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Do you cover meat when letting it rest?

Whether or not to cover meat while it rests is a common question many home cooks have. The answer depends on a few different factors. Covering meat while it rests can help retain heat and moisture, but leaving it uncovered promotes browning. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and what results you’re trying to achieve. In this article, we’ll look at the reasons for covering or not covering meat as it rests and provide some guidance on when to use each method.

Why Rest Meat at All?

Before getting into whether or not to cover meat as it rests, let’s review why letting meat rest is so important in the first place.

When meat is cooked, the heat causes the muscle fibers to contract and the proteins to squeeze out any liquid. If you were to cut into the meat immediately after cooking, those juices would run right out onto the cutting board or plate. This results in dry, tougher meat.

By letting the meat rest, the muscle fibers relax and reabsorb some of those juices. The internal temperature also evens out. Resting for 5-15 minutes (depending on size) allows you to get tender, juicy results.

So resting is a must if you want your meat to reach its full potential. Now let’s look at the pros and cons of covering or not while you let it rest.

Reasons to Cover Meat While Resting

Here are some of the benefits of tenting foil or a loose piece of aluminum foil over meat as it rests:

  • Retains heat: Covering traps the heat and allows the interior and exterior temperatures to even out more gradually.
  • Prevents moisture loss: The top of uncovered meat will start drying out. Covering keeps the surface moist.
  • Avoids cold spots: Uncovered areas like the ends of a roast can lose heat faster. Covering maintains an even temperature.
  • Protects from contaminants: A loose tent prevents bugs, dust, pet hair etc from landing on the meat’s surface.

Covering is especially useful for larger, thicker cuts that need time for the heat to distribute evenly to the center. The insulation ensures the meat stays hot enough to allow the juices to be reabsorbed.

Reasons Not to Cover Meat

Here are some of the benefits of leaving meat uncovered as it rests:

  • Browning: Leaving the meat exposed to the air promotes additional Maillard reactions to occur. This enhances flavor and appearance.
  • Crisp skin: For things like roast chicken or turkey, uncovered skin will remain crispy while covered skin can end up soggy.
  • Cooling: Uncovered meat cools slightly faster, which some chefs prefer. Covered meat holds in more heat.
  • Presentation: Leaving it uncovered allows you to monitor the doneness and gives a nicer presentation with the top fully exposed.

Letting it rest uncovered is ideal for smaller cuts like steaks or chops that don’t need as much time for the heat to distribute. The cooling effect also means you won’t overcook the centers once you slice into them.

General Guidelines on Covering Meat

As a general rule of thumb, here are some recommendations on when to cover meat while it rests:

  • Cover large roasts and whole birds. The ample time needed to rest these big cuts makes the insulation of a cover beneficial.
  • Don’t cover steaks, chops, or other small thin cuts. These cook through quickly and won’t cool too much when left uncovered for a short rest.
  • Partially cover if desired. For example, you can tent just the ends of a roast to prevent overcooking while leaving the top center uncovered for some browning.
  • Always cover meat that you plan to serve cold or at room temperature. This includes baked or roasted chicken or meatloaf that you want to serve later.

You can also choose whether to cover based on your desired finished results. Here are some examples:

  • Cover to maximize tenderness and juiciness, such as for a pot roast or other braised meat.
  • Don’t cover if you want crispy skin or enhanced flavor from browning, like for roast turkey or chicken.
  • Don’t cover thicker steaks like ribeye if you want a nice crusty exterior.

Test out the different techniques and see which you prefer for various cuts and cooking methods. You may find that partially covering or uncovering halfway through gives you the perfect balance.

How to Cover Meat

If you do choose to cover meat while it rests, here are some tips for doing it properly:

  • Use a clean tent of aluminum foil. Make sure the foil hasn’t picked up any odors from other foods.
  • Create a loose tent rather than sealing tightly. You want airflow so condensation doesn’t form.
  • Make sure the foil doesn’t touch the meat. Tent it an inch or two above.
  • Cover pans containing meat with plastic wrap for better insulation.
  • Transfer whole birds or roasts to a clean cutting board before covering to prevent overcooked undersides.

Avoid using plastic bags or tight cling wrap to cover meat, as these can cause condensation. Keep the cover loose enough that steam can escape rather than dripping back down onto the meat.

Examples of Cooking Methods and Whether to Cover

Here are some common methods of cooking meat and guidance on whether they should be covered to rest for optimal results:


Steaks are typically left uncovered as they rest for 5-10 minutes after cooking. This allows the exterior to finish browning and develops flavor. Covering can make the crust soggy.


Like steaks, chops only need a brief uncovered rest after cooking. You want the exterior to stay browned and crispy.


Large roasts benefit greatly from being tented as they rest for 15-20 minutes. Keeping them covered prevents the outside from cooling too much while the inside finishes cooking.

Whole birds

Let birds like roast chicken or turkey rest at least 15 minutes before carving. Cover breast meat to keep it moist but leave legs and wings uncovered for crispy skin.


A foil tent is ideal when resting meatloaf as it will continue cooking from carryover heat. Keep covered until ready to serve for tender results.

Pork tenderloin

Covering helps retain even heat distribution for tenderloins. The tapered shape makes them prone to overcooking on the thin end.

Brisket or large cuts for pulled meat

Always keep these covered as they rest and cool down. You want to retain every bit of moisture for shredding.


Cover meatballs with foil or sauce when resting after baking. They will continue to cook and dry out if left exposed to air.


It’s best not to cover sausages after grilling or pan-frying. Let the casing dry out uncovered to become nicely browned and crisp.

Should You Cover Boneless vs. Bone-In Meat?

As a general rule, bone-in cuts benefit more from being covered as they rest compared to boneless meat.

Here’s why bones make a difference:

  • Bones conduct heat. Areas near bones carry more heat toward the center of bone-in cuts.
  • Bones add insulation. They slow down the cooling process, giving heat more time to distribute into the meat.
  • Bones contain marrow. This bastes the meat during cooking for added moisture and tenderness.

The hotter and more protected environment inside bone-in cuts makes the meat easier to overcook. Tenting as they rest counteracts this effect.

Boneless cuts cool more quickly since they lack bones’ heating and insulating properties. Leaving the surface uncovered isn’t as likely to result in overdone meat.

Does Meat Continue Cooking While Resting?

Yes, meat will continue cooking even after it is removed from the heat source due to carryover cooking. The hotter interior of the meat will transfer heat toward the cooler exterior areas.

The temperature may rise by 5-10°F during resting time. This effect is most pronounced in large cuts or bone-in meat where the bones conduct heat.

It’s especially important to account for carryover cooking when dealing with thick steaks or chops. You should remove them from the heat just before they reach the desired degree of doneness to prevent overcooking as the temperature rises during resting.

However, just because meat continues cooking does not mean you need to cover it while it rests. Carryover cooking slows rapidly as air circulates around the meat, so uncovered meat will only cook minimally further. The main advantages of covering are moisture retention and maintaining an even temperature, not preventing overcooking.

How Long to Rest Meat Before Slicing or Serving

Here are some general guidelines for how long to let various cuts of meat rest after cooking and before cutting or eating:

Type of Meat Minimum Resting Time
Steaks, chops, pork tenderloin 5 minutes
Chicken pieces, bone-in fish 5-10 minutes
Meatloaf, sausages 10 minutes
Turkey breast 15 minutes
Whole birds, bone-in roasts 15-20 minutes
Large roasts, whole legs of lamb 20-30 minutes

The thicker and larger the cut of meat, the longer the resting time should be. Boneless pieces need less time than bone-in. Always let meat rest at least 5 minutes; the increments above are minimums.

Keys to Proper Resting

Here are some important tips for the best results when resting meat:

– Always let it rest bone-side down for bone-in cuts.

– Resist repeatedly poking meat to check temperature which releases juices. Use an instant-read thermometer after resting instead.

– Don’t wrap tightly in foil which causes condensation; use a loose tent.

– Transfer roasts or whole birds to a cutting board before resting to allow air circulation.

– The thicker the cut, the longer it needs to rest up to 20-30 minutes.

– Rest meat on a warm platter or cutting board so it doesn’t cool too quickly.

– Avoid letting meat rest more than 30-40 minutes total or it can start to cool off.

Proper resting makes meat more tender and moist. Whether you cover it or let it rest uncovered, never skip this essential step after cooking.


Whether or not to cover meat while it rests comes down to personal preference and what kind of results you want to achieve. Covering helps retain moisture and internal heat, while leaving meat uncovered can enhance browning and crispiness. For larger, thicker cuts, covering is generally recommended. Smaller cuts can be left uncovered for a brief rest. Use your desired finished texture and flavor as a guide. The most important thing is to let the meat rest sufficiently after cooking before slicing into it to allow juices to redistribute. With the proper resting time, you’ll be rewarded with tender, succulent meat.