How Long Should a Turkey Rest Before You Carve It? The Top Guidelines

October 30, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

You should allow the turkey to rest for around 45 minutes – however, there are various factors that can alter this timeline.

Coming from a culinary family, I knew that resting meat was important. However, it was only after I joined culinary school that I was taught just how important it is. I also learned about the ideal time to rest each kind of meat.

Here is everything you need to know about how long should a turkey rest before you carve it:

How long should a turkey rest before you carve it

How Long Should You Let the Turkey Rest After Cooking?

The average resting time for a whole bird is 45 minutes.

This resting period is for smaller birds, though. For a larger turkey, you are naturally going to need to let it rest for longer.

Remember, the whole point of resting turkey is so that it can reabsorb juices that are lost when you cook the bird. Allowing the turkey to rest for this long ensures that the meat is nice and tender.

Keep in mind that there is no hard and fast rule for the resting period. Due to this, it can be tricky to know just how long you should rest the turkey before carving it.

That being said, you should follow this guideline:

For each pound, let the turkey rest for 7 to 10 minutes.

How Long Should a 16lb Turkey Rest Before Carving?

Based on the calculation above, you should rest larger birds like this for 2 hours at a time.

Can You Let a Turkey Rest Too Long?

So, is there a chance that you can rest a turkey for more than necessary?

For instance:

Can you rest a turkey for 1 hour?

Yes, technically, it is possible to rest a turkey for too long.

For instance, if you let smaller birds rest for more than an hour, they can cool down quite a bit. This isn’t good news for you if you want to serve the turkey piping hot.

In this instance, following the 45 minutes rule will ensure that you get to serve your turkey at the right temperature.

You should bear in mind that smoked turkey will often cool off faster. This is because it is cooked at a lower temperature. Due to this, be mindful that you might need to serve smoked turkey a little sooner than other dishes.

A bird cooked in the oven can be left out for a little longer without the meat cooling as fast.

The other thing to worry about a too-long resting period is food safety.

According to the experts, you shouldn’t leave cooked meat out for more than two hours. If the ambient temperature is over 90 degrees F, then the turkey can’t be kept out for longer than an hour.

The reason for this is something known as the danger zone. When the external and internal temperature of turkey reaches between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, there is a high risk of food poisoning.

This is because at these temperatures, bacteria can multiply incredibly quickly. Therefore, it is important to eat the turkey before this happens or store it in the refrigerator.

So, once again, sticking to the 45 minutes resting period works best here.

Now, with a larger turkey, you have a little bit more wiggle room. This is because it will take longer to cool down. Still, you have to avoid keeping the turkey out for longer than 2 hours.

Thanksgiving Turkey

How Long Should You Rest Turkey Breast For?

Ok, so you know how to rest a whole turkey and even larger birds. However, what if you are just cooking a turkey breast?

Well, you should rest turkey breast for about 20 minutes after taking it out of the oven or smoker and placing it on the cutting board. As the section is smaller, it will not take as much time for the meat to reach perfection.

Keep in mind that you should rest breast meat for as long as recommended. Otherwise, you will end up with a rather dry piece of meat.

Do You Cover a Turkey When Resting?

This is an interesting question as there are two schools of thought here.

Some people believe that you should cover a turkey with aluminum foil during the resting period.

This belief stems from the fact that turkey is a rather dry meat to begin with. Cooking turkey only causes it to lose more moisture. Some say that by wrapping the turkey in foil, they are ensuring that they trap the moisture inside.

Here is the problem with this, though.

When you trap hot air inside the foil, you are actually causing the temperature to rise and for the turkey to continue cooking. As such, you actually end up drying out the turkey even further – it may even lose more juices.

The other issue with covering turkey while it is resting is that by trapping moisture inside, you are causing the skin to become soft and appetizing.

For a truly delicious turkey dish, you need the meat to be moist but the skin to be nice and crispy.

So, as it stands, you shouldn’t wrap the turkey while it rests.

A Guide to Resting Turkey the Right Way

Here are the top tips to ensure your turkey is rested the right way:

Take the Turkey Out at the Right Time

The first tip is to monitor the internal temp of the bird for the entire time it is in the oven or smoker. The second that the perfect temp is reached, pull the bird out of the oven or smoker.

Then, place the bird on the cutting board.

Leave the Bird Alone

Make sure that you don’t do anything to the bird while it is resting. This includes cutting into the meat to check the color of the meat or to see if the juices are running.

Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temp and leave it alone until the resting period is up.

Monitor the Internal Temp

To err on the side of caution, leave the thermometer in the bird for the entire process.

This is important if you want to serve the turkey while it is still hot. It is also a good way to guarantee that the food will be safe, too.

Be Patient

Last, but certainly not least, it is important to be patient. It can be tempting to not wait for the full resting time after the cook, but you should.

It is the only way to guarantee that your smoked or oven baked turkeys or turkey breast is going to be perfect to eat.

Whole Roasted Turkey with Slices of Orange and Prune

Wrapping It Up

There you have it – all that you need to know about how long to rest a turkey. Now that you have this information at your fingertips, you can make sure that your turkey tastes as moist and as amazing as possible!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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