Turkey Done Too Early: What Happens Next?

August 24, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Is your turkey done too early? As soon as it’s off the heat, the turkey will start to cool. If it’s not ready for the dining table after resting, it could dry off. The problem is turkey doesn’t have a lot of fat that could keep the meat moisturized, juicy, and even warm for a long time. So, your option is to wrap and/or reheat it. 

It happened to me during one of my home cooks while planning a Thanksgiving meal for the family. I had dinner set for 7 pm, and the turkey recipe I was preparing seemed to be 2 hours earlier than I expected the cooking time to be. Now, the 12-pound turkey was measuring an internal temperature of around 167 degrees plus after just 3 hours cooking time, and I didn’t want to overcook it. So in this article, I’ll show you how I ensure I still have a delicious meal even after it’s finished cooking several hours ahead.

Turkey done too early

Turkey Done Too Early: What to Do Next?

First, DON’T panic. Unlike dark meat, poultry meats cook faster.

Here’s what to do:

  • Take the whole turkey off the heat and let it rest. 
  • Next, carve off the legs, breast meat, and thighs. 
  • Arrange these cuts on a serving platter and cover them with aluminum foil. 
  • 20 minutes before serving, remove the foil. 
  • Then reheat the turkey meats at around 350 degrees Fahrenheit

What to Do if Turkey’s Done too Early But Not Done Internally?

If your turkey’s done too early, for food safety reasons, check the internal temperature to be sure it’s cooked all through.

If you made smoked turkey and the skin is all browned out, that’s not a sign it’s cooked.

Cooking a frozen turkey that has not been properly thawed can cause the inside to be undercooked. The hibernating harmful bacteria could just wake up and pose a health risk.

So if your thermometer shows the turkey is not cooked up to 165 degrees (the USDA recommendation), you should continue cooking the smoked turkey.

If you fear the outside part of the smoked turkey could overcook, carve the smoked turkey and heat the undercooked parts.

If your turkey’s done earlier than scheduled dinner parties, there are some tricks to ensure it remains warm.

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10 Tricks to Keep a Turkey Warm 

You’ve probably heard that after cooking turkey, like other meats, it’s important to rest it. But do you know why? By resting for a few minutes before you eat it, the meat has time to reabsorb its juices to prevent it from escaping onto the plate with the first stab. 

This also allows it to “keep cooking.” If you wish, you will even have time to make a quick sauce in the pan! But when your turkey is earlier than scheduled, there are a couple of tricks to try which will keep the meat warm. 

1. Heat the Plate

This may not seem like a big deal, but letting the meat rest on a warm plate will reduce heat loss. Place a large plate or heatproof dish in the microwave and heat the item for about a minute. Don’t forget to protect yourself with an oven mitt when you take it out! The HOMWE Silicone Oven Mitt is the bestselling pair if you need one. 

Next, place the cooked turkeys on the hot surface. 

If you don’t have a microwave, that’s okay. Put the plate or dish in the conventional oven space and turn it on by setting it to its lowest temperature. It may take about 5 min for the plates to heat up. 

2. Cover the Meat

If you’re outside and it’s windy, shield the meat with aluminum foil. There is much debate about the effectiveness of this material in keeping the bird moist. 

Some people say there’s not much difference in foil-coated turkey unless the cooking process is in an outdoor setting where it’s cold or windy. So, whether you want to cover the turkeys with aluminum foil is up to you. You may also wrap it in a thick towel for better heat retention. 

Be aware that this method could make the surface less crispy.

Thanksgiving Dinner Table

3. Use the Oven

If you want the turkeys to stay very hot, bake them at 149 degrees. This method, however, has one downside. 

The low oven heat can certainly keep the meat warm while it rests, but sometimes dries it out. You can try putting it in the oven space for a few minutes while it rests to prevent it from overcooking or drying. 

If you try this method, leave the turkey uncovered to prevent the foil from retaining moisture and softening the crust.

4. Let It Rest

Don’t cut the turkey before resting the turkey. Just leave them on the plate and finish preparing the rest of the meal so you can serve the meat as soon as it’s finished resting. You’ll need at least 20 min to rest your turkey before eating it. 

Set a timer, so you don’t forget that the turkey is resting. Otherwise, they will cool too much.

5. Sear the Grilled Turkey

Have you removed your perfectly grilled turkeys from the barbecue and let them rest, only to find that they have gone soft and cool? Don’t worry! Searing the turkey will help heat the turkey while it regains crispiness. 

Put about ten pieces of charcoal in the barbecue or turn on a gas barbecue at a high temperature. Before serving the meat, place it on the grill and grill it for about 30 seconds on each side. 

High heat will only remove surface moisture that has softened the crust and will warm the turkeys without making them tough.

6. Pour Hot Gravy Over Seared Turkey

If you left the meat to rest after searing it and it lost its crispy surface, that’s okay. You can easily reheat it and give it back its nice crust. 

While it rests, heat the pan containing the juice and fat. Just before eating the turkey, pour the hot juice over it. It will sizzle, and the hot fat will make the surface crispy. 

It is important to eat the meat right away to prevent it from getting cold and soft again.

7. Pour Sauce Over Thin Slices

If you’re worried about overcooking the turkey by reheating it, this method is very effective. Cut the cold cooked turkey meat into slices as thin as possible. Then, arrange them on warm plates. Heat the sauce you want to add until it’s piping hot and pour it over the meat. This will be hot when you eat it and won’t get tough at all. 

This is a great way to serve turkeys to multiple people because you can cook them ahead of time and carve them just before eating.

8. Reheat Leftovers

Put them in the oven and finish with a frying or roasting pan. If you have leftover turkey in the fridge, the oven is the best way to reheat them. Place them on a wire rack and a baking sheet. 

Bake the meat at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches a temperature of around 120 degrees. To give it a nice crispy surface, heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat and lay the hot turkey inside. Sear each side for 60 to 90 seconds and let the meat rest for 5 minutes before serving to release the initial heat.

Don’t use this method more than once, or the turkey will not have a good texture.

Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner

9. Use a Microwave

First, cover the meat with damp kitchen paper. If you’re hungry and have leftover cooked turkey, you may think it’s fine to microwave it for a few minutes, but that will dry it out and make it tough, which isn’t pleasant at all. If you have no other way to reheat it, cover it with a damp paper towel and heat it in 30-second bursts. Turn it over every interval so that it heats evenly.

Set the appliance to medium power to prevent the meat from overcooking.

It will probably take 1 min 30 to 2 min. The exact time depends on the size and thickness of the turkey.

10. Dip in Boiling Water

Finally, dipping the meat in boiling water is another trick to reheat the turkey if it’s been cooled before dining time. Don’t just dip the turkey in boiling water that way. First, you need to wrap it in foil. This will not allow the boiling water to get into the meat and mess it up.

How Do You Keep the Turkey Warm Without Drying It Out?

The trick I use is rest, wrap in foil and towel, and heat the turkey – in that order. 

Once the cooking process has ended, it would make sense to leave it to rest. A whole turkey is a big meat and will need about 45 minutes to rest. Smaller birds need 30 minutes, and if you’ve only made cuts of turkey like the breast, the resting time is 20 minutes

After this, cover the meat with aluminum foil. You may also place an extra blanket over the wrap. Wrapping turkeys in foil and putting on blankets and towels can help them stay warm. 

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1. How Do You Keep a Turkey Warm for Several Hours?

Cover the turkey and wrap it with foil and a blanket or large towel. This helps it stay warm, and the turkey will remain warm for some hours. Suppose you want it to remain warm for longer, maybe up to 4 hours. You can keep the meat in the cooler

For this, I recommend getting a temperature sensor in your turkey before wrapping it. Because of the excellent insulation inside the cooler, your turkey can remain warm for at least three to four hours.

2. Can I Let My Turkey Rest for 2 Hours?

Turkey weighing around 9 to 13 pounds should rest for at least one and a half hours, and those weighing about 14 to 22 pounds can be allowed to rest for two hours.

Roasted Turkey with Fruits


A turkey done too early should not be a problem. It’s better than keeping your guests waiting. If turkeys are cooked well ahead of time, then it is better to follow the rest and heat methods. 

It doesn’t matter how you cooked the turkey. In any case, rest is important to get a lump of good, tender meat. To keep the meat warm, wrap it in foil or a towel. If it’s gone cool, you may try reheating it.

If you plan to keep turkeys warm for over four hours, it’s best to allow the temperature of the cooked meat to cool down. Then it is covered with foil and a blanket, so the heat stays for another hour. You may also need to warm the meat on a cooktop or oven at a low temperature. 

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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