The Easiest Way To Keep Smoked Turkey Warm (Tips and Tricks)

Did your smoked turkey finish sooner than expected and are not sure how to keep it warm until mealtime? Look no further because we have all of your questions answered here.

In this TheGrillingDad article you’ll discover:

  • How to keep a smoked turkey warm
  • Preventing your turkey from drying out
  • And much more!

How to Keep a Smoked Turkey Warm

When it comes to smoking meats such as turkey, many people underestimate the time that it takes to do so. The result of this is a turkey that is ready much earlier than you expected.

Because most smoking instructions rely on estimated times, it is difficult to say how long it will take to smoke a turkey. This is because every smoker is different and may cook at a different pace even if the temperature is the same.

If your smoked turkey finished the cooking process much earlier than expected, you may need to find a way to keep it warm until it is time to serve. Luckily, there are several methods that you can use to accomplish this.

One of the most popular ways to keep your turkey warm is to fill a cooler with hot water and then after some time, dump the water out. Line the cooler with clean towels and place your turkey that has been covered with aluminum foil in the cooler until you are ready to carve.

Another method of keeping your smoked turkey warm is to cover it in aluminum foil and place it in a warmed oven. This method may result in a turkey that is dried out, so be sure to keep the temperature of the oven extremely low.

Related >> Keeping Brisket Warm: Tips for Serving Tasty, Hot Meat

Why Should You Keep Your Smoked Turkey Warm?

Most people enjoy their smoked turkey when it is warm and freshly cooked, which means letting it cool down is not ideal. While you can technically reheat smoked turkey, the flavoring and juiciness are at their best when it is still warm from the smoker.

Keep in mind that foods, such as turkey, should be cooked until the center is at a temperature of about 165℉. This is to ensure that all harmful bacteria have been removed from the surface of the turkey and it is cooked thoroughly.

Once a turkey has reached the recommended temperature, it is important, especially if you are planning to serve it the same day, that you keep it above 140℉. This is because harmful bacteria tend to grow on food that is kept for two hours or more at room temperature.

Since research shows that bacteria begin to grow when food is left out at temperatures between 40℉-140℉, it is important to ensure that your turkey does not cool to this level. If you are not planning to serve your turkey the same day or you cannot keep it warm, it is best to store it in the refrigerator.

How to Prevent Your Turkey From Drying Out While Keeping it Warm

One of the most difficult factors of smoking a turkey is when it finishes much earlier than you planned for it too. Depending on how long in advance the turkey has finished, there are many methods you can use to keep your turkey warm without drying it out.

It is important to keep in mind that if your turkey is done within 30 minutes to an hour of your serving time, there is nothing you need to do. This is because you should let the turkey rest for a bit of time before you carve it to ensure the juices are distributed evenly.

However, if you find yourself with more than an hour before serving time, you will need to find a method to keep your turkey warm. This can be a frustrating task since the most obvious solutions can result in your turkey drying out.

Many people suggest that you wrap your turkey in aluminum foil and place it back into the smoker to keep it warm. While this makes sense, keep in mind that the smoker distributes heat by infusing smoke into the meat which is difficult if the turkey is wrapped in foil.

Another common method for keeping your turkey warm is to wrap it in aluminum foil and place it in the oven. If you choose this method, you will need to ensure that the heat is less than 200℉ to keep the turkey from drying out.

One method that is not as well known outside of the catering industry is using an insulated container commonly called a Cambro to keep your turkey warm. If you do not have one of these containers on hand, don’t worry, because they are easy to make and do an excellent job of keeping your turkey warm without drying it out.

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Using a Cooler to Keep Your Smoked Turkey Warm

If you are in the catering business or have been outdoor cooking for any period, then you may be familiar with the Cambro. This is a container that is designed to hold the heat of the food that has been cooked.

The Cambro is an insulated container that is designed specifically for food items that need to be kept at safe temperatures for some time. While you may not have one of these on hand, you also do not have to go out and buy one.

A popular method of keeping your turkey warm when it has finished cooking earlier than expected is to create a faux Cambro. This can be done with items that you most likely have around the house and is more than worth the effort.

To create this container, you will need a cooler that is large enough to fit your turkey as well as some insulation provided by clean towels. Once you have gathered your supplies, you are ready to create the perfect warm environment for your turkey.

Here are the instructions you should follow to create your faux Cambro for your turkey:

  • Fill your cooler with extremely hot water
  • Allow the hot water to sit for about 20-30 minutes
  • Empty the cooler
  • Line the cooler with clean towels
  • Wrap your smoked turkey with aluminum foil
  • Place the turkey in the cooler
  • Close the lid

Following these instructions will provide your turkey with a warm environment that will protect it from harmful bacteria. This is because the heated cooler in addition to the heat from the turkey will keep it out of the danger zone for up to about 4 hours or longer.

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Tips on Keeping a Smoked Turkey Warm

Remember that the ultimate goal is to keep your smoked turkey warm until you are ready to carve and serve it. Doing so means that you will be able to enjoy a turkey that is warm and juicy which is what you want.

For more tips on keeping your turkey as warm as possible and out of the danger zone until you are ready to serve, keep reading.

Plan Your Time Accordingly

While knowing the exact cooking times when you are smoking a turkey can be difficult, you should always strive to be as accurate as possible. This means doing your research beforehand to find the recommended cooking times from others who have done it before.

Additionally, instead of planning the exact time, you will serve a meal, you may opt for time estimates. You can give your guests a time that is within the recommended cooking time and ensure that your side dishes are ready to go just in case.

Be Ready for an Early Finish

Being ready for any contingency is always recommended when it comes to outdoor cooking, or even cooking in general. This is because no matter what methods you are using, there are things that happen unexpectedly.

While your turkey is smoking, you may want to consider the possibility that it may finish before the time you intended to serve it. Because of this, you should always have your method of keeping the turkey warm and ready to go.

Don’t Carve Your Turkey 

If your smoked turkey is finished smoking before you are ready to serve it, you may not want to carve it up. This is because a carved turkey will lose heat and juiciness much faster than if you left it intact.

While many people believe that it is much easier to keep a smoked turkey warm if it is carved, this could not be further from the truth. When it is carved, the juices cannot redistribute and therefore can dry out much faster.

Final Thoughts on How to Keep your Smoked Turkey Warm

The bottom line is that if your smoked turkey is finished cooking much earlier than you expected, there are things you can do to keep it warm and safe. Knowing which method is best will depend entirely on the supplies you have on hand.

The best thing you can do for yourself and your turkey is to ensure that you are fully prepared for anything. This means that since the recommended method of keeping your turkey warm is the faux Cambro, you should ensure that you have a cooler big enough to accommodate on hand.

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!

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