How Long To Rest Turkey Before Carving

You just pulled the turkey out of the smoker, and everyone is ready to eat! But hold on, how long do you need to wait before you carve it?

In this guide, you will learn:

  • How long to wait before carving a turkey
  • Whether or not you should wrap a turkey as it rests
  • And much more!

How Long Should a Turkey Rest?

We understand it’s the holidays, and you want to cut into the bird you’ve spent all day preparing. But in order to get the best results, you need to let it rest first. 

Generally, large oven-baked birds should be left to rest for a full 45 minutes before you begin the carving process. Some smaller birds, however, may only require 30 minutes of rest prior to carving. If you smoked your turkey, then it only needs 15-30 minutes of rest. 

Turkeys that have been smoked need less time to rest because the heat tends to leave the meat more quickly.

Wondering why there is such a long resting process for turkey? Read on to find out more about letting turkey rest and why you should do it! 

carving a turkey

Why Should You Let Turkey Rest?

The main reason you want to let turkey rest before you carve it is to give the meat an opportunity to reabsorb all the moisture. It also helps the turkey to develop a more well-rounded flavor profile. 

Not to mention that most meat, including turkey, continues to cook when you remove it from the oven or grill. This is why, even though turkey is done at 165°F, we recommended moving it from the oven a degree or two before that and letting it come to temperature during the resting period. 

Therefore if you pull your turkey out of the oven and neglect the resting period, there is a chance you could cut into some undercooked meat.

You will also notice the juices running out of the turkey when you carve it too early and think of this as your flavor, being left on the cutting board instead of the meat. 

Related >> Can You Cook a Partially Frozen Turkey?

How to Rest a Turkey

This may sound a little bit odd, but one of the best ways to rest a turkey is with the breasts down. This is because the breasts tend to be a little bit drier than the dark meat portions of the bird. 

Do note that turning the turkey over, especially a larger turkey, is no easy feat. You will want 1-2 helpers to assist you. 

Put on heat-proof gloves and hand your helpers a towel and wooden spoon. The wooden spoon should be inserted into the turkey to help give you leverage. Have one person hold the bottom pan while the individuals with the towels and gloves lift and flip the turkey. 

Once it is upside down, push it to the back of your counter and start the resting timer! 

How Long to Rest a Smoked Turkey

As you noticed above, smoked turkey doesn’t take as long to rest as roasted turkey. This is because it isn’t cooked in as high of temperatures and will cool off quickly. 

If you smoked your turkey, plan only to rest it for 15 to 30 minutes, and we recommend wrapping it in aluminum foil for best results.

Tips for What To Do While Your Turkey Is Resting

As you can see, 45 minutes is a long time to wait for your turkey to be ready to carve. But don’t worry, as this gives you plenty of time to prepare those amazing side dishes. 

You should also use this time to remove the stuffing from your turkey, place it in a pan, and put it back in the oven. Because your stuffing has turkey juices in it, you will want to ensure it reaches 165°F before you remove it from the oven. 

If you leave your stuffing in the bird and don’t check, there’s a chance it won’t reach the proper temperature, and you could end up accidentally feeding your family something that could give them food poisoning

Can You Let a Turkey Rest Too Long?

Because most people prefer their turkey served hot, it is possible that you could rest a turkey too long. This is why we recommend that you work on timing your holiday dinner so the turkey is not left to rest for longer than 1-hour maximum. 

If you test the temperature of your rested turkey and find that it’s below 130°F, know that this is one cold bird and that your family won’t enjoy eating it like that. What’s worse is that if you leave your turkey below that temperature for more than 2 hours, bacteria could form on the turkey.

Struggling to find a way to cook your whole holiday dinner? We suggest preparing your turkey on your smoker instead of in your oven. This way, you don’t have to worry too much about timing everything, plus, smoked turkey is amazing! 

How Long to Rest Turkey Breast?

No matter what amount of turkey you are cooking this holiday season, you must still let it rest. For turkey breasts alone, you only need to rest them for 15-20 minutes.

Because turkey breasts are a bit drier, we recommend resting them while covered.

Related >> Covering Your Turkey with Foil: When and How to Do It

thanksgiving turkey resting in a pan

How to Rest Turkey the Right Way

Believe it or not, there is a wrong and a right way to rest turkey. Below, we have made a quick guide so you can rest your turkey the right way. 

1. Take the Turkey Out On Time

As soon as the bird hits the desired internal temperature, remove it from the oven or smoker and begin the resting period. Cooking it longer will only dry out the turkey.

2. Rest the Turkey on a Cutting Board

While resting the bird in the pan might be easier, you should remove the turkey from its juices otherwise, it may continue to cook. Place it on a cutting board or platter for the resting period.

3. Don’t Touch the Turkey

Yes, we know you want to check on it, but while it is resting isn’t the time to do so. 

4. Monitor the Temperature

When you move the bird, place a thermometer in the meat and leave it there for the resting period. This will ensure you serve your turkey while it’s still hot but also allow it to rest properly.

5. Have Patience

We know you are eager to eat, but wait until the resting period is complete for the best results! 

How to Carve a Turkey

Carving a turkey may not seem like a challenge, but there is actually a method to the madness. For best results, you need to carve the turkey in the right order and place meat that has already been carved on a serving platter. 

1. Remove the Legs

Remove the drumsticks and place them on the side of the plate where you plan to place dark meat. 

2. Remove the Wings

Cut the wings away from the breast and place them on the white meat side of the plate.

3. Cut the Dark Meat

Return to the bottom half of the turkey and begin removing the dark meat from the bones. Place it on the serving platter next to the drumsticks.

4. Slice the Turkey Breast

Turkey Breast needs to rest longer than any other part of the turkey and should be cut last otherwise, it may end up dry. Use your knife to slice against the grain and place the slices with the white meat on the platter. 

a turkey on a plate with spices and lemons

Do You Cover a Turkey When Resting?

Whether or not you wrap a resting turkey is really up to you. Resting it uncovered will give you a crispier skin while resting it covered will result in a more tender bird. 

If you do decide to cover your turkey while it rests, we recommend using a dish towel or some foil to do so. Just remember not to wrap it too tightly, as you don’t want the meat to sweat. For those who choose the tin foil method, tent it for the best results.

We recommend that all smoked turkeys be put under a tin foil tent for the resting period.

More Turkey Tips

Looking for even more tips on cooking a turkey? We’ve got you covered!

Final Thoughts on Resting Turkey

Overall, how long you rest your turkey will depend on how you cooked it. For smaller or smoker birds, 30 minutes should be sufficient, while larger birds need a full 45 minutes. Either way, don’t plan to rest your turkey for longer than one hour, as this will cause the meat to cool down.  

Photo of author

Hope Davis

Born in Denver, Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, I learned at a young age that the grill was one of the best ways to prepare food for a crowd. And during the winter storm months, when the snow was likely to knock out the power to our house, the propane grill was a lifesaver! You wouldn’t believe the number of things you can cook on a grill when necessary. With parents who couldn’t tell salt from pepper unless you told them, I spent my late teen years making my own seasoning mixes and marinades to dress the meat before barbecues. It wasn’t long before I developed a secret marinade that people still beg me to make for them today! When I was 21 years old I bought my first smoker. Picked up some cedar chips for making a cedar plank salmon...and well, the rest they say is history! I’ve been grilling and smoking all kinds of creations ever since and I’m always excited to share my passion with others through my favorite medium--writing!

Leave a Comment