How to Keep Smoked Turkey Warm: Tips for Toasty Turkey

November 17, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The best way to keep turkey warm is to fill a cooler with hot water and close the lid, letting the hot water sit for 30 minutes. Then, empty the cooler out, line with towels, and place the bird in the cooler before shutting the lid.

I love hosting Thanksgiving meals at my home, but I am always afraid that my food won’t be ready when my family shows up. So, I overcompensate and prepare the turkey too early which means that it can get cold by the time lunch is served. Luckily, a pitmaster friend of mine came to the rescue and taught me the secrets of the faux Cambro.

In this post I am going to show you how to keep smoked turkey warm by creating your very own heating device – I am also going to offer tips to ensure your turkey is cooked on time. Let’s go!

How to keep smoked turkey warm

How Do You Keep a Turkey Warm When Done Too Early?

There are two main ways to keep smoked turkey warm.

The first is a method known as holding. Here, you create something known as a faux Cambro (more on that later) and place the turkey in this until it needs to be served.

The second option to keep the turkey warm is to heat the oven to a very low temperature. Then, place the turkey in the oven until you are ready to serve dinner.

How Do You Keep a Smoked Turkey Warm Without Drying It Out?

As you are well aware, turkey is a rather delicate bird. Due to this, the meat dries out really easily. So, if you want to reduce the risk of the meat drying out while you keep the turkey warm, then you should use the holding method.

The problem when you try to keep the turkey warm in the oven is that it continues to be exposed to dry heat. As a result, any moisture left in the turkey is likely to evaporate.

What is a Faux Cambro?

So, what is a faux Cambro anyway and why is it the best way to keep the smoked turkey warm?

Cambro actually refers to a device used by the food catering industry. It is an insulated container that keeps warm foods hot. Some of the more sophisticated models come with heating properties to ensure that the food is piping hot when it is served.

The thing is that this machine is pretty pricey and it doesn’t make sense for most people to own one. This is why it is a far better option to DIY your own one.

This is done with the help of a large cooler, towels, and hot water. Yes, it is as easy as that to make your own Cambro at home.

The main benefit to this homemade device is that while it remains hot inside so that your smoked turkey can remain warm, there is no heat source. This means that the cooked turkey won’t dry out.

What’s more, the moist air inside the cooler works to prevent the moisture in the smoked turkey from evaporating further.

How to Make a Faux Cambro?

Here is what you need to know about making your own self heating device:

What You Will Need

A Cooler

Your cooler is going to need to be large enough to accommodate the whole turkey. So, this is something that you should check on ahead of time. If you don’t have a big enough one, consider borrowing one from your neighbor or a guest.

I would also suggest using a high quality cooler with excellent insulation properties. You need to make sure that none of the heat escapes so that the internal temperature of the turkey can be maintained. In turn, you can keep the meat warm for longer.


You are going to need clean towels to line the cooler. I would suggest washing a few large towels without any detergent in case you will need to keep the smoked turkey warm.

The last thing that you need is for the turkey to absorb the smell of the detergent or fabric softener.

Make sure that the towels are thick and fluffy as this helps to maintain the internal temp of the cooler.

Small Cooler in the back of a Truck

How to Set Up the Faux Cambro?

If you feel like your smoked turkey is going to be done sooner than expected, start prepping the cooler 30 minutes before you expect the cooking process to be over.

Start by cleaning out the cooler thoroughly. Then, fill it with hot water. Close the lid and let the hot water sit there for half an hour.

Then, pour the hot water out of the cooler and line with clean towels.

Take the freshly cooked turkey and wrap in aluminum foil tightly. To prevent a mess, make sure to use heavy duty aluminum foil. Or, use two or more sheets of aluminum foil to contain all the juices.

Place the wrapped turkey in the cooler and close the lid.

Take out of the cooler about 45 minutes before you want to serve the smoked turkey. You can let the turkey rest until you want to carve the meat.

How Long Can You Hold a Turkey After Smoking?

If you are using a good quality cooler with excellent insulation skills, then you should be able to hold the turkey for up to 4 hours at a time.

It is important to keep an eye on the clock and to ensure that you don’t go over this time period.

See, there is a temperature range known as the Danger Zone. This is between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. At this range, bacteria multiplies incredibly quickly. As a result, there is a greater risk for food poisoning.

This is why it is important to slice and serve the turkey before this happens. If your turkey is going to be served after this four hours is up, it may be better to refrigerate it and then reheat it again.

On the other hand, if your turkey is done and you are expecting your guests in about an hour, then you may not need to bother with the cooler. Instead, tent the turkey in aluminum foil and and allow it to rest until the guests arrive.

Can You Smoke a Turkey in Advance?

I would advise that you cook your turkey too far in advance. Even if you can keep the smoked turkey warm in the cooler, there are limits to how long you can do this for.

So, I would try to time the turkey so that you can take it out of the smoker about 45 minutes before guests arrive. Keep in mind, you have to let the turkey rest for about an hour so it shouldn’t be taken out of the smoker too early, either.

Now, how do you estimate how long it will take your turkey to smoke? Well, the cooking time depends on the size of the turkey as well as the smoker temperature.

If you are preparing larger turkeys, then set the smoker temperature to 250 to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. At 250 F, the turkey will cook at a rate of 20 to 30 minutes per pound. At 275 F, the turkey should cook at around 15 to 20 minutes per pound.

If you are cooking a smaller turkey, I would suggest lowering the smoker temperature to 225 F – this should take the turkey 30 to 40 minutes per pound to cook.

Organic Homemade Smoked Turkey Dinner for Thanksgiving

Tips for Cooking Turkey at the Ideal Rate

Now that you know how to keep your smoked turkey warm, here are some tips to ensure that your turkey is only done when you want it to be:

Do the Math

I have mentioned the cooking time for each smoker temp. So, your first order of business is to do some math. Weigh your turkey, figure out what temperature you are going to be using, and then determine how long this is going to take.

Once again I will remind you that you need to rest the turkey. Take this period into consideration when deciding what time to start the cooking process.

I like to give myself an extra hour as a window should anything go wrong. Of course, I also keep a cooler on hand just in case the turkey is done earlier.

Test the Smoker

Some smokers do come with hood thermometers but I find that these aren’t all that reliable. This is why I like to buy my own hood thermometer.

The day before the cook, use the thermometer to check the temperature inside the cooking chamber. This will let you know if it is the same as what is mentioned on the dial or if it is higher or lower.

In turn, you can then adjust the temperature or your cooking rate to match when you want your turkey done.

Use a Smaller Turkey

I prefer using two or more smaller turkeys versus using one big whole bird. The reason for this is that the cooking temp is a lot more consistent with smaller birds. In turn, my calculations tend to be a bit more accurate.

Monitor the Internal Temperature

The only way to know the rate at which the turkey is cooking is to monitor the internal temp.

Use a thermometer that can be kept inside of the bird during the cook. This way, you don’t have to keep opening the lid and checking the temp.

In particular, keep an eye on the temp of the breast meat as this section is quite delicate and can overcook quickly.

If you notice the bird cooking too fast, move to a lower temperature. On the other hand, if it is cooking too slow, increase the temperature. Make sure to avoid going beyond 275 F as you risk drying out the turkey.

Wrapping It Up

Now you know how to keep your smoked turkey warm once it has finished cooking. With this knowledge, you can ensure that your family and guests are served turkey at the perfect temperature each and every time!

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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