For the first time, men talk turkey at Butterball's holiday hotline


By Samira Puskar, Producer, NBC News

NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- Times are changing at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, a national toll-free helpline for home chefs. For decades women have served as "turkey experts," advising callers baffled by the bird. But this year, your turkey crisis just might be solved by a man. 

It’s a first for Butterball’s helpline headquarters in Naperville, Ill., where female veterans say men are an overdue addition to the team.

“One in four of our callers are men,” said Carol Miller, who has worked at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line for 29 years. “They’re cooking, they’re getting involved, so why not have them on the Talk-Line and get their unique perspective?”

A 2013 Butterball survey has found that 42 percent of men will be cooking the Thanksgiving turkey this year. It’s a reflection of a greater trend in households across the country, where, according to the survey, more than half of men say they are the ones making the meals for their families throughout the year.

So this year, after a nationwide search, Butterball named RJ Jaramillo, 49, their first male Turkey Talk-Line spokesman. The San Diego, Calif., food blogger says men are receptive to his cooking advice.

“Being a dad, that’s relatable, and I think it’s really easy for men to talk to another guy like me.”

Over the years, he's noticed men are playing a bigger role in cooking the Thanksgiving meal.

“I see a lot more men ... not only preparing the meal, but being part of the family experience in all facets ... enjoying family, food, and celebration.”

Jaramillo first impressed Butterball with his turkey cooking technique: soften three cubes of butter, add seasoning, then rub the mixture under the bird's skin.

But training for the Talk-Line was no easy task. Jaramillo was among a group of men enrolled at Butterball University, where teachers taught turkey tricks and tips as well as bird basics. Students learned what to do, and what not to do, when cooking a turkey. At a recent training session, each student cooked a turkey using different methods: electric roaster, closed pan, open roast, oven bag ... the list went on.

RJ Jaramillo is the first man to join Butterball's Turkey Talk-Line. NBC News

“When they start answering the phones or doing live chats ... they’re going to be turkey experts just like all of us women have in the past,” Miller said. 

The Butterball Turkey Talk-Line this holiday season is akin to a Turkey 911, with 50-plus hotline staffers handling more than 1 million calls in November and December. It’s a big jump from the 11,000 calls the original six female home economists answered in November 1981.

Marty Van Ness, a veteran turkey talk line staffer of 21 years, said it’ll be business as usual, even with her new male counterparts.

“They’ll add another layer of help to the very busy times,” she said.