Turkey is Cooking Too Fast! What Do I Do?

August 24, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

A common complaint from BBQers is that their turkey cooks too fast. In my experience, cooking turkey requires a mix of patience and finesse. However, many things can still go wrong when you’re smoking this delicate bird.

If you’ve noticed this bird is cooking too fast, I found that lowering the oven temperature helps greatly. Ideally, you want the meat to remain warm till it is done. You can also try the faux Cambro technique. This technique involves using a container to reduce the bird’s temperature and keep it warm.

In today’s article, I’ll break down these steps and answer why your bird may be cooking too quickly.

turkey is cooking too fast

What to Do if the Turkey is Cooking Too Fast?

Now that you know why your turkey is cooking too fast, here’s what you can do to slow things down.

1. Lower the Temperature

If the bird’s temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit sooner than expected, try lowering the heat of the oven or smoker. It would be best if you also cover the meat with foil so it stays moist. This technique will slow the smoking temp and cooking time so that every part of this tasty protein is properly cooked.

2. Try the Faux Cambro Method

The faux Cambro method is another way to lower the turkey’s cooking rate without it becoming cold and dry. This method involves storing the bird in a warm cooler before carving and serving it.

Typically, caterers use a Cambro container to keep meals steaming hot. However, since not everyone has a Cambro in their cupboard, you can create a similar effect of a Cambro using regular items. You’ll need a cooler that can fit the whole fowl. Next, you’ll need boiling water, aluminum foil, and a clean towel.

Pour the boiling water into the cooler. Then, take the turkey out of the oven or smoker and wrap it with aluminum foil. Ensure that you cover all parts of the bird with foil to prevent drying.

Afterward, pour out the water from the cooler, wrap the turkey with a clean towel then place it into the cooler. This technique will keep the meat warm for three to four hours. When it’s serving time, remove the towel and foil and serve the meat to your liking.

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Why Does a Turkey Cook Too Fast?

There are several possible reasons your turkey is cooking too fast, so it’s not an exact science. However, knowing the possible causes will allow you to be better prepared.

The first reason your turkey is cooking too quickly may be due to the turkey itself. Turkey is a tricky bird to smoke. Every fowl is different, and the combination of white meat, such as breasts and wings —which typically cooks quickly— and dark meat, such as thighs and legs —which takes more time to cook— makes grilling this large bird a balancing act.

In my opinion, it’s best to select a fowl within a familiar weight range. This way, you’ll be better prepared to cook this delicious bird for your family.

Secondly, from experience, a pre-brined turkey cooks faster. A turkey is pre-brined when treated in a saltwater solution before packaging. Usually, other ingredients are added to the solution for added flavor. So, keep this in mind when buying a pre-brined bird.

Lastly, the bird may be cooking too fast because the temperature is too high. Remember, the recommended oven or smoker temperature is 325 ºF.

Whole Homemade Thanksgiving Turkey

Other Common Turkey Problems and Solutions

Are you facing other problems when prepping or grilling your turkey? Here, we’ll discuss three common issues most people face and highlight how to resolve them. 

1. Turkey is Frozen

The oven is ready, but the turkey is still frozen solid. This scenario must seem all too familiar if you’ve been smoking a turkey for a while. Fortunately, there is a quick and easy way to thaw the turkey and save valuable time.

Put the ice-covered turkey in a large pot or pail of cold water and submerge it. For best results, Ensure the cold water is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. With this temperature, the turkey should thaw at around 30 minutes per turkey pound.

So, if the turkey weighs 10 pounds, it will thaw entirely in about five hours. So, ensure that you time the defrosting process correctly so you don’t keep your hungry guests waiting for long.

2. Turkey Isn’t Cooking

Another problem you might face is the fact that the turkey doesn’t cook.  First, try to wrap the turkey in foil, place it in a roasting pan and increase the heat.

Consider raising the oven temperature to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, continue cooking for 2 minutes per pound until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember to test the turkey after it’s finished cooking to ensure all parts are done. Then, you can serve the food and enjoy all your hard work.

3. Turkey Isn’t Cooked Evenly

If you notice some parts of the meat aren’t entirely done, you can carve the cooked parts and place the undercooked meat back in the oven. 

Alternatively, you can slowly boil the raw turkey parts in a pot of turkey stock. Remember to check the turkey’s temperature to ensure it’s just right before you serve. You can wrap the cooked parts in foil so the meat stays warm.

4. Dry Turkey

If the turkey tastes dry, you’re probably guilty of overcooking the bird. Fortunately, there are a couple of ways you can moisten the bird.

First, pour heated broth over a platter of sliced turkey to give it a moist look and flavor. Ensure you don’t go overboard. You don’t want your precious meat swimming in a large amount of broth.  

Additionally, you can spritz the meat with warm turkey or chicken broth/juices as you carve it. This technique will add more moisture to the bird and prevent further drying.

Not only does dry turkey lack moisture, but it also lacks fat. So, whisking some butter into the gravy and drizzling it on top of the bird can replace the lost turkey fat and make it taste juicier. Afterward, it’s dinnertime!

Thanksgiving Turkey Meal with Fruits

What is the Ideal Cooking Time for Turkey?

The perfect cook time for turkey isn’t straightforward. The answer depends on the cooking temperature, the bird’s weight, and the presence or absence of stuffing.

Ideally, the turkey should cook at a rate of roughly 13 minutes per turkey pound when the smoker or oven is preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. For instance, if the turkey weighs 20 pounds, you’ll need to cook the turkey for 260 minutes which is 4 hours and 20 minutes

If the bird is stuffed, cook it for 15 minutes per pound. So, a stuffed 20-pound turkey will cook for 5 hours. Also, pay attention to the meat’s internal temperature. For this, you’ll need a thermometer. This tool is a must-have for monitoring the meat’s temperature to better judge the cooking time.

So, use a thermometer to check the temp of the meat and stuffing. If the temperature is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s serving time. However, if the temperature is lower, you’ll need to let the bird cook for longer. When taking the temperature, be careful not to touch any bones, as this can cause skew the readings.

Wrapping It Up

Turkey, while tasty, can be challenging to cook. The meat is delicate, with complex protein layers that cook at different rates. So, if your turkey is cooking too fast, lower the temperature, wrap it in foil or try the faux Cambro method discussed above. You can be sure that the turkey will taste delicious whichever method you try. 

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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