Thanksgiving Advice From Houston Chefs: Make a List, Brine Your Bird and Drink Wine

Categories: Season's Eating

Photo by Steve A Johnson
Listen to these Houston chefs so you don't mess up the turkey.
Thanksgiving is a national day of cooking and eating until you're completely stuffed...then eating some more. For those in the culinary profession, Thanksgiving is a little different than it is for the rest of the country. Some spend the entire day cooking in the kitchen of their restaurant; some enjoy leftovers after their Thanksgiving Day shift is over; and others have the entire day off.

We caught up with a few Houston chefs, including Sylvia Casares of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, Dylan Murray of benjy's on Washington and Justin Yu of Oxheart, and asked them to provide any Thanksgiving advice they had for those cooking the meal at home this year. Listen to their advice and you're sure to have a wonderful holiday.

Joseph Stayshich, executive chef at benjy's in Rice Village: "Have a plan and a timeline, because a lot of the stuff you can start ahead of time, let's say the day before, and it just progressively builds on itself to where everything comes together in the end. I know a lot of people wake up at 5 in the morning and try to knock it all out before it's lunch time or time to eat, and that can be stressful no matter how much wine you have to drink. I always try to plan ahead; that way everything falls into place nicely.

"I'm sort of a traditionalist. I like roasted turkey -- I like fried turkeys as well, but I think [by] roasting it you can get a lot more flavor in there. You can start by just brining it with all of the herbs and everything, and while you're cooking it you can stuff it with herbs, kind of baste it in its own fat instead of having the canola or peanut oil you use in a fryer. I think the slow roasting lends itself to better caramelization and better flavor.

"The general rule for meats is you want it to rest for 10 minutes or so, and I think with a turkey, I would say an hour. That way it's not going to get too cold...usually you can't wait, because people are picking at it anyway. "

Justin Yu, chef and owner of Oxheart: "Keeping it as simple as possible and family-style is the best way to go. The idea is to spend more of the time with the family than getting stressed out or anything. Spending time with the people you enjoy. It's good to make a point with the people you love."

Photo by Molly Dunn
Before roasting, put some herbs up underneath your turkey's skin to enhance the bird's overall flavor.

Dylan Murray, chef at benjy's on Washington: "Plan ahead. If you're doing turkey, I start that like a week ahead. Brine the bejeesus out of it. Personally, I think turkey is an inferior bird. You've got to help it along a lot. So, I brine it for four or five days and then you can just cook it really slow in the oven and the skin will naturally crisp up if you cook it slowly enough. 300 degrees."

Danny Trace, executive chef at Brennan's of Houston: "Be sure to include a lot of wine. Get an extra case of wine just in case."

Sylvia Casares, chef and owner of Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen: "Make your list so that you have everything. Have a list that you prepare in advance so that you don't forget anything at the last minute, and not have to be going to the store. Make sure your turkey is completely thawed out, and of course use a thermometer. My preference is a digital thermometer to make sure your turkey is cooked just right, not overcooked or undercooked."

Check back Friday for what these chefs will be making for Thanksgiving this year.

Location Info


2424 Dunstan, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


1302 Nance St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Benjy's on Washington

5922 Washington, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Brennan's of Houston

3300 Smith, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

6401 Woodway Drive, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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texmex01 topcommenter

So start a day early and drink heavily, got it!


Tip: Take a huge bowl and fill it half full of ice. Turn the turkey upside down (back up) and set it down into the bowl so the breast is in the ice. Leave it like this for at least 30 minutes before you get ready to roast it. That way the breast will have a lower temperature than the rest of the bird and won't dry out as fast.


Brining has been empirically proven not to improve the "juicy-ness" of a bird.  It will tend to make the meat watery and mealy.  the problem with roasting whole turkeys is getting all the meat to the proper temperature without overcooking and drying out the meat.  Well, if you flatten the bird (instead of cooking a sphere) the cooking time is much faster and the meat is much juicier on its own.  So, spatchcock your bird instead of brining!

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