. Before Twitter and YouTube clips and Internet recipes, the hotline was the way for desperate cookers in their time of thawing, stuffing, cooking, brining need.

And it still fields plenty of calls even in our digitally enhanced world. Benwick spoke to one of the experts two years ago. Most are cooking experts, and some are dietitians. All of them take annual two-day courses at Butterball University to make sure their turkey expertise is up to par. With a staff of 55, the group will answer nearly 12,000 calls per day. (Check out what's the most common complaint the Illinois-based expert gets here.)

The talk-line once got a famous boost when Martin Sheen playing the president in the television show "the West Wing" learned about the hotline and said, "God, I love my country."

The company also has another presidential seal of approval. Butterball turkeys are often the lucky fowls to be pardoned each year by the president.

Benwick said the Butterball turkey is an easy brand to handle. Some people don't like that most come frozen, but the company injects a brine formula into the turkey to help keep it moist. It can be thawed and cooked easily.

For the epicurean, a turkey that's locally grown, or a heritage turkey, will probably be the best bet for their tables, Benwick told me, but "if you don't want to have a hassle ... Butterball is the way to go."

If you need a recipe to go with your Butterball, check out the delicious list of tried-and-true Post recipes here. Bourbon-brined smoked turkey, anyone?

I still think I'm forgoing the Butterball for the Turcakey. But to each her own!

By Melissa Bell  | November 24, 2010; 11:37 AM ET
Categories:  The Daily Catch  
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When will the food police catch on to the fact that brine is really salt?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | November 27, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

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