Many of us only buy and cook a turkey at Christmas and Thanksgiving, so it's understandable we have lots of questions about how to store turkey. How long does fresh turkey keep? How long can you store cooked turkey? How long does it keep in the fridge? Can you freeze it and how can you defrost it safely? Knowing how to safely store turkey leftovers can minimize our food waste and help us get the most out of the food we've bought. I've also included some handy recipes for using up leftovers.
How to store fresh turkey
Store your turkey in the fridge. As with all meats, you should store near the bottom of the fridge and put it in a tray to prevent raw meat juices from dripping onto other foods. It can be stored for 1 -2 days in the fridge.
How long does it freeze?
You can keep an uncooked or fresh turkey in the freezer. It's best eaten within one year. Wrap it carefully to avoid freezer burn and label it with the date it was placed in the freezer.
How to defrost
The time needed to defrost a frozen turkey will depend on its size. You can store it in the fridge for 1 - 2 days, once it is fully defrosted, before being cooked.
You should defrost your turkey in the fridge and not at room temperature. This is because the outside of the bird will defrost first and get warm. Warm uncooked poultry meat is a breeding ground for bacteria and can lead to food poisoning.
Place the turkey in a tray with high sides to catch all the juices as it defrosts. A whole bird will need about 24 hours in the fridge for every 5lb / 2.2kg in weight. The table below gives guidance on defrosting different weights.
Your fridge should be set to 4°C / 40°F. The times quoted are estimates as all fridges vary and will warm up slightly whenever the door is opened.
You can also defrost a turkey in cold water which is quicker. Defrosting poultry in warm water however, can lead to food poisoning. Keep the turkey in the original wrapping or seal it in a large plastic bag. Place the turkey in a bucket breast side down. It needs to be completely submerged so weigh it down with a plate. Most importantly, you need to change the water every 30 minutes to keep it cold so you can't do this overnight. It takes about 30 minutes for every 1lb /0.5kg.
Make sure it is fully defrosted before cooking.
Timings for defrosting a turkey
|5kg - 8kg /10lb -18lb||2 - 3 ½ days||5 - 9 hours|
|8kg - 10kg / 18lb - 22lb||3½ to 4½ days||9 - 11 hours|
|10kg -11kg / 22lb - 24lb||4½ to 5 days||11 - 12 hours|
|11kg - 13kg / 24lb - 29lb||5 - 6 days||12 - 15 hours|
How to store cooked turkey meat in the fridge
Strip leftover meat from the bone and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. Don't leave cooked meat out at room temperature for longer than about 90 minutes. If you don't have time to remove it all from the bone, just store it in the fridge as it's more important the meat doesn't stay out in a warm environment. Cooked meat can be kept in the fridge for 3 -4 days.
Weighing your leftovers is helpful as you will know how many meals it will make or if you need to put some in the freezer. Ideally, you should freeze the meat straight away, but you can freeze it within 4 days. Store cooked meat away from raw meat in the fridge.
Can you freeze cooked leftover turkey?
Cooked turkey meat can be stored in the freezer and ideally should be eaten within 3 - 4 months. After this time the texture and taste may start to deteriorate. If your turkey was frozen before cooking, you can still freeze it cooked. You can't freeze it twice in the same state so cooked meat cannot be defrosted and then frozen again for example.
Store cooked turkey in the fridge for 3 - 4 days & in the freezer for 3 - 4 months.
How to reheat turkey
When reheating, as with all meat, you should only reheat it once. Make sure it is piping hot. The internal temperature should be 74°C / 165°F. It is best to defrost overnight in the fridge before reheating. You can of course eat leftover turkey meat cold & it's great in sandwiches or a salad.
Easy Leftover Recipe Ideas
Leftover Christmas Turkey Recipes are a part of the planning. Many recipes that can be cooked with leftover chicken, can also be cooked with leftover turkey. I've pulled together some of my favorites here. They are all easy, family-friendly and don't take too long to cook.
Turkey curry is a popular leftover dish.
Pasta dishes are great for using up leftover turkey, especially if you don't have quite enough meat leftover. You could also add any leftover ham to these pasta dishes. Use extra vegetables to make these dishes go further if you need to. They all use vegetables that are in season in winter.
Risotto is a tasty colorful dish that works well with leftover turkey or chicken. This one is easy and ready in just 30 minutes.
More Christmas leftover ideas
If you've got any leftover gammon or ham, you might like to make a lovely spaghetti carbonara. This simple recipe is ready in just 25 minutes.
Leftover vegetables can always be turned into a delicious soup. You don't need a specific recipe. People have been making soup for thousands of years without a recipe. Just use up what you have.