How Long to Rest Turkey Before You Carve It: Expert Recommendations

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One critical step that is often overlooked when preparing your holiday meal is allowing the turkey to rest before carving it. Resting the turkey is essential to ensure that it is juicy and tender, and it allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat.

If you get antsy or don’t leave enough time for it, you might cut into the turkey too early and waste all your hard work and effort on a dry, disappointing turkey. No one wants that!

Turkey being carved

When preparing to cook your turkey, consider how long to rest turkey in your plan. It’s a very important part of a juicy, well cooked turkey. And it’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all scenario because it needs to be based on the size of the turkey you’re cooking.

As a general rule of thumb, you should allow your turkey to rest for at least 15-20 minutes before carving it. The applies to anywhere from 6-12 pounds. For larger birds, 12-18 pounds, you may need to let it rest for up to 30-45 minutes to ensure that the meat is fully rested and the juices have had time to redistribute.

Be sure to plan ahead and allow enough time for your turkey to rest before carving it.

How long to rest turkey

The Importance of Resting a Turkey

After a turkey is cooked, it needs time to rest before you carve it. “Resting is actually the final phase of roasting: the internal temperature will continue to rise and the juices retreat from the surface, settling back into every part of the meat, ” says Martha If you carve the turkey too soon, the juices will run out, and you will end up with dry meat.

You can use this time to make gravy or finish up any last-minute side dishes. Cover the turkey with foil to keep it warm while it rests.

That being said, it’s also important to make sure that the turkey is not in the “danger zone” for too long. The danger zone is between 40°F and 140°F, which is the temperature range where bacteria can grow rapidly. You’ll likely take the turkey off the grill or out of the oven when it reaches 165°F, then it will continue to rise a bit as it rests. If you wait longer than an hour to carve the turkey, it can start to dip back down to undesirable temps.

To combat this, I always leave the probe inserted as the turkey rests so I can monitor the internal temp as it cools. If you’re getting near that 140°F range, you need to make other arrangements, like keeping it warm or refrigerating it.

Turkey on the table

Frequently Asked Questions

How to properly rest a turkey before carving?

To properly rest a turkey before carving, remove it from the oven and “tent it loosely with foil”, says the New York Times. This will help keep the turkey warm while it rests. Place the turkey on a cutting board with a moat to catch the juices. Let the turkey rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes, or up to 30 minutes for larger birds.

How long can cooked turkey sit out before carving?

It is not recommended to let cooked turkey sit out for more than 2 hours before carving. After 2 hours, bacteria can start to grow, which can cause foodborne illness. If you need to keep the turkey warm for longer than 2 hours, it is best to slice it and keep it in a warm oven or slow cooker.

Also, leftover turkey needs to be put into the refrigerator within 2 hours as well, according to the USDA, for food safety reasons. So once dinner is over, be sure to carve any remaining meat from the bones and store it properly.

What is the ideal temperature for a turkey before resting?

The ideal temperature for a turkey before resting is 165°F. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the turkey in the thickest part of the thigh and the breast. Once the turkey has reached 165°F, remove it from the oven and let it rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before carving. It will likely continue to rise in temperature for 5-10 minutes after taking it out.

What if the turkey is spatchcocked?

If you’ve spatchcocked your turkey – which is a process of removing the backbone so the bird can lay flat, you will still need to rest it for at least 10 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.

What if I’ve smoked my turkey?

If you’re smoking your turkey, still there will be no difference in the resting time. You still need to rest the turkey for 15-20 minutes for a smaller size, and 20-45 minutes for a larger size.

What is the best wood or pellets for smoking a turkey?

I think the best wood or pellets to smoke a turkey with is apple or cherry wood. These woods are sweeter than their counterparts (like mesquite or hickory, which tends to overpower the delicate flavor of the turkey). You can experiment with the wood, but be sure to choose something light and fruity so you don’t overwhelm it.

The Art of Carving a Rested Turkey

Carving a turkey can be a daunting task, but with the right preparation and technique, it can be a breeze. One of the most important steps in carving a turkey is allowing it to rest before you start carving. Resting allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more tender and flavorful bird.

Preparing the Turkey for Carving

Before you start carving, make sure your turkey has had enough time to rest. As a general rule, you should let your turkey rest for at least 20-30 minutes for a smaller bird and 30-45 minutes for a larger one before carving. This will give the juices time to redistribute throughout the meat, making it easier to carve and resulting in a more flavorful bird.

While your turkey is resting, prepare your cutting board and carving tools. Make sure your cutting board is clean and dry, and that your knife is sharp. A dull knife can make carving more difficult and increase your risk of injury.

The Carving Process

Step One

To carve a turkey, start by removing the legs and thighs. Hold the turkey steady with a carving fork and use a sharp knife to cut through the skin between the breast and the leg. Bend the leg back until the joint pops, then cut through the joint to remove the leg and thigh. Repeat on the other side.

Step Two

Sliced turkey breast

Next, remove the breast meat. I like to remove the entire breast and then slice it on a cutting board, separate from the rest of the bird. This makes it easier to get uniform slices without damaging too much of the skin.

You can also carve it into slices directly at the table, if that’s the way you prefer.

Step Three

Finally, remove the wings by cutting through the joint where they meet the breast. Now you’ve cut everything from the bone, you can pile it nicely on a serving platter, if you want to serve it in a more appealing way at the table.

Cut turkey

Special Considerations for Different Types of Turkey

  • If you are carving a smoked turkey, you may need to adjust your technique slightly. Smoked turkey tends to have a firmer texture, so you may need to use a little more force when carving.
  • For larger birds, such as those typically served on Thanksgiving, you may need to cover the turkey with foil to keep it warm while you carve. This will help prevent the meat from drying out.
  • When carving a turkey, it’s important to keep food safety in mind. Make sure you use a clean cutting board and knife, and avoid cross-contamination by washing your hands frequently and using separate utensils for cooked and raw meat.

Before You Go

Since you made it to the end of this article, you might be interested in more turkey recipes and information. Here are a few more articles we think you might enjoy.

🥧 If you’re interested in more great recipes, I share all my favorite recipes at A Food Lover’s KitchenInstant Pot recipes over at A Pressure Cooker Kitchen, air fryer recipes at Air Fry Anytime, and cocktails and drinks at Savored Sips. Check it out today!

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