Odd Job: Turkey Hotline Operator

Don't even try to stump a turkey hotline operator: According to this veteran, it can't be done.


For 25 years, Butterball Turkey Talkline director Mary Clingman has spent Thanksgiving Day dishing out advice to panicked cooks. Food Network Magazine spoke to her about the ins and outs of her job.

Mary has turkey on her mind 10 months before the rest of us do: She goes to work in January, analyzing the previous season’s stats, updating manuals and lining up a crew of operators, all women. “I’ve never heard of a man applying,” she says. “I think we scared ’em off.”

Most callers ask about thawing, but Mary gets plenty of kooky questions. There was a couple who found their son's toy car inside their turkey, a man who carved his bird with a chain saw and got oil all over the food, and a woman in Colorado who buried her turkey in the snow to freeze it -- and then couldn't find it after a blizzard. Mary comes up with an answer for everything. (She suggested that the lady mark her spot with a red flag next year.)

Pep talks are part of the job. On average, calls last only two or three minutes, but they can go for a half hour when operators need to encourage first-timers or talk callers through microwaving a bird after the oven breaks. "When you get someone who hardly knows how to boil water to say, ‘Oh, I can do this,’ those can be your favorite calls."

Operators answer more than 100,000 calls between November 1 and December 31. Have your own question? The number is 800-288-8372.

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