Turkey Done Too Early? Here’s What To Do

It’s arguably just as frustrating to deal with a turkey that’s taking too long to cook as one that’s been cooked too early!

But, part of being a great cook is being able to adjust to all of these kinds of challenges. 

So, if you’ve slaved away over preparing a beautiful turkey and nurtured it through the cooking process only to find out it’s ALREADY done cooking long before you expected it to be, then this one is for you.

Here’s what to do if your turkey is done too early, how long you can rest turkey, and the best ways to rest it — even for up to 4 hours!

Before deciding how to rest your turkey if it’s done too early, you’ll need to ensure it is actually considered done. After all, looks can be deceiving!

You might have amazingly crispy skin on your turkey, a beautiful dark mahogany color, but it still might be raw in the middle!

So, to test if your turkey is actually done, you should test its doneness in three places by using a trusty and reliable thermometer. Insert your thermometer into the thickest part of the breast, the thickest part of the thigh, and the innermost part of the wing.

Turkey is considered done when it reaches at least 165°F according to the USDA in all of these places.

How Long To Rest Turkey?

Most meats benefit from resting. The process of resting allows things to cool down, evenly distributing the juices within, and helps the meat retain the juices when you end up cutting into it.

The end result?  A more tender and juicier finish. 

Turkey also benefits from resting. In terms of how long? Well, it comes down to a few factors like the size of the bird, the shape (whole vs. spatchcocked), and the resting method.

Larger turkeys should rest anywhere between 45-60 minutes, whereas smaller turkeys or spatchcocked turkeys may only take 20-30 minutes to reach the optimal resting results.

Of course, if your turkey is done too early, you can choose to use a slower resting method. One that doesn’t risk overcooking the turkey, but one that holds its temperature nicely.

How To Keep Turkey Warm When It’s Done Too Early

It’s time to get down to business. If your turkey is clearly done way before you hoped it would be, then your only option is to rest it and hold it’s temperature.

Luckily, there are some easy and reliable ways to rest and hold your turkey, each suited to how early your turkey is actually done. 

One thing to keep in mind is that your turkey should remain above 140°F for the entire resting and holding process for it to be considered food-safe. If your turkey falls below 140°F, the safest bet is to refrigerate it and reheat it again before serving.

Otherwise, here are the best ways to rest and keep your turkey warm before serving, up to one hour, two hours, or even up to four hours.

Wrapping & Resting Turkey ~ 1 Hour

The easiest and most traditional method of resting turkey is also one of the most effective. By simply removing the turkey from the heat, allowing it to cool for a few minutes, and wrapping it up, you’ll be able to rest it comfortably for about one hour or more. 

Depending on how much time you need, you can either simply cover your turkey and baking dish with aluminum foil, locking in the heat and juices for up to an hour.

If you need slightly longer, you can wrap it in aluminum foil first, followed by a large towel or blanket to further insulate your turkey.

Just a note, the longer you rest your turkey, the more likely the skin will rehydrate and it will lose its crispiness. It won’t lose its flavor though, and if rested correctly the turkey will come out splendidly. 

Warming Turkey In The Oven ~ 2 Hours

If you’re needing more than an hour but no more than two hours then you might consider resting and warming your turkey in a conventional oven.

The key here is keeping the temperature of the oven at almost the lowest it can go, ideally at 150°F.

This can lead to a crispier skin on your turkey, but unlike the other resting methods, this is more likely to dry out the turkey. 

Allow your turkey to cool for a few minutes first while your oven preheats or lowers to 150°F. Then, add half a cup of stock or broth to your turkey dish before wrapping it in foil and placing it in the oven. Ensure your oven isn’t above 160°F otherwise it will continue cooking the turkey!

Just before you’re ready to serve, remove the foil from your turkey and keep it in the oven for 15 minutes. This will help crispen the skin up, perfect timing before serving!

I’ve used this method more than once on Thanksgiving, so I know it works so long as you don’t let the oven’s temperature creep up!

Resting Turkey In The Cooler ~ 3-4 Hours

If you’ve been around barbecue long enough you may have heard of this method.

Traditionally done to rest brisket if it’s done too early, you can adopt the same method for resting turkey:

  1. Take a large cooler (big enough to fit your turkey!), fill it with boiling water, and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. 
  2. Carefully empty out the hot water and dry all the inside with towels or paper towels.
  3. Allow your cooked turkey to cool for a few minutes before wrapping it in aluminum foil, followed by a thick towel.
  4. Place your turkey inside the cooler and close the lid.

Adding the boiling water first ndrastically increases the temperature of your cooler, allowing it to stay warmer much longer!

Ideally get a temperature probe in your turkey before wrapping it up too, just so you can monitor the temperature over the next few hours, ensuring it remains above 140°F.

Because of how good the insulation is in one of these coolers your turkey will stay warm for up to 3-4 hours, all while resting nicely, not becoming overcooked, and becoming ridiculously tender and juicy.

Unfortunately, if you’re after crispy skin on smoked turkey, this method can take this crispiness away!

You can use this method for resting pork ribs too!

Rest & Reheat ~ 4+ Hours

If your turkey is done well in advance, we’re talking 4+ hours here, then it’s best to adopt the rest & reheat method.

Ain’t nothing wrong with reheating your turkey before serving it to your guests, let me tell you.

So, if you have over 4 hours to go before your meal, you can rest your turkey normally for 20-60 minutes, carve it up, wrap it and place it into the refrigerator.

Take it out about 30 minutes before you expect you’ll need it, and place it into an oven at 200°F for 30 minutes, or until it comes back to 165°F. You can even reheat a cooked turkey in a smoker too!

I’ll be honest, everyone loves a nice turkey feast so they’ll hardly complain if it’s been reheated this way. In fact, some may not even notice at all!

How To Stop Turkey Cooking Too Quickly

If you’re new to cooking turkey, then it’s understandable to follow a recipe or guide. After all, turkey isn’t the cheapest meat out there, you don’t exactly want to ruin it!

But, the problem with following recipes to the ‘t’ is that the temperature and time needed can be vastly different depending on the oven, cooking method, and the size of the turkey. 

So, if your turkey is cooking much faster than expected and you’ve still got hours to go before it’s expected, then it’s best you make some slight adjustments.

To stop your turkey from cooking too quickly, you can:

  1. Turn down the temperature.
  2. Change cooking method (from smoker to oven for example)
  3. Rotate your turkey (helping it to cook evenly!)
  4. Get your resting method ready (pre-heat the oven or prepare your cooler).

These methods work whether you’re smoking a spatchcocked turkey or a full one!

In Conclusion

Don’t expect your first turkey to come out perfectly, especially if you’re smoking a full turkey. But, after a few good goes you’ll have your turkey-technique mastered.

Still, even a master is prone to their turkey cooking too early!

The best thing you can do is prepare your resting method. Depending on how much time you need you can rest it in foil (~ 1 hour), in the oven (~ 2 hours), or in a cooler wrapped in a towel (~4 hours).

If worst comes to worst and the temperature falls below 140°F you can simply refrigerate it and reheat it just before your guests arrive or your ready to serve.

Let me know which resting method worked for you, or if you have your own secret turkey resting method, we would love to hear about it!

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