How Long Should You Let Your Turkey Rest Before Carving?

Just ask Mr. Parker (the dad) in "A Christmas Story" — it's virtually impossible to wait to eat a hot, juicy turkey fresh out of the oven. But alas, sometimes good things take time, and cooking a turkey is one of them. After you've passed the nearly four hours it can take to roast a turkey, you'll need to let the bird rest before digging in. Unlike chicken breast, which typically only needs to rest for about 10 minutes or so, a whole turkey can take much longer — at least 20 minutes, and often up to 40 minutes or more.

Why such a long wait? If you begin carving as soon as you take your turkey out of the oven, all those juices you've been carefully cultivating in your poultry will dribble out, leaving you with a drier bird overall. And along with moisture, the juices will take some of your turkey's flavor with it. But when you rest and cool your poultry slightly, its ability to hold onto and evenly redistribute moisture increases — and when you're resting a whole bird, it will take longer for the center to cool down than if you were working with slices.

How to rest your turkey

Because your turkey will keep cooking even once it's out of the oven, try to remove it when it hits just under 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which you can measure with a meat thermometer. Then place it on a rack in its roasting pan on the counter, which allows the cooler air to circulate all over the bird. The timeframe for resting a turkey depends on its size, but a good rule of thumb is a middle ground of 30 minutes, and 45 minutes if you've got a huge bird. But to avoid bacteria growth in your poultry, make sure not to leave it sitting out for more than two hours (or one hour if it's over 90 degrees Fahrenheit out) per the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations.

If you want to keep your turkey warm until you're ready to eat, simply cover it with a loose foil tent after 20 minutes of resting. Avoid a tighter covering, as the heat from the still-cooking poultry can steam your bird, leaving the once-crispy skin wet and soggy. If you roasted it ahead of time, however, you'll want to carve it after it rests and store it in the fridge until it's time to eat. But either way, don't skip this crucial resting step that ensures a moist, juicy turkey for your holiday dinner.