How Long to Let a Turkey Rest After Cooking

The resting period is an important part of the success of any well-cooked meat, including turkeys. That’s true for grilled and roasted turkeys alike. But how long should they rest?

A freshly cooked, roasted turkey of standard size should rest for around 45 minutes before serving. Smoked turkey on the other hand cools off a lot quicker, so it should only rest for about 30 minutes.

Smaller birds will require less time, and similarly you won’t need as long if you’re only cooling down parts of a turkey instead of the whole thing.

Why Is The Resting Period So Important?

Of course you already know that when that turkey is fresh out of the oven, it’s going to be piping hot. Too hot for most people to want to eat! But there’s a lot more at play than just that.

If you’ve ever taken a knife to a piece of meat that’s straight out from the oven or grill, you’re likely to notice tons of juices spilling out. That happens because some moisture is lost in the cooking process, and is thus bubbling to the surface.

But if you let the turkey rest for a while after cooking, you’ll allow it to reabsorb those juices! So you see, skipping this step will actually result in a dryer meal. 

And turkey is already a bit dry compared to other birds, so if anything it’s particularly important here. 

Plus keep in mind, when you take the turkey out, it’s going to keep sizzling for a bit. That is to say, it’ll still be cooking for a while! 

The resting period shouldn’t be seen as optional or a formality. Rather it’s the final step to the recipe, and a key one at that. Plan ahead to set aside the time that you need for it!

What To Do During The Resting Period

That 45 minute time we talked about before might sound like a pretty long time to just sit and wait. Keep in mind a whole turkey is pretty large, so it definitely needs a while for those juices to redistribute. 

But in the meantime, there’s plenty of productive things you can do.

It’s a great time to prepare or reheat a side dish. The turkey was no doubt taking up plenty of space in your oven or your smoker, so now is a good time to cook up something else.

What Are Good Side Dishes To Make During This Time?

This is another thing you can factor into planning. If you’re planning a full-course meal including turkey, it’s probably a good idea to cook the turkey first.

Then while it sits, you can make whatever else you want, such as making gravy out of the turkey’s pan drippings. 

Or, if you happened to have stuffed the turkey before giving it a good roasting, you can take this time to remove the stuffing to make it into a nice buttered casserole dish. Just be careful not to burn yourself, that bird is gonna be sizzling!

You might presume that the stuffing is already fully cooked by this point. And it might be, but just to be sure, you’ll want to preheat the oven to 350 degrees and let it sit in there for a bit.

The stuffing needs to be heated to around 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Once it reaches that threshold, you can consider it fully cooked.

Is It Bad To Rest A Turkey For Too Long?

You might want to set a timer for the resting period, because if you lose track of time and let the turkey sit for too long, that’s not great news.

It should still be safe to eat for a while after that hour mark (unless room temperature is scorching hot) but the quality of the meal will be affected.

After a certain point, the meat’s going to start cooling down too much. Cold turkey is great when it comes to trying to beat kick habits, but not so much for consumption! 

So if you’re looking to serve a hot turkey for dinner, it’s best to serve it right after the alloted resting period is over. 

What Counts As A Big Or Small Turkey? How To Know How Long They Need To Sit?

We mentioned above that the size of the turkey plays a part in how long they should rest. To get more in-depth on that, just remember that a big turkey will stay warm for longer than a small one. 

The 45-minute to an hour time we’ve been talking about is for the higher size range, say around 18-24 pounds.

Meanwhile a 10 to 14 pound bird might just need a half hour or so. And just to remind you, smoked birds cool faster than roasted ones. 

If this all sounds complicated, don’t worry, there is a way to simplify things. If you have an internal thermometer handy, that will prove to be a lifesaver here!

As you let the meat sit out, periodically check on the internal temperature. If it dips below 130, it’ll be too cool to serve. So just make sure you don’t let it get there! 

Also if it remains below 140 degrees for more than a few hours, it might start to go bad. 

How Important Is A Room’s Temperature?

The turkey will be sitting out on the countertop, exposed to the elements for a while. So the room temperature does play a factor, if perhaps a small one. 

The turkey will naturally cool off faster in a cooler room than in a hot one. 

This can be a hard thing to control but ideally you’d like room temperature to be at about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If you attain this, the times listed here will be more accurate for you.

Deviations on that temperature can adjust the time required, either adding or subtracting minutes.

How Many Times Can You Reheat Turkey?

If you’re working with whole turkeys, like we’ve been discussing, then it’s only reasonable that you might end up with a lot left over. With that in mind, you might have to reheat it, but how many times?

Well, according to food regulators, it’s only safe to reheat turkey once after cooking it. That’s because every change in temperature opens the meat up to new bacteria. And that bacteria may well be unsafe to consume. 

How Long To Rest A Smoked Turkey

We briefly mentioned smoked turkeys and smaller pieces earlier, but for the most part this article has focused on whole, roasted turkeys. Now let’s delve a bit more into other scenarios.

As we said, a smoked turkey will cool down quicker so it shouldn’t sit for as long as a roasted turkey. About 15-30 minutes will do, depending on the size. 

If you’d like to slow this process down a bit, you can cover the meat with aluminum foil. More on that later, but first let’s discuss individual pieces.

How Long To Rest A Turkey Breast

This is obviously quite a bit smaller than the whole bird, so you definitely shouldn’t have to sit it out for very long. 

If we’re just talking about cooking a turkey breast all on its own, or another piece of similar size, you’ll need considerably less time for that. About 15 to 20 minutes should be long enough to rest that breast!

Once it’s removed from the oven, you’ll want to tent the breast in foil and set it aside. Make sure that there’s no draft wherever you place it. 

Once that resting period is up, you can slice the breast into thin pieces. Removing the skin is optional, but leaving it on can add a nice bit of texture and flavor to the lean turkey meat.

Should You Rest The Turkey Breast Side Down?

You might’ve heard it said before that if a turkey is roasted with the breast side facing down, the result will make for some particularly juicy breast meat.

There’s truth to that, but it does come with a downside. Namely, the lovely crispy skin of the breast will be compromised in the process. 

As a half-measure, our recommendation is to cook it the normal way but then rest the turkey breast side down instead. You’ll get to enjoy some extra juiciness without sacrificing the skin that way!

Of course this involves handling and maybe picking up a potentially large and very hot bird. So you might want to ask somebody for assistance on this. 

And making use of tools or oven mitts for extra leverage and safety might be a good idea too. 

As a tip: dig a wooden spoon into the inner cavity of the turkey to aid in this. You can use it as a bit of a lever here to make it easier to roll.

Should The Turkey Be Wrapped While It Sits?

The answer to this one is a matter of preference more than anything. It depends on if you like your meat crispy or not. 

Leaving the turkey uncovered will cause the turkey’s skin to develop a crunchier texture. To many, this would be very welcome and exactly what they’re looking for.

Others, though, might hope to have a more tender turkey meal. In that case, making use of a kitchen towel or some aluminum foil to cover the turkey as it rests is a good call.

If you are going to be wrapping the bird up, make sure it’s a firm but loose wrapping. If the wrap is too tight, that’ll cause the meat to sweat, robbing it of juiciness and softening the skin. 

A loose tent of foil will do, else you can merely drape a kitchen towel over the turkey’s surface.

In Conclusion…

There’s a variety of factors to consider here. Whether or not you’re dealing with a whole turkey, how big it is, how it’s cooked and even the ambient temperature can all play a part.

But one thing is for sure, letting that turkey sit for the appropriate amount of time after cooking is a vital step, one you can’t afford to skip.

Now that you know everything that goes into this consideration, you should have nothing to fear. Follow these instructions and your turkey should turn out great!