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Many cooks/chefs recommend resting meat. There's a saying of "rest for the same length of time it was cooked".

For steaks this is fine, a 6 or so min cooking time means 6 mins at room temp is okay. But what about a full chicken or turkey? Depending on the size, they're cooked for 2-3 hours or more. Surely it's not safe to let those sit at room temperature for 2-3 hours?

It could rest at room temperature, for example, one hour, then the remaining time in the fridge, but this makes the meat cold, and in fact loses the "freshly cooked" essence to a degree.

So if you want to rest a chicken or turkey for the 3 hours of cooking time, must half of that be in the fridge to avoid bacteria growth? Or is there a better way than the fridge which seems to make chicken/turkey a little tougher after it's been cooled?

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There is a rule of thumb

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This is not the full story

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A cooked turkey should be at 72C. When you take it out of the oven it will start cooling down. As it cools into the 40s bacteria will have good conditions to grow. The turkey is sterile because of cooking but bacteria can attach to exposed surfaces. Cutting the turkey will expose more, and probably your hands will spread bacteria.

It follows that a whole turkey is safer, especially if it is covered, since the inside of the bird will have no bacteria, only the outside.

So the 2 hour rule, which states a turkey rested for 3 hours must be eaten and not refrigerated is not really a one size fits all fact. But it's a rule of thumb when you don't have a lab and culture tests. Ignoring such rules is at your own risk but you can use common sense.

At home you might happily rest a turkey for 3 hours but in a commercial setting this could violate local laws if you kept the leftovers and someone got sick, you wouldn't have a defence and could be criminally liable for failing to follow defined rules. Most commercial health and safety rules err on the side of being more conservative than is necessary, because a dry turkey is better than people getting sick and suing you. Remember that bacteriology is about numbers and we might talk about 6.5D reductions (10^6.5) and McDonalds might use a higher level, and an expensive restaurant is almost certainly on a lower level as shown by many food poisoning cases in fancy restaurants. That's because McDonalds have a huge number of customers so even 1 in 10 million getting sick might be too much for their lawyers, whereas if you are cooking at home then you won't even eat that many meals in your whole life, so probably follow less stringent standards and get sick rarely.

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  • Thanks that pretty much answers it. I was wanting the food safety side but also wondering how cooks (e.g. Gordon Ramsey as he said 3 hours to rest a turkey) manage it. I guess Gordon only does this at home or the restaurants have specialist warmers or something. So either rest for 3 hours and discard any leftovers after eating it with the meal, or put in the fridge after say 1.5 hours and remove what it needed for the meal and can still use for a few days. I'm still not convinced about rest for as long as cooked, but that's another question. Thanks :) – James Dec 2 '20 at 11:27
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I don't think there is a consensus on how long you should rest meat, be it a turkey, chicken or steak or other meats.

Personally, I think the 3 hours is a little bit on the extreme side of it, but I don't see anything wrong or unsafe if the turkey was cooked to a good temperature.

Remember that meat will continue to carry the heat for a while and that a bigger piece of meat will keep the temperature for a longer time than a small one.

In the case of a turkey, it can keep warm (above bacteria temperature) for a while ( in a normal temperature kitchen, YMMV if you have a really cold temperature)

Anecdotal, I usually let my chicken rest for 5, 10 minutes in the cooking pan while I prepare the rest of the meal (finish up veggies, prepare the sauce...)

(disclaimer, I've not done a thorough search) USDA and the CDC don't talk about bacteria that much except when storing leftovers.

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/11/22/how-cook-thanksgiving-turkey

https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/poultry-preparation/lets-talk-turkey/CT_Index

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2011/05/25/cooking-meat-check-new-recommended-temperatures#:~:text=%E2%80%9CRest%20time%E2%80%9D%20is%20the%20amount,rise%2C%20which%20destroys%20harmful%20bacteria.

https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/holiday-turkey.html

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