Perfect Holiday Turkey with Chef Cam's Expert Tips
Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt | Pexels

The holidays are just around the corner, and there’s no better time to elevate your turkey game than right about now. Chef Cameron Bryant, Executive Chef at The Sipp on South Lamar in Oxford, Mississippi, shared his tried-and-true turkey tips with us. Chef Cam brings years of expertise to the table, so get ready to embark on a culinary adventure and impress your guests with a mouthwatering holiday turkey this year.

Chef Cam’s Top Turkey Tips:

1. Selecting the Perfect Bird:

Chef Cam insists that the foundation of a great holiday meal lies in choosing the right turkey. Opt for a fresh, high-quality bird to ensure maximum flavor. Consider purchasing from local farmers or reputable suppliers for a bird free from hormones and antibiotics.

The Expert Answers: How Much Meat Per Person?

“Normally or in my family?! On average, I would suggest about 1 ½ pounds per person, but I also like leftovers, so you could squeeze that down to 1 pound per person if you wanted. It’s important to think about whether your family prefers white meat or dark. It might be worth it to pick up an extra leg or breast.”

The Expert Answers: How Long Does It Take to Thaw a Turkey?

“That depends on the method of thawing and the size of the turkey. I put mine in the sink and run cold water over it. You can usually thaw a 16-pound turkey in around eight hours.”

2. The Art of Brining:

Enhance the juiciness and flavor of your turkey by brining it overnight. Chef Cam recommends a simple yet effective wet brine of water, salt, sugar, and a blend of aromatic spices. “I like to pack the brine full of the same flavors I am using for my dry rub,” says Chef Cam. This not only imparts a savory taste but also ensures that the meat remains moist during the cooking process. Allow the turkey to soak in the brine in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours for optimal results.

The Expert Answers: Dry or Wet Brine?

“I prefer a wet brine with a dry rub to really reinforce the flavors I want.”

The Expert Answers: How Long to Brine a Turkey?

“This again depends on the size of the turkey. A good, general rule of thumb is to allocate one hour per pound of meat.”

How Long to Brine a Turkey
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3. Mastering the Rub:

Chef Cam’s secret to a flavor-packed turkey lies in a well-crafted rub. Create a blend of herbs and spices such as rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, and smoked paprika. “After patting my turkey dry, I rub it down with butter and my spice mixture,” Chef Cam explains. Gently massage the rub onto the turkey, ensuring it reaches every nook and cranny. This step not only adds depth to the flavor but also creates a beautifully golden and crispy skin during cooking.

4. Temperature Control is Key:

Achieving the perfect turkey requires precise temperature control. Chef Cam recommends investing in a reliable meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the turkey. The magic number? 165°F (74°C) internal temperature for the thickest part of the meat. Cooking at a consistent temperature ensures a juicy interior without risking dryness — everyone’s holiday dinner nightmare.

The Expert Answers: At What Temperature Should a Turkey Be Cooked?

“Set the oven between 325 and 360 degrees. You’ll need a hearty dose of patience to cook a really great bird.”

5. The Slow and Low Approach:

For those seeking a show-stopping, smoky flavor, try your hand at smoking your turkey. Use hardwood chips like hickory or applewood for an added layer of complexity. Slow smoking at a low temperature infuses the turkey with a rich, smoky taste that is sure to impress even the most discerning palates.

6. Basting for Perfection:

If cooking turkey in the oven is more your speed, don’t skip this crucial step. Basting isn’t just for show; it’s crucial to achieve a flavorful and moist turkey. Use a basting mixture of melted butter, herbs, and a hint of citrus for that extra zing. Baste the turkey every 30 minutes to ensure the skin remains crispy and the meat stays succulent.

The Expert Answers: How Long Should a Turkey Cook?

“This will vary depending on whether the turkey is stuffed or not. A good guide here is about 13 minutes per pound for unstuffed turkeys and 15 minutes per pound for stuffed turkeys.”

7. Let it Rest:

Patience is a virtue, especially when it comes to letting your turkey rest after cooking. Chef Cam advises allowing the turkey to rest for at least 15-20 minutes before carving. This crucial step allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring a tender and flavorful experience with every bite.

Let it Rest
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8. Carving Like a Pro:

Don’t let the final hurdle trip you up! Chef Cam’s carving technique involves removing elements of the bird and then slicing them up nicely. Use a sharp carving knife for precision.

The Expert Answers: How to Carve a Turkey?

“Once my turkey is rested, I carve the breasts, legs, and thighs off the bird, slice the breast, and debone the thigh and leg.”

The Expert Answers: How to Store Leftover Turkey?

“I like to plastic wrap portions of the turkey and bag them before throwing them in the fridge. Leftovers don’t last long enough for me to freeze. I do like to save the bones to make a soup; it helps when you are full for days after the main event.”

Chef Cam’s Favorite Recipe and Method to Prepare a Turkey:

Chef Cam’s favorite turkey cooking method is easy enough to try at home! While he does not have a written recipe for turkey, Cam likes to start with a wet brine overnight. He packs the brine with the same flavors he uses for his dry rub. 

After patting the turkey dry, he rubs it down with butter and the spice mixture. Then, he stuffs the cavity with onions, lemons, garlic, and herbs and then lets that sit in the fridge for an hour or two while working on other things. 

He preheats the oven to 425 degrees, then turns it down to 350 degrees after putting in the turkey. At about the two-third mark, he’ll check the bird and see how it’s doing. 

Once the breast has reached an internal temperature of about 125 degrees, Chef Cam pulls the bird. He covers the breast in aluminum foil to protect it while cooking the legs until they reach 180 degrees internally. This higher temperature helps break down and tenderize dark meat, giving it that wonderful flavor we all love. 

Finally, Chef Cam will pull the turkey and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes, covered, until the group is ready to sit down and eat.