What’s the Best Way to Keep a Turkey Warm?

published Nov 23, 2011
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(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Much of the challenge associated with Thanksgiving has little to do with recipes or actual cooking; culinarily-speaking, it’s a pretty straightforward meal. Logistically, however, cooking so many dishes for a large crowd of people can feel overwhelming. Here’s one question that invariably comes up: How do I keep the turkey warm while getting the rest of the meal on the table?

That slice of time after the turkey comes out of the oven and gets set aside to rest is the golden hour for the rest of the meal. This is when we warm the pies, bake the sweet potato gratin, and deal with the host of dishes brought by relatives.

But how do you make sure the turkey stays warm enough while you’re stuffing other things into the oven?

First, Safety.
First of all, let’s talk food safety. According to the USDA, you shouldn’t leave turkey at room temperature longer than 2 hours, or for more than 1 hour in temperatures above 90°F. Plan on an hour’s holding time, max.

Hold the Turkey In the Oven
If your oven isn’t stuffed full of other dishes, or if you are one of the lucky folks who have a spare oven, then you can hold the turkey there at 200°F, although you should cover the bird to make sure it doesn’t dry out.

Cover the Turkey Up
The most common way to keep a turkey warm is to cover it with foil. We also heard from reader Jody on our Facebook page. She asks: “Does covering the turkey with aluminum foil and a heavy towel after roasting really keep the turkey warm for a long time?” We’ve never tried adding a towel, but a big towel soaked through with hot water, covered with another dry towel to insulate everything, might be a good way to keep the heat in even more. Has anyone tried this?

Wait to Carve the Turkey
Another tip: Don’t carve the turkey until the last minute, since slices of turkey will obviously cool off a lot faster than the whole bird.

Warm It Up with Hot Gravy
And, in the end, as Sara Kate pointed out, even if your turkey gets a little cold, just

smother it with hot gravy

Do you have any tips for keeping your turkey nice and warm while you finish the rest of the Thanksgiving meal?