How To Keep A Smoked Turkey Warm (Avoid Dry Turkey)

Want to know how to keep your smoked turkey warm?

Smoking an entire turkey requires lots of organization. Like estimating and planning around your cooking times.

But from time to time a miscalculation can happen!

This puts you in a situation where the turkey has cooked too quickly.

And you will need to keep it warm until everyone is ready to eat.

Turkey – What You Need To Know Before Keeping It Warm

Before maintaining heat, I want to review some info about a beautiful turkey and the meat.

So you know what to expect when keeping your bird warm.

Larger Turkeys Can Reach 30 Lbs!

The size matters when estimating a cook time! The average is a 12-pound bird but this is still very big.

Know how much your bird weighs before cooking. This reduces the chance of an early cooking process.

There Are 2 Types Of Meat In A Turkey

There are 2 types of meat in a turkey.

Dark meat in the thigh and white in the breast meat.

The darker meat is located nearer the bones. It has a gamey taste and more fat.

White meat is lighter-tasting, dense, and tender. But can be prone to going dry.

Keeping it warm can cause dry turkey meat. But more info later!

Food Safety – The Growth Of Harmful Bacteria 

Food poisoning from poultry is no joke!

The ‘Danger Zone’ – Check For Food Safety!

It is important to note the safe temperature range when keeping warm. Dangerous bacteria will multiply in temps between 40°F and 140°F. 

Read until the end for further recommendations made by food safety experts.

Effective Methods For Keeping Your Turkey Meat Warm

Here are my methods for keeping a perfect smoked turkey warm until serving.

I have added a time in each of the headings so you can plan around the exact time you need to keep that turkey warm.

Why A Meat Thermometer Is Crucial 

The key piece of cooking equipment (apart from a heat source) is a thermometer.

So you can accurately monitor the proper temperature when cooking or keeping meat warm.

We touched on the temp parameters to avoid bacteria growth or overcooking. But what about the initial cooking temperatures of the turkey meat?

Turkey – The Safe To Consume Internal Temperatures 

The thermometer in the dark thigh meat should read 180°F.

The thermometer in the white breast meat should read 160°F.

These need to be reached before you need to keep your turkey warm.

Carry On Cooking When Maintaining The Warmth Of Turkey

On average the internal temp will raise 10°F when resting or keeping warm. Bear that in mind when you are monitoring the above temperatures for the meat.

Resting & Wrapping The Bird With Tin Foil (1 hour or less)

You should plan a bit of time after cooking to rest. It is a crucial stage, especially for the larger birds of cuts of meat.

It allows the juices to be absorbed back into the meat proteins. So you don’t lose it when carving which causes dry meat.

I recommend resting at least 5 minutes per pound. If your turkey is done an hour before, you needn’t worry!

– Check the correct internal temperatures have been met.

– Remove the turkey from your smoker or oven space.

– Place on a wire rack in an oven tray.

– Double wrap with foil.

Oven Method (1 hour Before Resting)

A preheated oven will keep your turkey warm! But be very careful not to keep it in for an extended time.

Avoid medium-high heat and stick to its lowest setting.

– Wrap the turkey in a double layer of foil.

– Switch your oven to the lowest temp setting.

– Monitor the internal temperature to make sure it doesn’t continue cooking.

The ‘Faux Cambro’ Cooler Method (4 hours)

Below is my last and recommended warming technique for over 2 hours. It is used by professional pit masters to maintain temperatures for cuts of meat.

How do you think your brisket is still hot when serving?

Equipment Required 

– A clean and good quality insulated cooler. (Big enough for your turkey)

– A clean towel(s).

– Aluminum foil.

– Hot water.

– Temperature probes.

Step 1 – Prepare The Cooler

– Wash the cooler thoroughly.

– Fill with hot tap water & close the lid.

– Wait 30 minutes.

– Dump out the water.

Step 2 – Prepare The Turkey

– Insert the temperature probes into the thickest part of the thigh and breasts.

– Wrap the entire turkey in a double layer of aluminum foil. 

– Isolate the bottom, top, and sides of the cooler with towels.

– Cover the wrapped turkey with more towels.

Step 3 – Insert Turkey & Keep Warm 

– Place the turkey in the cooler.

– Cover again with a top layer of towels.

– Monitor the internal temperatures to make sure it doesn’t drop below the danger zone.

Safely Cooling & Reheating Turkey (4 Hours +)

Drastically miscalculated and your turkey has cooked 4 hours or more before serving? You should safely cool it and then reheat it.

– Rest the turkey as per the above.

– Monitor the internal temperature until it reaches 150°F.

– Carve down into individual parts.

– Store refrigerated in an airtight container.

– Reheat the white meat in a microwave.

– Reheat the dark meat on a low oven or smoker temperature of 170°F.

What Factors Are There To Consider Before Doing So?

With that out of the way, we can now look at what to consider when you need to keep that turkey warm!

As it is never that simple…

Keep The Right Internal Temperature To Avoid Dry Meat & Illness

We touched on maintaining a safe temperature to avoid illness. But there is also a cap on the higher end.

Keep the meat between temperatures of 140°F and 180°F. 

If you go above 180°F then you are effectively still cooking the meat. This heating process for precooked meat will dry it out completely.

Especially in turkey which is already prone to losing moisture!

How Long Does It Need To Stay Warm?

I recommend using the below methods for a maximum of 5 hours.

Any longer and maintaining those temperatures will be tricky.

Is it going to be longer?

You might want to consider a reheating process. Which I have included further in the article.

Keep The Turkey Whole 

Don’t even think of carving your turkey down into cuts if you need to keep it warm.

It might be obvious but this will drastically reduce the internal temperature. As it is exposed to the air and in smaller pieces.

Do You Have The Correct Equipment?

One of the methods requires a good-quality insulated container. Much like you didn’t plan for the turkey to be cooked early.

You probably aren’t prepared with the correct equipment.

Don’t try and keep it warm without a few fundamentals. Especially if you can’t accurately monitor the temp with a meat thermometer.

How To Estimate The Cooking Time For A Turkey

A low 225°F cooks at 40 – 45 minutes per pound.

A middle 275°F cooks at 30 – 35 minutes per pound. 

A high 350°F cooks at turkey 20-25 minutes per pound.

Food Safety For Warming Turkey

– Pay attention and wash any surfaces or utensils you have used when handling raw meat.

– Don’t leave raw or cooked meat out of the refrigerator for more than 30 minutes.

– Use a meat thermometer to measure internal temperatures accurately.

– Check the equipment you are using to keep the turkey warm is sanitized.

Smoke On!

Charlie

Hi, I’m Charlie, I have been meat-smoking and grilling for the past 15 years. I have an array of different smokers, thermometers, and have a love for finding the right wood and charcoal combo My favourite recipes are my EXTRA CRISPY smoked pork belly, juicy pulled pork, smoked brisket, duck poppers, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill).

I loves sharing his tips with beginners, helping them navigate the world of smoking. I find it’s not just about cooking; it’s a quest for that perfect smoky flavor.

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling recipes with you!

You can read more about me on our About Us page.

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