reheating turkey

How To Reheat Turkey Without Drying It Out

What could be more exciting from a post-Thanksgiving feast than having the leftovers spread all over the table?

Perhaps, it’s the roasted turkey that excites you the most. Well, who can deny it? It is perfect for next day’s lunch, dinner, and maybe late-night snacks.

There are so many delicious meals you can whip up using the Thanksgiving extra. Think of the epic turkey sandwich, cheesy casserole, creamy hearty soup, turkey enchiladas, etc.

Of course, after all the work you put into preparing the succulent turkey, the last thing you want is sad, dry leftovers.

That leads to one question: How do you reheat leftover turkey, so it won’t dry out?

We got you covered. This article dives deep into the best way to reheat the Thanksgiving extra and preserve its juicy flavors. We also discuss all the essential information on safe handling and storage.

Tips to Storing and Reheating Turkey

To reheat leftovers safely, first, we need to handle and store them properly. Here are all you need to know about storage and reheating the holiday special for future servings!

How to Store Leftovers Turkey

According to the USDA, there are several rules to pay attention to regarding storing Thanksgiving leftovers safely.

1. The two-hour rule. Leftovers need to be refrigerated promptly within 2 hours after cooking or 1 hour if the temperature exceeds 90 °F.

2. Throw away any leftovers that are left out for more than 2 hours. Although they might seem fine, they are likely unsafe to eat because of potential bacterial contamination. Meanwhile, reheating won’t make them safe if they have been exposed to room temperature for too long.

3. Divide into smaller portions. Instead of placing them all in a large container, they will cool quickly by dividing them into several parts and transfer to small, shallow containers. This way, leftovers will chill more rapidly in the fridge.

Shelf Life of Cooked Turkey

Properly refrigerated, the leftover turkey should stay fresh for 3 to 4 days, but always use your judgment. It is worth noting that leftovers can be unsafe to eat if kept refrigerated longer than recommended.

Meanwhile, freezing extends its shelf life significantly to 2 to 6 months. To freeze cooked turkey, slice the bird into smaller pieces, portion them out, and pack into heavy-duty freezer bags.

How to Reheat Precooked Turkey Safely and Yield Optimum Result

Here is the rule of thumbs to reheat leftovers safely.

1. Reheat to 165 °F. Regardless of the methods, make sure reheated leftovers reach a safe temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

2. Defrost frozen leftovers in the refrigerator, in cold water, or microwave. If thawed in cold water or microwave, reheat, and serve immediately.

3. It’s okay to reheat from frozen. It is considered safe to reheat leftovers from frozen as long as the interior is heated up to 165 °F. It takes a little longer than reheating thawed pieces, but it is a good solution when you’re short on time.

Now, let’s talk about quality. We have some tips for preserving the great flavors of your holiday extra.

1. Cut into smaller pieces. This way, they will reheat uniformly without leaving any cold spots.

2. Add extra broth, stock, or water. The additional liquid helps keep the meat moist and tender as it reheats.

Next, we will learn the step-to-step instructions on reheating leftover turkey, so it tastes as delicious as the first time you prepared it.

Method 1: Reheating Turkey In the Oven

Reheating leftovers in the oven works efficiently for a massive portion. Here is the go-to method to reheat a fully cooked turkey in the oven.

  1. Set your oven to 325 to 350 °F. According to the USDA, the ideal temperature to reheat cooked turkey is above 325 °F. While the oven is heating, there should be enough time to prep the cooked bird.
  2. Cut the leftovers into small pieces and uniform thickness. When the slices are in the same size, they will reheat evenly, thus leaving no cold spots.
  3. Arrange them in an oven-safe dish in a single layer.
  4. Pour some broth to keep them moist. Add tiny butter pieces all over the dish to enhance the flavors.
  5. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
  6. Reheat for 30 to 35 minutes until piping hot and the center reaches 165 °F. The reheating time varies depending on the portion. Add extra baking time if necessary.
  7. Once done, take it out of the oven. Leave to rest for a few minutes.
  8. Serve while still warm! Be careful when removing the foil.

Method 2: Reheating Turkey In the Microwave

For reheating a small portion for yourself (perhaps to build turkey sandwiches), you can easily do it in the microwave. It’s the fastest and most convenient.

Here is the proper way to reheat turkey in the microwave.

  1. Cut into smaller or bite-sized pieces.
  2. Place them in a microwave-safe container.
  3. Drizzle with broth or stock for extra flavor and keep the meat moist. If you don’t have extra broth, you can also use plain water.
  4. Cover the dish with plastic wrap.
  5. Microwave over medium settings for about 2 minutes. Stop halfway and rotate to allow even reheating.
  6. Check and see if all parts are fully reheated. Extend the reheating time for 30 seconds if necessary. Make sure they are heated up uniformly to 165 °F.


Can you eat cooked turkey cold?

Yes. It should be safe to eat cold, straight off the fridge as long as it is refrigerated timely (within 1 to 2 hours of cooking) and consumed within 3 to 4 days.

Can you cook a turkey the day before and reheat it?

Yes. You can prepare and cook the bird 1 to 2 days in advance. Let it cool promptly and carve it into large pieces of breasts, thighs, drumsticks, and wings. Place them in an airtight container and refrigerate until the big day.

Can you reheat cooked turkey twice?

Technically, if stored properly and reheated to 165 °F each time, the cooked bird should be safe to consume. However, since we can’t always guarantee how long the leftovers have been sitting out after each reheating, we can’t really ensure its safety.

Therefore, it is recommended to only reheat once. Furthermore, the quality decreases after each reheating.

Can you put the warm turkey in the fridge?

It is okay to put a small quantity of hot food in the fridge. If it’s too large, the temperature inside the refrigerator will warm up, compromising other foods that are already in the kitchen.

To refrigerate, cut up the bird into smaller pieces and place them in a shallow container to allow quick cooling. Refrigerate them within 2 hours after cooking (or 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 °F).

Take Away Messages

You can get the most from your Thanksgiving extra by giving it a good reheating. 

The two best ways to reheat cooked turkey are in the oven or microwave. Using the oven is the best way to reheat a whole turkey without drying out. To keep it moist and juicy, add some broth or stock before reheating. The steam helps to preserve the moisture, so your holiday special won’t become dry and tough.

Follow our tips to reheat leftover turkey the right way to be as juicy and tasty as it was for Thanksgiving dinner!

Up next: Best way to reheat chicken

*image by Jim_Filim/depositphotos

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