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How to store leftover Thanksgiving turkey so it stays delicious

Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner, RealSimple.com on

Published in Health & Fitness

Cooking a Thanksgiving turkey is no small feat. Not only is it the most important entrée of the year (no pressure), but it’s quite likely the only giant piece of poultry you’ll cook all year, making it more labor intensive (all that brining, basting, and butter-rubbing is serious work) than most proteins that go in your oven. Make your turkey work for you by storing your Thanksgiving turkey leftovers properly so you can get the most out of every morsel. Here’s how to store leftover turkey, the right way.

How to store Thanksgiving turkey

Resist the urge to toss the meaty turkey carcass into your fridge, and take a few minutes to store your Thanksgiving turkey correctly to preserve texture and flavor. “The best way to store leftover turkey is in a plastic bag,” suggests Yankel Polak, head chef at ButcherBox. “Not only does this take up the least amount of room in the fridge, but less air in the bag will keep your turkey fresher for longer, as compared to a large food storage container.”

If your turkey is already broken down and sliced, organize bags by white meat and dark meat for easy reheating. If you have larger pieces of turkey, like an unsliced breast, store it intact to keep in the juices until the meat is reheated. Leftover turkey will stay fresh in the fridge for up to five days. Make sure the bags stay tightly sealed. Reusable silicone bags can work as well.

Can you freeze Thanksgiving turkey?

If you won’t consume your leftover Thanksgiving turkey within a few days, your best bet is to freeze the meat. Better yet, plan ahead to preserve the meat, and don't cut it up too much before freezing.

“The best situation for freezing turkey is to freeze it in larger chunks versus slicing it,” Polak says. “Keeping the meat in big chunks means less exposure to air to ensure freshness. The best way to store it is a vacuum seal.” If you don’t have access to a vacuum sealer, do a double or triple plastic bag and press all the air out. Keep meat on the bone, even if it may take up a little extra space in your freezer.

 

You can also make turkey soup or other dishes with your leftover turkey, and then freeze it. “Save the whole carcass after carving and all of it can go into a soup,” Polak says. Make a rich bone broth to freeze in plastic quart containers or in an ice cube tray for quick defrosting. This frozen broth can be used as the base of soups and stews all winter.

How to send guests home with leftover Thanksgiving turkey

Since guests will likely eat their leftovers promptly, feel free to skip the plastic bag and go for a full meal container, complete with gravy, sides, and whatever else you want to pawn off on loved ones for their day-after lunch.

“The best way to send guests home with leftover turkey is in extra food storage containers that you feel comfortable with never seeing again!” Polak says. “Food storage containers also allow you to add other leftover sides to create little to-go turkey dinners for your guests.” The gesture will be much appreciated, and free up space in your refrigerator.

(Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at www.realsimple.com.)

©2023 Dotdash Meredith. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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