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Turkey Is Cooking Too Fast. How Can I Slow Things Down?

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Whole turkey roasting on a charcoal grill

Cooking a whole turkey takes time, and grill-roasting the bird requires a special degree of finesse. Since the process is such a long one, there are many things that can go wrong. One of them is the turkey cooking too fast. If this happens to you, what steps can you take to salvage the feast?

Turkey Is Cooking Too Fast

If the turkey is approaching the right serving temperature too quickly, try turning the oven down and tenting the breasts with aluminum foil. If all else fails and the bird is already done cooking, wrap it in layers of foil, then set it in a preheated cooler until serving time.

How Long Does It Take To Cook a Whole Turkey?

The answer to this question varies quite a bit, depending on cooking temperature, the weight of the turkey, and whether the bird is stuffed or not.

Since we prefer to keep the stuffing on the side—especially when grill-roasting—we follow the recommended guidelines for unstuffed turkey. When the oven or smoker is set to 350 degrees, the turkey should cook at a rate of about 13 minutes per pound.

By way of example, let’s assume your turkey weighs 14 pounds. 13 minutes per pound translates into 182 minutes, or 3 hours and 2 minutes. Therefore, you can estimate your total cooking time at around 3 hours.

The bird is done when an internal thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Be careful not to touch any bone when taking the temperature, or the readout will be inaccurate.

If you opt to stuff the bird, add about 2 minutes of cooking time per pound. A stuffed 14-pound turkey will likely take 3.5 hours to cook through. Remember that the stuffing needs to heat to at least 165 degrees as well.

Whole turkey being basted while roasting on a charcoal grill

What’s The Best Temperature To Use For Whole Turkey?

It’s best to set the oven or smoker to 325-350 degrees when preparing a whole turkey. Any higher, and the meat might dry out; if the temperature is too low, the interior of the bird won’t have a chance to cook through.

Because some grills and smokers have a hard time maintaining the correct temperature, we err on the side of caution when we’re grill-roasting the bird. When we set the temp to 350, it doesn’t matter so much if it dips a few degrees from time to time.

Essential Tools

If you’re planning on grill-roasting your turkey, here’s a list of useful gadgets to keep on hand. Most of them will be useful even if you opt to use the oven instead.

  • Butcher’s twine
  • Kitchen shears
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • Digital instant-read thermometer
  • Sharp carving knife
  • Turkey roasting rack
  • Heatproof tongs
  • Lifting “claws”
  • Roasting pan
  • Large bucket (at least 22 quarts)
  • Sturdy cutting board
  • Serving platter

What To Do If The Turkey Is Cooking Too Fast

Lower The Temperature

If it looks like the turkey is approaching the 165-degree mark too soon for your liking, try tenting the breasts with foil and lowering the smoker or oven temperature. You can go as low as 200 degrees, depending on how much time you need to buy.

Tenting the breasts with foil should prevent them from drying out during the extended cooking time. For more information on how to deal with a dry bird, see Other Helpful Tips, below.

Use The Faux Cambro Technique

When the turkey is finished cooking and you still have several hours to go before your planned serving time, your best option is to use the faux Cambro method.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this technique, it involves keeping cooked food in a warmed cooler until you’re ready to serve it. A “Cambro” is a type of container used by caterers to keep food piping hot.

To create your own faux Cambro, boil a large amount of water and add it to a cooler that’s big enough to hold the turkey. Let the water sit in the cooler while you take the bird out of the oven and wrap it in a few layers of aluminum foil.

Empty the cooler and wrap the turkey in a clean towel (without removing the layers of foil). Set the bird in the cooler and close the lid. This should keep it warm for 3 to 4 hours without allowing it to cook any further.

When it’s time to serve the turkey, take it out of the cooler and remove the towel and the foil layers. Carve and serve as you normally would.

Roasted whole turkey with sauce

Other Helpful Tips

Turkey Is Still Frozen

We’ve all been there: It’s time to preheat the oven, but the turkey is still partially frozen. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this problem.

To thaw a turkey in a safe and relatively speedy fashion, submerge the wrapped bird in a bucket of cold water. Make sure the water is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or you’ll be inviting hazardous bacteria to grow.

When you use the cold water method, the turkey should thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound. That means you should plan on a 6-hour thawing time for a 12-pound turkey.

If you don’t have that kind of time, you can cook the turkey while it’s still frozen. Plan on increasing the total cooking time by about 50 percent. For example, if the original estimated cooking time was 3 hours, you can expect the bird to be done in 4.5 hours.

Turkey Isn’t Cooking

On the other end of the spectrum is this situation: Serving time is approaching, but the turkey’s internal temp is stuck around 130 degrees. Is there any way to move things along without ruining the bird?

One technique would be to wrap the turkey in a layer of foil, then crank up the heat. Try boosting the oven or smoker temperature to 450 degrees. Continue to cook the bird at a rate of 2 to 3 minutes per pound, depending on how close you are to the 165-degree mark.

You can also split the turkey in half along the breastbone. Since the turkey will be in two smaller pieces, it won’t take nearly as long to finish cooking. Remember to test both halves of the bird for doneness—just because one side is finished cooking doesn’t mean the other one will be.

Turkey Is Only Partially Cooked

What do you do if the breast meat is perfectly cooked, but the thighs and drumsticks need to cook longer? You can carve the breasts off and let them rest while you return the rest of the bird to the smoker, of course, but there’s also a faster method.

Bring a large pot of turkey or chicken stock to a boil. Carve off the parts of the bird that need to finish cooking, and submerge them in the boiling stock for a few minutes. This should bring them up to the right temperature.

Remember that the turkey meat might have a pink or reddish hue, especially close to the bone. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s undercooked. As long as it’s achieved an internal temp of 165 degrees, it should be perfectly safe to consume.

Turkey Is Too Dry

Most of the time, when a turkey turns out dry, it means it’s overcooked. It’s especially easy to overcook the breast meat. Sometimes, however, the meat can have a sawdust-like texture even if you cooked it perfectly.

The best way to salvage dry turkey is to serve it with a delicious gravy. If you don’t have pan drippings to work with, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan and whisk in 2 tablespoons of flour. Add a splash of sherry, then whisk in 2 cups of turkey stock. Simmer until the gravy is thickened and season with salt and pepper.

The Bottom Line

Remember: you can rest a turkey for up to 1 hour after taking it off the heat. A long resting period will give the juices a chance to redistribute properly, leaving you with meat that’s juicy and bursting with flavor.

If the turkey is finished with several hours to go until dinnertime, don’t despair. As long as you keep it above 140 degrees in the meantime, it will still be safe to eat, and the wait shouldn’t affect the flavor and texture too much.

Best of luck, and happy grilling!

Darren Wayland Avatar

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