Leftover turkey is a staple after any Thanksgiving or Christmas feast. But improperly reheated turkey can dry out and lose flavor. Follow this guide to learn the best methods for reheating turkey to keep it moist and delicious for days after the big meal.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Should You Refrigerate or Freeze Leftover Turkey?
- How Long Does Cooked Turkey Last in the Fridge or Freezer?
- Signs Your Leftover Turkey Has Gone Bad
- Reheating Turkey in the Oven
- Microwaving Leftover Turkey
- Reheating Turkey on the Stovetop
- Using a Slow Cooker to Reheat Turkey
- How to Reheat Turkey Parts
– Drumsticks and Thighs
– Breast Meat
- Making Delicious Meals With Leftover Turkey
- Food Safety Tips
When stored properly in the fridge or freezer, cooked turkey keeps well for leftover meals. Follow these reheating methods to enjoy moist, flavorful turkey for up to a week after the holiday.
Should You Refrigerate or Freeze Leftover Turkey?
For best flavor and food safety, leftover turkey should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours after cooking.
Refrigerating is the best method if you plan to use the leftovers within 3-4 days. Cover the turkey tightly and store it towards the back of the fridge at 40°F or below.
Freezing is ideal for longer term storage. Freeze turkey pieces or slices in airtight containers or freezer bags. Frozen turkey stays for 2-6 months at 0°F.
Proper cooling and storage helps prevent bacteria growth and spoilage.
How Long Does Cooked Turkey Last in the Fridge or Freezer?
Here is how long leftover turkey stays safe and retains its quality:
- Refrigerator: 3-4 days
- Freezer: 4-6 months for best quality. Up to 1 year maximum for frozen whole turkey.
Discard any turkey that smells bad or appears slimy. Frozen turkey may get freezer burn after lengthy storage.
Signs Your Leftover Turkey Has Gone Bad
Check your leftover turkey for these signs of spoilage before reheating:
- Change in color: Green, gray, or rainbow discoloration
- Sliminess: Wet, sticky texture
- Drying out: Extremely dry, crumbly meat
- Mold: Fuzzy growth anywhere in the turkey
- Rancid smell: Strong rotten or sour odor
- Out of date: Turkey stored past recommended fridge/freezer times
When in doubt, throw it out. Don’t risk eating turkey that may be unsafe.
Reheating Turkey in the Oven
The oven allows you to reheat large batches of turkey evenly without drying it out.
What You Need:
- Leftover sliced or piece turkey
- Baking sheet or casserole dish
- Water or broth for moisture
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Place turkey pieces or slices in a single layer in a baking dish or sheet.
- Add a few tablespoons of water or turkey broth. Tent with foil.
- Bake 15-20 minutes until heated through, 165°F internal temperature.
- Check frequently to prevent drying. Keep foil tent on to retain moisture.
The low gentle oven heat prevents overcooking. Be careful not to overbake, as turkey dries out quickly. Add gravy or sauce for extra moisture.
Microwaving Lefover Turkey
Microwaving is the quickest reheating method, but can easily toughen turkey if overheated. Use lower power and check frequently.
What You Need:
- Leftover sliced, diced or shredded turkey
- Microwave-safe dish
- Plastic wrap or paper towels
- Arrange turkey in a microwave-safe dish in a single layer. Cover with a damp paper towel to prevent splatter.
- Microwave on 50% power in 1-2 minute intervals until heated to 165°F.
- Let stand 2-3 minutes before serving. Check internal temp with a meat thermometer.
- Add microwave-safe bowls of water to create steam if turkey seems dry.
- Take care not to overcook, as the microwave can quickly dry out turkey.
Stirring halfway helps the turkey reheat evenly. Avoid microwaving large turkey pieces, which may cook unevenly.
Reheating Turkey on the Stovetop
For quick stove reheating, sliced or shredded turkey works best.
What You Need:
- Cooked turkey meat, cut into pieces or shredded
- Nonstick skillet
- Butter, oil, or turkey broth
- Heat a drizzle of butter, oil, or turkey broth in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.
- Add turkey pieces or shredded turkey in a single layer.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until heated through, about 5 minutes.
- Add extra liquid to keep turkey moist and prevent sticking.
- Serve turkey immediately once fully reheated to 165°F internal temperature.
The stove gives turkey a quick sear while warming it through. Watch closely to avoid burning.
Using a Slow Cooker to Reheat Turkey
Slow cookers gently reheat large batches of turkey for easy serving.
What You Need:
- Leftover turkey, shredded or in pieces
- Slow cooker
- Turkey broth or gravy
- Grease the slow cooker with cooking spray or oil.
- Place turkey pieces or shredded turkey into the slow cooker.
- Add 1-2 cups turkey broth, gravy, or sauce.
- Cook on low heat for 2-3 hours until heated through.
- Shred with two forks if needed before serving.
The low gentle heat prevents the turkey from drying out. Letting the turkey cook in broth infuses it with flavor.
How to Reheat Turkey Parts
Here are tips for properly reheating different cuts of leftover turkey:
You can reheat wings in the oven or air fryer. Brush wings with sauce or rub to prevent drying. Bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes until heated to 165°F.
Drumsticks and Thighs
Bake drumsticks and thighs in a 375°F oven for 25-30 minutes until fully reheated. Check temperature with a meat thermometer.
Microwave or bake slices of turkey breast at 325°F for 10-15 minutes until warm. Prevent drying by tenting foil and adding broth.
Adjust cook times based on amount of turkey you are reheating. Cook just until heated through, as turkey dries out easily if overcooked again.
Making Delicious Meals With Leftover Turkey
Get creative with your leftover holiday turkey! Here are some easy meal ideas:
- Turkey sandwiches – Make cold sandwiches or panini.
- Turkey casserole – Mix turkey with veggies and bake.
- Turkey soup – Simmer turkey in broth with veggies and noodles.
- Turkey hash – Fry turkey pieces with potatoes and spices.
- Turkey tetrazzini – Toss spaghetti with turkey in creamy sauce.
- Turkey enchiladas – Roll up turkey in tortillas with cheese.
- Turkey salad – Toss shredded turkey with mayo, cranberries, nuts.
- Turkey tetrazzini – Make a casserole with turkey, pasta, and creamy sauce.
The possibilities are endless for giving leftover turkey a new life!
Food Safety Tips
Follow these food safety guidelines when storing and reheating leftover turkey:
- Refrigerate or freeze turkey within 2 hours of cooking.
- Store turkey in shallow containers for quick cooling.
- Use refrigerated turkey within 3-4 days, frozen within 4-6 months.
- Reheat turkey to an internal temperature of 165°F.
- Do not leave reheated turkey at room temperature over 2 hours.
- Discard any turkey that smells bad or has an odd appearance or texture.
Properly handled, leftover turkey stays fresh and delicious for days after the big meal. With these reheating methods, you can continue enjoying moist, flavorful turkey until the last bit is gone.
Whether making sandwiches, casseroles, soups, or salads, give your leftover turkey a new life with endless possibilities. With proper storage and reheating, you can recreate holiday flavors well beyond the big day.