Turkeys are big birds, and every time you roast one in the oven, there are almost always quite a few leftovers. This is the point at which most people ask themselves, “What am I going to do with all this cooked turkey? Can I freeze leftover cooked turkey meat?”
The answer is, “yes, you can freeze cooked turkey.”
Continue reading to find out more about freezing cooked turkey meat in a safe way that prevents food poisoning and also preserves its moist texture and delicious flavor.
Freezing Leftover Turkey Instructions (4 Steps)
Here is how to freeze cooked turkey, step-by-step.
1. Allow Turkey to Cool
Before you freeze cooked turkey, it needs to be completely cooled. Turkey that is still warm from its roasting should not be immediately frozen, or the moisture it will release in the freezer will cause freezer burn and contribute to possible bacteria growth.
2. Slice Your Turkey Before Freezing
The key to having your turkey frozen solid is to freeze it in the smallest possible airtight container possible. This could be a plastic tub with a lid or a freezer bag with a zipper.
This means that you should slice your turkey into the smallest portion sizes possible, whether it be in chunks or slices.
It is also helpful for you to think about what you might be using the cooked turkey for in the future. If you are using it for hot turkey sandwiches, then be sure to cut it into slices.
If you are using them for a turkey salad sandwich, chopped up with celery, onion, and mayo, then consider flash freezing smaller turkey chunks.
Flash Freezing Cooked Turkey (Optional)
To flash freeze cooked turkey, cut it into smaller slices or chunks and spread them out on a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.
Don’t let the individual pieces of turkey touch each other. This prevents the turkey pieces from clumping together.
After 3 hours in the freezer, remove the frozen turkey pieces from the baking sheet and place them in a freezer-safe sealed container or a freezer bag.
3. Options for Storing Cooked Turkey In The Freezer
You have several storage container options when it comes to keeping cooked turkey in your freezer.
Lay two or three cooked turkey slices on a sheet of tin foil. Fold the tin foil over the turkey slices.
Smooth the foil over the meat to release any air. Don’t crumple the foil in any way, and try to make the package as airtight as possible.
Lay turkey slices flat on a piece of plastic wrap, and then wrap it tightly around the meat.
Make sure that any plastic bag that you use to freeze cooked turkey is a genuine freezer bag made out of thick plastic and with a zippered closing.
Don’t use thin plastic sandwich bags with fold-over tops to freeze leftover turkey, as they allow too much air into the package. The result could be bacteria growth and freezer burn.
Once you have placed the leftover turkey in the freezer bag, smooth out all of the air before sealing the zip lock.
Don’t fill up the plastic freezer bags. Freezing cooked turkey in smaller portions will allow it to last longer in the freezer and makes thawing it and using it much more convenient.
Airtight Plastic Container
Place your turkey slices or chunks in a small airtight plastic container, being sure to fill it up to the rim as much as possible to prevent air from seeping in.
Use the smallest containers you can as that will ensure that the meat will freeze solid.
Pro Tip: One trick to avoid freezer burn is to ladle gravy up to the top of the container. The fat in the gravy acts as an insulating layer against oxygenation and freezer burn inside of the sealed container.
However, keep in mind that milk-based gravies do not freeze as well as fat and flour-based ones and could contribute to freezer burn.
Vacuum Sealed Bag
Vacuum sealers are kitchen gadgets that can be used with a special type of plastic bag or plastic wrap to shrink-wrap frozen foods.
To shrink wrap cooked turkey, deposit slices into the plastic bag and use the gadget to suck out all of the air and seal around the edges.
If you need a vacuum sealing machine, check out the Potane Vacuum Sealer Machine at Amazon. It makes vacuum sealing food easy with plenty of preset sealing modes.
Once the plastic is clinging to the meat portion, place it in the freezer. Turkey frozen this way can last in the freezer for up to 6 months. If you’re not planning on using the cooked turkey soon, this will be the best method for safe long-term storage.
4. Label and Freeze
Ideally, you should be consuming cooked and frozen turkey within 3 months, it is a good idea to label the bags or containers with the date frozen.
This will prompt you to throw out any frozen cooked turkey that has not been consumed before its expiry date.
Vacuum-sealed turkey can be consumed within four months for best flavor and texture.
How Do You Defrost Cooked Turkey?
The safest way to defrost frozen cooked turkey is to remove it from the freezer and place it in the fridge overnight. In this way, the previously cooked turkey will thaw slowly, helping to preserve its moisture.
You never want to defrost frozen turkey leftovers (or any meat for that matter) at room temperature. This can cause the growth of bacteria and the meat to spoil.
If you’re in a hurry, you can place the container of turkey in a bowl of cool water. The cool water will thaw the turkey faster while keeping it cold enough to be safe. Don’t let the water come into direct contact with the meat.
Tips For Freezing Leftover Turkey
Here are a few tips to help you successfully freeze and defrost leftover turkey.
1. Freeze Cooked Turkey Immediately
Always freeze roasted turkey as soon after cooking as possible. Turkey that is left in the fridge for three or four days and then transferred to the freezer will not only be very dry, but also more vulnerable to freezer burn.
2. Don’t Reuse The Freezer Safe Bag
It is best not to reuse any freezer bag that was previously used to freeze or thaw meat as there is a risk of cross-contamination and food poisoning.
3. Freeze Cooked Turkey Meals (Great For Thanksgiving Leftovers)
There is absolutely no reason why you can’t freeze Thanksgiving leftovers in one container or freezer bag to create your own frozen dinners.
You can buy flat trays with compartments and lids (Amazon) that work well for this purpose.
Cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy can all be frozen together and then thawed out. It is easy to recreate an entire Thanksgiving meal in this way.
Leftover turkey can also be used to make all kinds of delicious food, including broth, soup, hot turkey sandwiches, curries, and stews.
Recipes using leftover turkey are practically endless if you do a little research on the internet, but you can also keep it simple: just reheat the turkey for one meal and serve.