Preparing and cooking turkey is something most of us only do once a year at our holiday tables. No matter how prepared you are, things can sometimes go off plan. Finishing the turkey late with the guests arriving soon is one thing, but what if somehow, you finish cooking it too early?
Turkey is Done Early
If the turkey is done an hour before your guests are due to arrive, the best thing you can do is to let it rest and then release the heat from the turkey so that it will not overcook. Letting it rest for 20-30 minutes, uncovered, will ensure that the turkey is moist and the skin, crispy. After that, cover your turkey in foil or a thick towel to keep it warm. Uncover and carve only when your guests arrive.
Turkey is done several hours before the guests arrive. What to do?
If you finish the turkey several hours before serving time, your best bet to ensure food safety is allowing the turkey to rest for 20-30 minutes and then carving and storing turkey slices in the fridge and reheating it before your guests arrive.
It may not have the wow factor as a whole-roasted turkey, but it ensures that the food you are serving to your guests will be safe as well as tasty.
How Long Should I Cook My Turkey?
A good rule to follow is 13 minutes for every pound of meat if there is no stuffing, and 15 minutes per pound if you are going to be stuffing your turkey.
This means that a 16 lb. turkey will take around 3.5 hours to cook if unstuffed and about 4 hours if stuffed when cooked at 450°F (232°C) for the first 40 mins and 350°F (177°C) the rest of the way through.
The turkey is done when it registers 165°F (74°C) in the breast part and the thickest part of the thighs reaches 170-175°F (77°C – 80°C).
A meat thermometer is the best tool you can use to determine this, as it is not always accurate to judge when meat is done just by how it looks, for example, if there is the presence or absence of bloody juice in the turkey.
This is very useful to note when planning your cooking schedule. It minimizes wastage and ensures you get to serve the turkey you worked so hard on in its freshest and tastiest state, in the safest way possible.
Turkey is Done Early – 10 Ways to Fix It
Okay, so you miscalculated or perhaps missed a step along the way, and your turkey is done several hours before your guests are due to arrive.
Save for calling your guests and asking them to come in a few hours early, what can you do to ensure that you still serve your guests some tasty turkey? These 10 steps will help ensure you can still serve a good-tasting turkey when your guests finally arrive.
Release Initial Cooking Heat
Before covering it or doing anything else with it, it is important to allow the residual cooking heat to dissipate. Meat continues to cook several minutes after you take it out of the oven and covering the turkey right away will trap some of the heat and cause the turkey to become overcooked.
This is also the reason why some cooks opt to take it out of the oven just before it hits the safe internal temperature, just to make sure it will not overcook. According to the FDA, the turkey is safely cooked and done when it registers an internal temperature of 165 °F.
Let it rest
When you cook turkey and subject it to very high heat, juices tend to concentrate in the center of the bird. By letting it rest, you allow the meat fibers to relax and the turkey to “rehydrate” by reabsorbing the meat juices, resulting in a tender bite.
Resting before carving ensures that the turkey meat will be moist and juicy.
Cover with foil or towel to keep it warm
Caring for your turkey and making sure it is warm and toasty until your guests arrive is a must for any serious cook.
After releasing the initial heat and letting it rest, cover your turkey with some foil or a towel to keep it warm until serving, provided, you are serving it within the two-hour food safety time frame.
Use Boiling Water to keep the Turkey warm
You may also use boiling water to keep the turkey warm if your guests will arrive within a couple of hours. Wrap the turkey in layers of foil and submerge it into boiling water, making sure that it’s wrapped tightly so that water will not seep in through the foil.
This method keeps the turkey warm without the use of additional heat that may overcook the turkey. At the same time, it also keeps it at a high enough temperature to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying.
Keep it Warm in a Low Heat Oven
There is also the option to keep the turkey warm in an oven turned to a low heat setting (above 140 °F or 60 °C) to prevent bacteria from multiplying and to keep it safe for consumption. Remember though, that this can dry the meat out.
Besides that, it may also take up some precious space in your oven that might be better used for other dishes.
Carve and keep turkey slices warm
Once the turkey is ready for carving, do not be tempted to carve out the whole thing right away. Cut only what you would need for a first serving and leave the rest of the turkey covered.
Arrange the slices on a platter and make sure to cover them tightly with foil or plastic wrap so they would not dry out.
Just before serving, drizzle the turkey slices with turkey drippings or gravy to ensure they are moist and tasty.
Carve and store in the fridge
If your guests are not due to arrive until several hours later, your best bet for preserving the quality of the turkey and ensuring food safety is to carve it up and store the slices in the fridge until ready to serve. Wrap slices tightly in plastic wrap or foil or store in an airtight container to preserve moisture.
Reheat in Microwave
Allow the turkey slices to come to room temperature. This step ensures even reheating. Place slices in a microwave-safe dish and heat for 2-5 minutes on a low power setting. This is the easiest and quickest way to reheat turkey to be sure, but also has the potential to dry it out the most.
Reheat Turkey slices in the oven and cover them in broth and dots of butter
Let the turkey slices come to room temperature. Place turkey slices side by side on a baking dish. Add some broth and butter. Adding moisture and fat to the turkey will ensure that it will be tender and moist. Heat in a 350 °F (176 °C) oven for 30 minutes.
Reheat Low and Slow
This last tip is the one most people swear by. Arrange room temperature turkey slices side by side in a single layer, drizzle a little chicken or turkey broth over the slices so that the turkey can get back some of its lost moisture.
Cover the baking pan with foil and heat for about half an hour in a 300°F (148 °C) oven. It isn’t the fastest process, but slow roasting at low temperatures allows you to effectively reheat the turkey without overcooking.
Conclusion About Turkey is Done Early – 10 Ways to Fix It
While a turkey cooked too early can seem like a big disaster, there are a lot of precautions you can take to ensure that you are still able to serve the most delicious roast turkey to your guests.
Frequently Asked Questions on Turkey is Done Early – 10 Ways to Fix It
Can I just leave the Turkey at Room Temperature while I wait for my guests to arrive?
I would not suggest leaving food at room temperature for more than 2 hours because harmful bacteria can proliferate in temperatures ranging from 40 °F to 140 °F (5 °C – 60 °C). If your guests are arriving beyond this time frame, I would suggest storing it in the fridge first and then reheating it just before they arrive.
How long do you cook turkey?
A good rule to follow is 13 minutes for every pound of meat if there is no stuffing, and 15 minutes per pound if you are going to be stuffing your turkey. The turkey is done when it registers 165°F (74°C) in the breast part and the thickest part of the thighs reaches 170-175°F (77°C – 80°C). A lot of people overlook this but make sure the stuffing also registers an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
How long does turkey last when stored in the fridge?
Cooked turkey can last about 4 days in the fridge if properly stored. But use your best judgment. If it smells and feels off even if you have properly stored it, it is best to toss it rather than risk food-borne illnesses.