This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our privacy policy.

What to Do with Leftover Turkey

Lucky you, with leftover cooked turkey! That means you made sure to have enough for everyone to have a great meal, and hopefully some next day sandwiches, and STILL had extra. Smart. I always plan to make a larger turkey than necessary. There are so many things to make with cooked turkey, it’s a great planned leftover!

Woman placing slices of cooked turkey into a labeled Ziploc bag.

Best Way to Store Cooked Turkey

First, when possible, slice the meat from the bone, and use the bones to make stock. This will allow you to pack your leftover turkey more compactly, and reduce the amount of air inside the container. If you want to freeze leftover whole turkey pieces, see below.

Any uneaten cooked turkey should be sealed up and refrigerated within two hours of serving it. If your turkey has sat out for significantly longer, it won’t keep as well. 

How Long Can Leftover Cooked Turkey Stay in the Fridge Before Freezing?

If your turkey has been properly handled you can refrigerate and eat it for up to 4 days. If you are planning to freeze it, it’s best to freeze it within one day of cooking for optimal texture and taste. However, leftover turkey can be frozen after three days and it will be fine. If your turkey has been in the fridge for up to three days, you are good to freeze it, as long as it was in a well-sealed container and hasn’t dried out.

Easy Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey

What Are the Best Containers for Freezing Turkey?

I like to use freezer proof zipper top bags for freezing turkey, because you can really press out all of the excess air before sealing them. The zipper top bag packages marked specifically for the freezer are thicker than regular zipper top bags, and definitely better for freezing. Also consider reusable freezer proof bags.

If you want to use a freezer proof container, that’s fine. You want to make sure the turkey is pretty well packed in, again to reduce the amount of air in the container which can cause freezer burn.

Woman pressing the excess air out of a Ziploc filled with slices of cooked turkey.

Whatever container you use, please make sure to label it with a permanent marker. Write the kind of turkey you are freezing (eg, breast meat), the date you are freezing it, and if you like, the amount in the container (eg, 4 cups turkey or 1 pound turkey).

How Long Can You Freeze Leftover Turkey?

Leftover cooked turkey freezes well for up to 6 months if properly handled, packed and frozen within 3 days of the original preparation. However, I like to try and use it within 3 months for best flavor and texture, and to avoid the possibility of freezer burn.

How to Freeze Leftover Turkey: Clear advice with photos on freezing cooked turkey so you can enjoy turkey dinners well after the holidays!

Tweet This

How Do You Prevent Freezer Burn?

Freezer burn happens when air gets into contact with food. Make sure you leave as little extra room as possible in the container or bag.

How Long Can You Freeze Leftover Turkey?

In general cooked turkey can be frozen for up to 6 months. After that it will be safe to eat, but the flavor and texture might be less than ideal.

Cajun Roasted Turkey

How to Freeze Turkey Parts

If you have some leftover legs, wings, or thighs that you want to freeze on the bone, just make sure to wrap them very well in plastic wrap. Then slide them into a freezer proof zip top bag, press out any excess air, label the bag and freeze. I prefer bags for this as it’s easier to press out extra air. But do make sure to wrap them tightly first – get thicker plastic wrap especially designed for the freezer if you are a regular freezer of food!

How Do You Defrost — or Thaw — Frozen Turkey Safely?

The best way is to place the bag or container in the fridge for at least one day, up to two days if you are defrosting a larger quantity of turkey. You can also defrost turkey in the microwave if the container is small enough to be able to rotate on the carousel tray which will allow it to defrost safely and evenly. Every microwave is different, so you should check your defrost setting to make sure you are doing it in the correct way. Some microwaves let you plan your defrosting according to weight, others have more specific settings.

DO NOT THAW TURKEY OR ANY MEAT AT ROOM TEMPERATURE! This can allow bacteria to form, which can be dangerous, especially for people who are very young, very old, or immunocompromised in any way.

If you are using the turkey in a soup, stew or casserole, you might not have to defrost it first. Read the recipe, and see if it makes sense to add it still frozen. This will also possibly help keep it moist and juicy. If it is heating up in a chili, for instance, the liquid and other ingredients will help moisten the turkey as it defrosts and heats through.

Leftover Turkey Split Pea Soup

How Do You Reheat Leftover Turkey?

The concern with turkey, as every turkey lover knows, is that it can dry out when reheated. I like to put the turkey in a baking pan, add a small amount of turkey or chicken broth, cover the pan with foil, and heat it gently in a 300°F oven until it is warmed through. You can pour off any remaining liquid from the pan.

You can also reheat turkey in the microwave, using the carousel tray. Put the turkey in a microwave safe container, add a bit of broth, and cover the turkey with a damp paper towel. Make sure the tray can rotate in the microwave – if it’s too big, use the oven.

How to Freeze Cooked Turkey

Slice the meat from the bones.

Cajun Roasted Turkey

You can dice the meat if you like, if you know you are planning to use it in a recipe that calls for cubes of cooked turkey.

Place the turkey on a parchment or foil covered baking sheet in a single layer. Transfer to the freezer for one hour, until the turkey is quite chilled and firm. This will allow the slices or cubes to stay separate when you freeze them in a bag or container.

Label a freezer proof bag or container with the kind of turkey you are freezing (dark meat, sliced, cubed) and the date. Use a permanent market like a Sharpie.

Woman labeling a Ziploc \"Turkey - Sliced.\"

Transfer the turkey to the labeled freezer proof bag or container.

Woman folding a labeled Ziploc filled with sliced turkey.

Freeze for up to 6 months.

Recipes with Leftover Turkey:

Leftover Turkey Hash

Leftover Turkey Hash

One of the best post-Thanksgiving breakfasts ever! Crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, each bite is old-school delicious.

Pan of Turkey Picadillo.

Turkey Picadillo

A lighter version of a wonderful Latin American dish.

Turkey Reuben Sandwiches / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman /

Turkey Reuben Sandwiches

This version of one of the most delicious and classic sandwiches in the sandwich lexicon uses turkey for a lighter change of pace.

Turkey Pot Pie

Turkey Pot Pie

Brightly colored vegetables mingle with satisfying chunks of leftover cooked turkey in one of the simplest but most delicious pot pies ever. 

Leftover Turkey Split Pea Soup

Leftover Turkey Split Pea Soup

The most comforting, satisfying way to use up leftover turkey, including a simple homemade stock.

Turkey Posole Soup / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /

Turkey Posole Soup

That leftover Thanksgiving turkey is put to great use in a warm, comforting, and very satisfying soup

Two plates with Turkey Tetrazzini and salad.

Turkey Tetrazzini

Leftover turkey mixed with sauteed fresh mushrooms and a delightful cream sauce spiked with sherry, sage and parsley is nestled under a cheesy crunchy bread crumb topping. This casserole is anything but boring!

Rate & Comment