How to Freeze Leftover Turkey

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

How to Freeze 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, from split pea soup to hash; it’s a great planned leftover!

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

How to Freeze Leftover Turkey: Clear step-by-step directions with photos on the best way to freeze cooked turkey so you can enjoy turkey dinners well after the holidays!

Tweet This

What Is the 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. Also, see How to Carve a Turkey.

Any uneaten cooked turkey should be sealed up and refrigerated within 2 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?

If your turkey has been properly handled and refrigerated shortly after serving, you can store and eat it for up to 4 days. If you are planning to freeze it, it’s best to freeze it within 1 day of cooking for optimal texture and taste.

However, leftover turkey can be frozen after 3 days, and it will be fine. If your turkey has been in the fridge for up to 3 days, you are still good to freeze it. Just make sure to store it in a well-sealed container so it doesn’t dry out.

Plate of Roasted Thanksgiving Turkey on a table with Thanksgiving sides.
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. 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, reducing 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, definitely make sure to label it with a permanent marker. Write the kind of turkey you are freezing (e.g., breast meat), the date you are freezing it, and if you like, the amount in the container (e.g., 4 cups turkey or 1 pound turkey). This will help you keep track of the time. We don’t want to end up with leftover turkey from five years ago.

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 the best flavor and texture and to avoid the possibility of freezer burn.

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

Cajun Roasted Turkey on a wooden cutting board.
Cajun Roasted Turkey

How to Freeze Turkey Parts

Before freezing, you will want to carve your turkey. The carcass of the turkey will take up way too much room in your freezer and doesn’t lend itself to pulling out of the freezer and reheating in batches as needed.

If you have some leftover whole 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 — and get thicker plastic wrap specially designed for the freezer if you are a regular freezer of food!

How Do You Defrost (or Thaw) Frozen Cooked Turkey Safely?

The best way to thaw cooked turkey is to place the bag or container in the fridge for at least 1 day, up to 2 days for larger quantities.

You can also defrost turkey in the microwave if the container is small enough 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, while 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.

Bowls of Leftover Turkey Split Pea Soup on a table.
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-degree 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

  1. Slice the meat: Slice the meat from the bones. 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.
Woman cutting up roast Cajun turkey on a wooden cutting board.
  1. Chill the turkey: Place the turkey on a parchment or foil-covered baking sheet in a single layer. Transfer to the freezer for 1 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.
  2. Label: 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 marker like a Sharpie.
Woman labeling a Ziploc "Turkey - Sliced."
  1. Put it in the container: Transfer the turkey to the labeled freezer-proof bag or container. If using a bag, press out any excess air.
Woman folding a labeled Ziploc filled with sliced turkey.
  1. Freeze: Put the turkey in your freezer and freeze for up to 6 months.

Recipes With Leftover Turkey

Leftover Turkey Hash
5 from 2 votes

Leftover Turkey Hash

One of the best post-Thanksgiving breakfasts ever! Turkey hash is crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside…each bite is old-school delicious.
View Recipe

Pan of Turkey Picadillo.
5 from 7 votes

Turkey Picadillo

You can use chopped cooked turkey instead of ground turkey in this lighter version of a wonderful Latin American dish. Just skip the browning step and add it in when you would have added the browned ground turkey.
View Recipe

Turkey Reuben Sandwiches / Sarah Crowder / Katie Workman /
5 from 1 vote

Turkey Reuben Sandwiches

A Reuben sandwich the day after a big turkey dinner is one of the best ways to use up that leftover turkey breast.
View Recipe

Turkey Pot Pie
5 from 1 vote

Turkey Pot Pie

Satisfying chunks of leftover cooked turkey are mixed with diced brightly colored vegetables and a light sauce in one of the simplest but most delicious pot pies ever. 
View Recipe

Leftover Turkey Split Pea Soup
5 from 1 vote

Leftover Turkey Split Pea Soup

You can use the leftover turkey bones and skin to enhance the broth for this comforting, satisfying soup. The soup also freezes well!
View Recipe

Turkey Posole Soup / Photo by Cheyenne Cohen / Katie Workman /
5 from 1 vote

Turkey Posole Soup

Chewy nuggets of posole and chunks of turkey add up to a soup that eats like a stew.
View Recipe

Two plates with Turkey Tetrazzini and salad.
5 from 2 votes

Turkey Tetrazzini

Leftover turkey mixed with sautéed fresh mushrooms and a delightful cream sauce spiked with sherry, sage, and parsley is nestled under a cheesy, crunchy breadcrumb topping. This tetrazinni casserole is anything but boring!
View Recipe

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

You May Also Like:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *