How Long To Let Turkey Rest When It’s Finished Cooking

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Smoked turkey

Whether your meat is grilled or roasted, the resting period is crucial to success. It’s even more vital when it comes to large cuts and whole poultry. Let’s talk about how long to let turkey rest before serving it.

How Long To Let Turkey Rest

Roasted turkey should rest for about 45 minutes after cooking. Smaller birds may only need to rest for 30 minutes. The same is true if you’re only cooking parts of the turkey and not the whole bird. Smoked turkey will cool off faster, so it should only rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

Why You Shouldn’t Neglect The Resting Period

If you cut into a piece of meat immediately after taking it off the heat, you’re bound to notice the juices spilling out onto the cutting board. Resting the turkey allows the meat’s fibers to reabsorb this moisture, so the flavor will reach its full potential.

Furthermore, when you take the turkey out of the oven, it will continue to cook for several minutes. That means the resting period is a crucial part of the recipe and not simply a formality. You should always consider this step when planning out the overall cooking and serving times in order to avoid disappointment.

How Long Should a Turkey Rest Before You Carve It?

Christmas turkey

We would suggest a resting period of 45 minutes for roasted turkey. If this sounds like a long wait, remember that most turkeys are quite large. You’ll need to give the juices plenty of time to redistribute.

The resting period can actually be a great opportunity to prepare and reheat side dishes. Since the turkey was probably taking up most of your oven or smoker, now is the time to take advantage of the free space. You can also use the time to make gravy from the pan drippings.

If you stuffed the bird before roasting it in the oven, remove the stuffing to a buttered casserole dish. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the stuffing registers 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Often, the stuffing will remain below this threshold even when the turkey is done, and it’s not safe to eat unless it’s heated to at least 165 degrees.

Can You Rest A Turkey For Too Long?

In theory, yes. It’s best not to let the bird rest for longer than 1 hour, because past a certain point, the meat will begin to cool off. So if you want to serve a piping-hot turkey dinner, a resting period of 45 minutes to 1 hour is preferable.

Remember that a larger turkey will stay warm longer than a smaller one. A 10- to 14-pound bird might only need to rest for 30 minutes before it’s ready. Similarly, if you’re only roasting a small portion of the bird, you can get away with a shorter resting time (see How Long To Rest Turkey Breast, below).

Keep an eye on the internal temperature of the bird as it rests. When the bird’s temperature dips below 130 degrees, the meat will be too cool to serve. What’s more, if it stays below 140 degrees for longer than a few hours, you’ll run the risk of bacteria forming.

Also bear in mind that the room temperature plays a minor role in the process. In a cool kitchen or dining room, the turkey will cool off faster than it would in a warmer environment. Conversely, if the temperature in the room is warmer than 80 degrees, the meat will take longer to cool down.

One final note: You shouldn’t allow the cooked meat to remain at room temperature for longer than 2 hours (or 1 hour if the ambient temperature is over 90 degrees). If you wait too long to carve it, it will enter the “danger zone” between 40 and 140 degrees. That’s why we suggest 45 minutes as a rule of thumb for larger birds.

How Long To Rest Smoked Turkey

turkey on the smoker

What if you’ve smoked the turkey instead of roasting it? In this case, the meat won’t need as much time to rest. That’s because it will cool off more quickly, so you’ll want to get it on the table as soon as possible.

For smoked turkey, allow for a resting period of 15 to 30 minutes. To slow the cooling process, consider covering the bird with aluminum foil (see Should I Wrap The Turkey While it Rests?, below).

How Long To Rest Turkey Breast

Turkey breast is obviously smaller than the whole bird, which means that it won’t have to rest as long. Plan on a resting time of 15 to 20 minutes if you’re only cooking the breast or other small portions like turkey ribs.

After removing the turkey breast from the oven, tent it in foil and set it aside in a safe, draft-free zone. When the resting period is up, carve it into thin slices. You can remove the skin if you’d like, but we think it contributes a nice texture and a welcome dose of flavor to the lean meat.

Can I Rest The Turkey Breast Side Down?

You might have heard that roasting a turkey with the breast side facing down will make the breast meat extra-juicy. While that’s true, it also means sacrificing that delectable crispy skin. Resting the bird “upside down” is a nice compromise.

If you want to give this method a try, be careful when turning the turkey over. You might want to enlist a family member or friend for help, depending on the size of the bird. Use heatproof gloves and a kitchen towel to give you a firm grip, and insert a wooden spoon into the inner cavity for added leverage.

Should I Wrap The Turkey While it Rests?

Whether or not you cover the turkey depends on how crispy you like your meat. Leaving it uncovered will give the surface a crunchier texture, which can be a welcome touch. If you prefer a more tender bite, then you should consider using foil or a kitchen towel to cover the bird as it rests.

Should you decide to cover the turkey, don’t wrap it too tightly. You’re trying to retain heat and moisture, but a tight wrapper will cause the meat to sweat, softening the skin. Tent it loosely with foil or drape a kitchen towel over the surface of the meat.

The Bottom Line

How long you rest the bird depends on its size, as well as the temperature of the room. 30 to 45 minutes is standard, but you can probably get away with resting it for a bit longer if you need more time to prepare the rest of the meal.

Happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar


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