Thanksgiving Day and leftover turkey often go hand in hand. It’s not always a bad thing though. On the bright side, you don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare for the weekend’s dinner.
What if the leftovers are a little bit too much? Can you freeze roasted turkey to enjoy a few months from now?
A short answer, yes! Turkey, both raw and cooked, freezes well. You only need to do it correctly so the food won’t turn bad before its time.
If you’re curious about freezing and thawing the cooked turkey, keep on reading. You’re about to find out the answers in this article!
How To Freeze Leftover Turkey
Just like other leftover dishes, cooked turkey only keeps well for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. When refrigerated too long, bacteria can grow and spoil the food. It will no longer be palatable nor safe to consume.
If you need additional time to finish up this delectable dish, freezing is your best option. You don’t need to wait until the last minute to freeze roasted turkey.
It is recommended to freeze cooked turkey within two hours after cooking to minimize the risk of bacterial growth. If this is not possible, try to freeze it as soon as you finish serving.
If you plan to serve it for tomorrow or the next day, you can take some portions to refrigerate and freeze the remaining.
Follow the steps below to freeze cooked turkey:
1. Carve the cooked turkey and remove the bones. You can save the bones to make turkey stock. Nothing goes to waste.
2. Cut and slice it into smaller pieces according to your preference. Smaller pieces are easier for freezing and thawing. Depending on how you want to serve it, you can also dice or slice it into smaller chunks.
3. Transfer the pieces into a freezer bag or freezer-safe container. A small, shallow container is recommended to allow quick freezing.
4. Squeeze as much air as possible if you use a freezer bag.
5. Seal the bag or container tightly.
6. Label the bag with a freezing date and other details (if necessary).
7. Place the bag in the freezer. Check your freezer once in a while and make sure to set the temperature to 0 °F (−18 °C) or lower.
How To Defrost Frozen Cooked Turkey
Cooked turkey is a perishable food. That means it spoils quickly when left out of the fridge. So, defrosting at the countertop is not a smart move.
Instead, you can safely thaw frozen cooked turkey in three ways: overnight in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in a microwave.
If you forgot to thaw it while you need to feed a hungry crowd, it is also safe to reheat it without thawing. To reheat cooked turkey, you can do it in a pan, oven, or microwave. Make sure to heat the dish to 165 °F.
- Overnight thawing in the refrigerator
Refrigerator thawing is a lengthy process, but the easiest and safest. It takes hours to overnight to days, depending on how large the quantity is. You need to plan ahead of time to do it.
If you want to serve it for tomorrow’s dinner, you will need to place it in the refrigerator tonight. That’s easy and straightforward, right?
- Thawing in cold water
Thawing in a cold water bath is faster than refrigerator thawing, but it needs more effort and attention.
Place frozen turkey in a sealed plastic bag. Submerge the bag in a bowl of cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes until the dish thaws thoroughly.
Make sure the bag is sealed tightly and leak-proof. If it leaks, bacteria from the water and the environment can contaminate the dish.
- Reheating in a microwave
Microwave thawing is your ultimate solution whenever you forgot to thaw it in advance. You can also reheat the cooked turkey until it reaches 165 °F. Two steps at once.
Cover the dish and rotate it to heat evenly. Be careful not to overheat the dish. (*)
If you thaw the frozen turkey in the refrigerator or cold water, you need to reheat it thoroughly up to 165 °F. You can safely do it in a pan or an oven.
What’s all the fuss about165 °F? That’s a safe temperature for cooking poultry to kill harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning.
If you don’t have a temperature, relax. We can work on that. Just make sure to reheat cooked turkey until it’s piping hot before serving.
How Long Can You Freeze Cooked Turkey?
When continuously frozen at 0 °F or lower, cooked turkey is safe to keep indefinitely. However, the quality starts to decline after prolonged freezing. Therefore, it is best to use frozen cooked turkey within 2 to 6 months after freezing. (*)
After defrosting, the dish should be served immediately or within 3 to 4 days. Keep any leftovers refrigerated.
Can You Refreeze Leftover Cooked Turkey?
Sometimes, we overestimate the portions we need. We end up having leftovers of previously frozen cooked turkey. Can you refreeze cooked turkey again?
After reheating the dish to 165 °F, you can refreeze it again.
Keep in mind that the texture and taste might not be as pleasant as before after multiple freezing, thawing, and reheating.
According to Foodsafety.gov, when continuously frozen at 0 °F or below can be kept indefinitely. However, for the best quality, the cooked turkey should be used within 2 to 6 months after freezing. A fresh whole turkey is best to use in one year after freezing.
It is required to reheat cooked turkey after thawing to kill harmful bacteria and prevent food poisoning. Make sure that the food reaches 165 °F or served piping hot.
Leaving cooked turkey out of the fridge overnight is not advisable as it can cause foodborne illnesses. Harmful bacteria will likely contaminate the food and thus, unsafe to eat.
Cooked turkey freezes well. So, if you have any leftovers which you can’t finish within 3 to 4 days, you can always freeze them to enjoy in the next 2 to 6 months.
Slice cooked turkey into smaller pieces before freezing. Freezing a whole cooked turkey is never a good idea. It takes up so much space to freeze. Plus, defrosting takes days.
To thaw frozen cooked turkey safely, you can do it in the fridge, in a cold water bath, or in a microwave. Reheat it until it reaches 165 °F before serving.
*Image by depositphotos.com/tastyfood