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Holding Hot Foods

At what temperature can I keep roast chicken or turkey in the oven to keep it warm and safe if we are having a very long dinner party?


Hot food should be held at a temperature above 140°F (60°C) if it is not being served immediately.   Unfortunately, most home ovens are not built to operate reliably at that low of a temperature.  Typical home ovens will only operate as low as 200°F (93 °C) although some may go down to 170°F (77°C).  You could turn the oven to its lowest reliable setting, but at those temperatures, quality will be lost.  If you think that you can run your oven at close to 140°F, I would recommend checking this with an oven thermometer just to be sure.  The built in thermostats on ovens are unreliable, particularly at such low temperatures.

The good news, however, is that if your poultry is properly cooked in the first place, it can safely keep for up to two hours at temperatures below 140°F, which should be plenty of time, even for a long dinner party (see How Long Can Cooked Food Be Left Out).

Start by making your best guess on when the bird will be served, and work backwards from there to when it should go into the oven.   Don't forget to allow for 15 to 20 minutes resting time before it is carved.

When it is done, take the bird out of the oven, cover it with foil and drape a few clean towels over it to keep in the heat.  It should hold safely like this for at least an hour without much loss of quality, which means that if your guess was off by 3/4 of an hour, you should still be alright.  If necessary, return the bird to a hot oven for a short while to reheat it.

All poultry must be cooked to a minimum of 165°F(74°C) throughout for food safety.  Some sources recommend 180°F (82°C), but at this temperature the lighter breast meat starts to dry out and lose quality.  Dark meat is actually better when cooked to this higher temperature.  See Roast Turkey Temperature.

If you are planning to cook and carve the bird before guests arrive and then hold it in a warm oven for a long time, then you are likely going to have some loss of quality, no matter what you do.

To learn more about how long food can be left out before refrigeration and the danger zone, read How Long Can Cooked Food Be Left Out.

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