You spend the entire day preparing and cooking the turkey. You may end up ready to serve hours before feast time and guests arrive. So, you’re left wondering how to keep a turkey warm.
Thanksgiving dinner is a staple in almost every household. Usually, the star of that dinner is a warm, juicy turkey that we are all craving. You’ve spent all month planning your menu, determining how big of a turkey to cook, how long it will take to cook the bird and making sure your guests will be entertained and your table set beautifully.
There are many ways to maintain the temperature of a turkey for a while. Let’s take a look at how to keep your turkey toasty and the factors that affect the process.
🌡️ Perfect Turkey Temperature
However, the most common method is low-and-slow baking. This is when you place your turkey in the oven at about 325-350°F and let it cook for several hours.
The reason why this method is so popular is that it produces a moist, perfectly cooked turkey.
Even though we cook the turkey at 350°F, we don’t expect it to reach that internal temperature.
You want your turkey breast to hit 170°F and the thighs to reach 180°F. Anything higher than that can cause the meat to dry out and overcook. Check out Butterball’s temperature guide.
🦃 Factors That Affect How Long a Turkey Stays Warm
There are so many variables to take into account when cooking a turkey and keeping it warm.
Before Thanksgiving, one of the biggest debates is what size turkey to buy. Naturally, you want one that’s big enough to feed everyone. However, larger turkeys take a lot longer to cook all the way through.
The size of the turkey can also affect how well it can hold on to temperature. The longer your turkey takes to cook, the longer it will stay warm afterwards.
This is because the bird spends more time accumulating heat at its center. Once you stop cooking, the residual heat can keep the turkey warm for hours.
Pieces or Whole
Traditionally, when you cook a turkey, you cook it whole. This allows you to trap the juices inside the bird to keep it as moist as possible.
However, cooking the entire bird at once may be too much of a hassle. For this reason, people opt to cook turkey thighs or breasts separately.
Cooking pieces cuts down on cooking time significantly, but it also means your turkey will cool down faster.
Since there’s less residual heat, the cooked turkey won’t be able to maintain its temperature for quite as long without some assitance.
The Method of Cooking
Another factor that plays a major role in turkey temperature is the cooking method. Depending on how you cook the bird, it’ll cool down at different rates.
This is because each cooking method uses a slightly different temperature.
- Roasting: 350°F
- Deep frying: 320°F
- Smoking: 140°F
- Sous vide: 152°F
As you can guess, if you cook your bird at a higher temperature, it can stay warm for longer. That’s due to the turkey storing more heat energy while it cooks. However, this may lead to your bird drying out. So, don’t use more heat than required for a particular cooking method.
We celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday in November. For many people, this kicks off the holiday season.
However, as the holidays roll in, so does winter. This is about the time when everything starts to get colder.
The temperature of your home will affect the rate that the turkey cools down, but most folks keep their house around 70°F, so unless you are eating it outside in the cool weather, or you live in the warm south, this won’t be a major factor.
Time After Cooking
Finally, post-cooking time is the most important factor in keeping a turkey warm. So how long does the turkey sit around before its carving time?
Generally, you want to let your turkey rest after cooking. This allows for all the juices to resettle throughout the bird. About 15-30 minutes should do the trick. During this time, the turkey holds on to most of the heat inside it.
At this point, the turkey is moist, soft, and ready for carving.
After that, the turkey starts to cool off, and within a couple of hours, the bird reaches room temperature.
It’s important to note that, as a matter of safety, you shouldn’t let your turkey sit for too long out of a refrigerator. Letting the bird spend more than two hours at room temperature can be hazardous. That’s when microorganisms can start growing.
🔥 Methods to Keep a Turkey Warm
Keeping a turkey warm can a tricky ordeal, but we’ll help you out. You want to keep adding heat without drying out the meat.
Here’s our favorite ways to maintain your turkey’s temperature.
The most common method of keeping a turkey warm is wrapping it up with foil. Not only is this process fairly simple, but it’s also quite effective.
You can follow these steps to use this method:
- Take your turkey out of the oven.
- Let it rest for about 15-30 minutes.
- Drain any excess juices from the pan.
- Cover the whole turkey in aluminum foil.
- Place a warm kitchen towel over the foil.
- Set the turkey down in a warm area.
Pro: This method can help keep your bird warm for an extra couple of hours. It uses the residual heat and steam trapped in the bird to keep it toasty.
Con: This isn’t the ideal method for you if you like crispy skin. Because you trap steam in with the turkey, the skin starts to soften.
Removing excess juices helps reduce this issue, but it will cause the skin to lose its crispiness.
Placing in an Oven
Leaving your turkey in the oven can help keep it warm. This method can be a double-edged sword, but it works well.
To use the oven to keep your turkey warm, follow these steps:
- After the cooking process is over, take the turkey out of the oven.
- Turn off the oven and let it cool.
- Let your bird rest for about 15-30 minutes.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F.
- Place it back in the oven.
- Baste your turkey periodically.
If you’re going to use this method, don’t skip steps 1-3. This is because, during this time, you’re stopping the cooking process.
You’re bringing the bird’s temperature down rapidly so it won’t overcook. Then you put the turkey back in the oven at a low temperature just to keep it warm.
Basting is when you pour fat, or gravy, on protein while it cooks. Doing so helps keep the turkey moist.
This step is optional but can help prevent your bird from drying out. That can be incredibly handy if you have to keep the turkey warm for a long time.
Note: Some ovens come with a separate warming tray. If you have that, use it! It works fantastic.
If you don’t have extra oven space, you can try pouring gravy over your turkey. This method can help keep the bird warm for a while.
To use this method, you can follow these steps:
- Warm up your gravy on the stove.
- Take your turkey out of the oven and immediately cover it in gravy.
- Add a new scoop of warm gravy over the turkey every 10 minutes.
Pro: All the added gravy can keep the bird incredibly moist. Moreover, it can also add an extra layer of flavor and texture.
Con: This method sounds simple, but it’s the most labor intensive. You have to stay next to your turkey for as long as you want to keep it warm. Additionally, not all of your guests want gravy. This is really the option of last resort.
Con: Unfortunately, it’s also almost impossible to maintain crispy skin with this method.
This method may not add heat to the turkey, but it helps maintain the temperature longer.
Carving a turkey increases its surface area and it will start to cook must faster. Hold off on carving until right before serving the meal and you’ll be able to serve nice, warm slices of a perfectly cooked holiday meal!
Can You Reheat Your Turkey?
If you tried out the methods on our list but still couldn’t keep the turkey warm until dinner time, don’t worry. If your bird cools down too much, you can reheat it.
- Carve your turkey into smaller sections.
- Cover the entire thing in foil.
- Place the turkey in the oven.
- Reheat at 350°F for about 30 minutes.
Pro: It will be easy to remove from the oven for serving as it is already cut.
Con: Unfortunately, reheated turkey doesn’t taste exactly the same, but it will still work well in a pinch.
🍂 Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes
Whip up the Sausage Breakfast Casserole when you need to serve up a crowd and keep their tummies full for a few hours.
DIY Charcuterie Tray is one of my favorite things to make as you can use just about anything to make one. Whip up a batch of Christmas Coffee or Caramel Lattes from the crockpot and it will keep the stomaches from growling.
Keep in mind the turkey’s size, state, and cooking method when deciding the best method for you to keep your bird toasty whether the guests are late or the timing was just slightly off.