Cooking for a large family crowd can be a time consuming process.
Therefore, it’s a good idea to know how long to let a turkey rest after cooking.
This will help you plan out your holiday dinner in advance so there aren’t any unwanted surprises.
In general, you’ll need to let your turkey sit out for at least 45 minutes after it’s out of the oven.
However, its taste and tenderness will greatly improve if you give it a longer resting time.
In this article, I’ll explain how long you should let a turkey sit out and offer you a few ways to keep it warm.
How long should you let a turkey rest after cooking?
Roasting a turkey can oftentimes be a challenging endeavor.
This is because turkey meat is quite lean and can easily be overcooked if you’re not careful.
To avoid this, many people use brines and inject their birds with fats or other cooking liquids which also helps with producing drippings for the gravy.
And even though this can help you keep a cooked turkey moist, you can still dry it out if you don’t let it rest.
Resting allows the meat to reabsorb all of the juices and makes it more tender. You should always carve your turkey right before serving. If you carve the lean turkey meat straight out of the oven, all of its precious juices will evaporate and dry out the meat.
However, many people tend to disagree on the rest time of cooked turkey.
Some recommend leaving the meat sit for no more than 30 minutes, while others prefer a resting period of 2 hours or more.
So who’s right?
As a general rule of thumb, you should let a turkey rest for as long as it takes you to cook it. A 12 pound turkey that’s cooked in 3 hours for instance, will require an additional 3 hours of rest time. In case you’re low on time, you should let your turkey rest for at least 45 minutes.
Even though this may seem too much, it will give your turkey a deeper flavor and make it more tender. In fact, many professional chefs like Gordon Ramsay apply this technique when cooking turkey.
When you’re resting your turkey it’s best to leave it uncovered.
This will keep the skin crispy and prevent it from becoming soggy.
With that said, I’ve also made a chart with the approximate resting times for roasted turkey.
Take a look:
Generally speaking, you’ll need about 15 minutes of rest time per pound of roasted turkey.
You can use this guideline for smoked turkey as well.
In case these resting times don’t conveniently fit your holiday schedule you can cook the turkey the day before and reheat it for the feast.
How to rest a turkey and keep it warm before serving?
Even though you don’t need to keep your turkey piping hot, it’s still a good idea to keep it warm before serving.
This will give your bird a better texture and make it more flavorful.
Having said that, you can rest a turkey and keep it warm in a few different ways.
You can hold it in the oven at a low temperature, place it in a cooler or use the warm temperature setting on a slow cooker.
Each of these methods preserves the temperature of cooked turkey differently so you’ll need to consider them carefully.
Rest the turkey in a cooler.
One of the best ways to keep your turkey warm before carving and serving it is to use a cooler.
After your turkey has finished cooking, you should let it sit out for 20 minutes.
This will allow the extra steam to escape and prevent overcooking.
Once your turkey has rested for that time, you should wrap it in aluminum foil and place it in a cooler.
For an even better insulation, you can drape the turkey with kitchen towels.
This will decrease the heat loss and keep your bird warm for longer.
I’ve used this method for a couple of years and so far it has kept all of my turkeys above 150°F/65.5°C for 3 – 4 hours.
It also works great for long-smoked pork butt and other meats that need a long rest time.
Keep the turkey warm in the oven.
If you need to rest your turkey for a longer period of time you can use your oven.
The lowest setting on most ovens is around 140°F/60°C which is perfect for keeping foods warm.
I’ve used this method a few times in the past when my turkey was done way faster than I expected.
Even though it may seem like a stretch, you can keep your turkey warm in the oven for up to 12 hours.
However, you’ll need to do a few things to prevent overcooking:
- Firstly, you should let the turkey sit out for 20 minutes after taking it out of the oven.
This will allow the trapped steam to escape and stop the cooking.
- Secondly, you should wrap the turkey in aluminum foil before placing it in the oven.
Similarly to the previous method, the aluminum foil will insulate the meat and prevent heat loss.
- Lastly, you should moisturize the meat to prevent it from drying out in the oven.
For this purpose, you can fill a pan with water or broth and place it under the turkey.
Also, you should let the oven cool down before resting the turkey inside it.
Rest the turkey in a slow cooker on the “Warm” setting.
Another neat way to rest your turkey and avoid serving it cold is to use a slow cooker.
Most slow cookers come with a “keep warm” setting that’s perfect for this purpose.
However you might need to carve your turkey first if it doesn’t fit inside your slow cooker.
Since this can dry it out, it’s good to pour in some stock for extra moisture.
With this method, you can keep your turkey warm for about 2 – 3 hours.
You can check this article if you want to find out how to utilize the “warm” setting on your crock pot.
The thing I love about this method is that it helps you clear out some oven space.
This allows you to save some time so you can cook your side dishes in advance.
How to store leftover turkey?
Since turkeys tend to be quite large, there’s often a hefty amount of leftovers after the dinner has finished.
To safely store leftover turkey meat, you should cut it into 1 inch pieces and place it in shallow containers.
This will allow the meat to cool quickly and prevent it from spoiling in the fridge.
If you cut it into larger pieces or store a whole turkey in the fridge, it will take too long to cool down to a safe storage temperature.
USDA says that leftovers can be stored in the fridge for four days before they begin to spoil.
If you notice any unusual smells or blemishes after this period you should throw the meat out.
If they happen to be plenty, you can also keep turkey leftovers in the freezer for later use.
When stored this way, they will stay fresh for 2 – 6 months.
Just remember to place them inside a freezer safe bag or container to prevent freezer burn.
My short recap
If you want to greet your guests with a succulent turkey that’s full of flavors you’ll need to give it a sufficient amount of rest.
Resting allows the meat to reabsorb all of the juices and gives it a better texture.
Generally speaking, you’ll need to rest your turkey for as long as it takes you to cook it.
In case you don’t have that much time, you can leave it to sit out for about 45 minutes before carving.