Gabriel Woods
Published by Gabriel Woods
Last Updated On: May 15, 2023

As a professional chef who has cooked and served delicious meals to discerning customers, I've hosted countless holiday feasts and catered for events of all sizes. In doing so, I've learned a thing or two about how to keep a turkey warm.

Here, I'll share tips and tricks for properly wrapping, insulating, and serving your smoked Thanksgiving meal to ensure it stays at the perfect temperature.

Quick Summary

  • For short time periods, wrap the turkey in aluminum foil to retain heat and prevent moisture loss.
  • For longer scenarios, use an insulated container, such as a faux cambro or cooler with hot water, to keep the turkey warm.
  • Carve and serve the turkey within two hours of finishing cooking to prevent foodborne illness.

Keeping a Smoked Turkey Warm

Keeping a smoked turkey warm using aluminum foil

There are two basic scenarios for when you need to keep your smoked turkey warm after it has finished cooking.

The first is when you're serving it soon after cooking, and the second is when you need to keep it warm for an extended period of time because you are not plating your turkey dinner right away.

5 Short-Term Warming Tips

The best way to retain the heat of a smoked turkey for a short time period is by wrapping it in aluminum foil after you finish the cooking process. 

This will help keep all the moisture inside and create a seal around the whole turkey, trapping its heat to stay warm for longer.

Here is how to go about it:

  • Use a pair of tongs to handle the turkey to avoid damaging the skin or meat.
  • Start by removing the whole turkey from the smoker and placing the turkey breast side down in the center of a large sheet of aluminum foil. Bring the edges of the foil up around the turkey, making sure to cover it completely. Seal the foil tightly around the turkey so that no heat can escape.
  • When wrapping your turkey in foil, cover the entire bird, ensuring that every inch is tightly sealed. Make sure the shiny side of the foil is facing inward to reflect heat back onto the turkey.
  • If the whole smoked turkey is too large to wrap in one piece of foil, wrap it in sections, ensuring that each part of the bird is completely covered and sealed tightly.
  • After wrapping it in foil, you can also surround the turkey with clean towels. This will help to insulate the turkey and keep it closer to the smoker temp for longer.

Keeping your freshly cooked turkey warm gets even easier if you have access to an oven or warming tray.

These appliances are designed to keep your meal at a consistent temperature without drying it out or overcooking it.

Here are a few steps to follow:

  • Preheat your warming tray or oven to a low temperature - about 200°F. Or you can lower the smoker's temperature to the same level.
  • Wrap your turkey in foil as outlined above; however, do not use towels.
  • Once the appliance is preheated, transfer your smoked turkey to the warming tray or place the turkey in the oven.
  • Check the turkey with a meat thermometer periodically in the thickest part of the breast to ensure the internal temperature is not getting too hot or dry.
  • You can hold the turkey for about an hour this way to keep the meat warm.

5 Long-Term Warming Tips

A close up shot of a smoked turkey inside a cambro

If you need to transport your entire turkey or keep it warm for longer, an insulated holding container such as a faux cambro is the best choice.

Cambro is the brand name of an insulated box specifically designed to keep food at a safe internal temperature for extended periods.

Used by professional caterers and restaurants, the Cambro provides superior insulation that keeps the temperature inside consistent.

Unfortunately, Cambros are too expensive for most home cooks, but you can achieve the same effect using a cooler or other insulated containers.

To keep your turkey warm for an extended period:

  • Fill the container with hot water. The water should not be boiling but should be very hot.
  • Close the lid tightly to make sure that no heat escapes. Allow the water to sit for half an hour.
  • While waiting, wrap your cooked turkey in foil as described above, and then again in plastic wrap. Ensure all the seams are sealed tightly.
  • After heating the cooler for 30 minutes, quickly pour out the water and line the cooler with cloth towels on the bottom and sides.
  • Carefully place the wrapped turkey in the container. Cover the turkey with more towels or blankets, then close the cooler lid tightly. This creates a chamber where the insulation from the towels and blankets can keep your meat warm and avoid food poisoning.

Your smoked turkey should remain warm for up to 4 hours when stored in this manner. It is a convenient way to keep the whole bird at temperature when you are traveling or out of oven space.

"Smoked or grilled, your turkey is safe to eat when the thermometer registers 165˚F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest section of the turkey breast."
- United States Department of Agriculture

Keeping Smoked Turkey at Proper Temperature

When it comes to serving a delicious smoked turkey, it is crucial to prevent the meat from cooling until it is ready to be served.

Not only does this help maintain the meat's flavor and texture, but it also prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.

1. During Cooking

A turkey under maintained temperature during cooking

When fresh or frozen smoked turkey is prepared, it is exposed to a range of bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses if not handled properly.

These bacteria can grow rapidly in temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, which is commonly known as the "danger zone [1]."

If your turkey reaches a lower temperature than that temperature range, it may start to grow harmful pathogens.

This can happen with both larger turkeys and smaller birds, so using a meat thermometer to monitor the turkey’s temperature is crucial.

Cooking time will vary based on the weight of the bird. However, when you smoke a turkey, you can expect 20-30 minutes per pound, depending on the smoker’s temperature.

At 225°F, you can expect up to 30 minutes per pound and at 250°F, you can around 20 minutes per pound.

Of course, the turkey is done only when the temperature of both the white and dark meat is 165°F.

2. After Cooking

Once the whole bird is fully cooked, keeping the smoked turkey breast meat at an internal temperature below 165°F helps to retain its moisture and tenderness.

If the breast meat heats up too much, it can become dry and tough, ruining the dish's overall taste and texture.

If you keep the turkey warm in the oven or faux cambro, aluminum wrapping is the recommended method for moisture retention.

Also Read: Turkey Button Not Popping

Ideas for Smoked Turkey Leftovers

A top view of smoked turkey leftovers

Leftover smoked turkey can be a delicious addition to sandwiches, salads, and other meals. To keep the turkey fresh and safe, it is essential to store the meat properly.

Always store leftover turkey in airtight containers to protect it from contamination. Smoked turkey should be refrigerated at 40°F or below within 1-2 hours of cooking.

Freezing is a better option if you are not planning to use the leftover smoked turkey within a few days. This way, it can remain safe for up to six months.

To reheat frozen smoked turkey, place it in a roasting pan in the oven or in the microwave on a plate. Then heat it until it reaches an internal temperature of at least 165°F to prevent foodborne illness [2].

Cooking time will vary depending on the method used and how much turkey you are reheating.

Avoid reheating the turkey multiple times, as this can lead to bacteria growth.

Related Articles:


What Temperature Can You Keep Turkey Warm Without Drying It Out?

The ideal temperature to keep the turkey warm in the oven without drying it out is between 145°F and 165°F. It is essential not to let the temperature drop below 140°F as this increases the risk of bacterial growth.

Can You Keep Turkey Warm in a Crockpot?

Yes, you can keep the turkey warm in a crockpot. Set the temperature high enough to keep the turkey at greater than 140°F, and cover the crockpot with the lid to prevent moisture loss.

How Do You Let the Turkey Rest?

To let the turkey rest, remove the cooked turkey from the smoker and let it sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute before you move on to carve. It will give the turkey enough time to cool down slightly, making it easier to handle.

Keep Your Smoked Turkey Warm the Right Way

Smoking turkeys is a popular way to prepare them, and keeping your smoked turkey from cooling off is an integral part of serving a delicious meal.

Doing it properly will keep the meat safe and prevent it from drying out.

If you want to make your next smoked turkey meal even easier, consider using ButcherBox to deliver high-quality, humanely raised meat straight to your door.

ButcherBox offers a wide variety of meat options, including turkey, all of which are free of antibiotics and hormones.


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