How To Store Turkey For Thanksgiving – Frozen, Fresh, And Cooked!

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Whether you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving or Turkey Day, most people turn to turkey as the traditional meal on the fourth Thursday every November. One drawback of turkey is the size of this delicious bird, often leaving you with a huge amount of leftovers to manage. Storing a turkey raw or cooked, ranging anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds, is no small feat and can seem daunting. We have searched multiple sources to bring you many options in storing your Thanksgiving turkey to make the most out of your big meal.

Frozen turkeys can be stored in the freezer for up to a year. Fresh turkeys can be stored, at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, in the refrigerator for 1-2 days. Leftover cooked turkey can be stored properly covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. We will discuss these and several other ways to store turkey in further detail.

While the methods of storage for your turkey are important, there are several other points to ponder. There are different methods to store based on whether the turkey is fresh or frozen. You should consider the length of time that a turkey has been frozen or thawed and how long leftovers are good for. We will discuss all of these points and other closely related topics, just keep reading!

A roasted turkey with colorful peppers, How To Store Turkey For Thanksgiving - Frozen, Fresh, And Cooked!

Frozen uncooked turkey

Turkeys can be purchased frozen and stored for about a year, according to the USDA. The Butterball Turkey Talk line states that you can store a frozen turkey for up to two years.

The turkey must remain in its original package or other air-tight plastic sealed bag so that bacteria is kept out. If you choose to freeze a fresh turkey, make sure to freeze the turkey by the "use by" date.

Frozen butterball turkey

Considerations for safe turkey transportation

When you purchase a turkey from the grocery store, make sure to consider the travel time from the time that you put your turkey in your shopping cart until you place the turkey into your refrigerator or freezer. If this total time of transporting your turkey will exceed 1 hour, then you should transport your turkey in a cooler.

Forty to 140 degrees Fahrenheit is the unsafe temperature range for turkey, allowing bacteria to form. Keeping your uncooked turkey under 40 degrees and your cooked turkey above 140 degrees will prevent bacteria growth.

Alternative wrapping options

If your turkey is not pre-wrapped, no problem. Other forms of plastic wrap are also suitable for frozen turkey storage.

Vacuum-seal bags are a great option for storing your turkey in your freezer but can be difficult to use because of the size of the bird. If these aren't an option, even a garbage bag can be used if the air is removed from the bag before freezing your turkey.

Refrigerated uncooked turkey

As we just discussed, 40 degrees Fahrenheit is the magic number when it comes to turkey storage. Uncooked turkey can be stored in the refrigerator for about two days after the "used by" date that is printed on the package. If there is no printed date, turkey is good for a couple of days after thawed.

Ensure that your refrigerator is set to lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit to store your uncooked turkey. Once removed from the refrigerator, your turkey should be cooked within two hours.

Considerations for safe preparation

When preparing your turkey meal, ensure that all utensils and surfaces used to cut and handle raw turkey are washed thoroughly with soap and hot water after use. Never use the knife or cutting board used to cut raw meat to cut other foods during preparation.

It is always good to differentiate cutting boards used for meats from those used to cut other foods, such as vegetables or fruits. Tempered glass cutting boards are great for meats, as they do not have cracks or pores for the juices to soak into.

Safe handling considerations

Wash hands often during the handling and preparation of foods, especially after handling raw turkey meat. Keep raw meats away from other foods when handling or preparing on your counter or cook surface.

Do not place cooked turkey on the same plate that contained the raw turkey. You should also change washcloths after cleaning surfaces with raw turkey juice to ensure that germs are not spread to other surfaces in your kitchen.

Considerations for refrigerator storage

Store cooked food separately from raw foods, such as turkey, in the refrigerator to prevent raw food juices from getting into cooked foods. A cookie sheet or pan can be placed under the turkey in the refrigerator to prevent any leakage.

Turkey should be cooked as quickly as possible once removed from the refrigerator. Never place a turkey that has been thawed in the microwave back into the refrigerator to be cooked at a later time.

Frozen leftover turkey

Nothing beats turkey leftovers after Thanksgiving. Whether you wish to use your leftover turkey for soups, sandwiches, or other meals, it can be stored frozen in cubes, slices, or single-size portions.

Leftover turkey can be stored in the freezer for up to three months in zipper freezer bags. Turkey stock can also be frozen for later use.

Roast turkey sandwich with lettuce, tomato and cranberry sauce on ciabatta bun

Other considerations for turkey storage

If plastic zipper bags aren't available for your turkey storage, do not fret. Turkey can be safely stored in other materials, such as the bags shown below.

Wrapping your turkey leftovers in multiple layers, such as plastic wrap and foil, can help prevent freezer burn. Turkey should be removed from the bones before storage and divided into white and dark meat.

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Refrigerated leftover turkey

Cooked leftovers that will be used within about three to four days can be stored in the refrigerator. Because bacteria starts to grow at 40 degrees, cooked leftovers should not be left at room temperature for longer than two hours before being refrigerated.

Stuffing should be removed from the turkey to be stored and it, along with gravy, should be used within a day or two. Turkey should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic zipper bag or a tightly covered container after removing the meat from the bones.

Pieces of boned turkey in bowl

Dehydrated turkey

Dehydrated turkey, also known as turkey jerky, is a great way to use your turkey leftovers. A tasty alternative to beef jerky, turkey jerky makes a great snack.

Turkey jerky can be frozen for six months of shelf life or two months in the refrigerator. It should be stored in an airtight container or bag.

Canned turkey

Another way to preserve and store your turkey and stock is by canning it. Canning is a process that involves heat and pressure to create an airtight sealed container for your food.

Canned turkey is good for up to a year from when it went into the can. It can be combined with the stock for later use in soups, dumplings, or pot pie.

How many days can you keep a fresh turkey before cooking?

Many fresh turkeys have a "use by" date printed on the outer packaging. You can safely store a fresh turkey in your refrigerator until and for a couple of days after that date.

If using the "sell by" date to gauge safely storing your fresh turkey in your refrigerator, cook the turkey within four days of this date. If no date exists, you should plan on cooking your turkey within about two days of refrigerating it.

How long can you freeze cooked turkey?

One of the most important steps that you can take to ensure that your turkey stays as fresh as possible is to remove all air from the freezer-safe packaging. Once you have packaged your cooked turkey in an airtight container or plastic bag, you can safely store it in your freezer for about three months.

Be sure to label your airtight container so that you know when you froze your turkey. When you are ready to use your frozen turkey, ensure that your turkey remains at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below.

Can you eat a turkey that's been frozen for 5 years?

Safety and quality are two separate issues when it comes to frozen food storage. It is safe to eat a turkey that has been frozen for a year or even several years if the temperature of the frozen turkey has constantly been kept at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turkey can be safe to consume indefinitely if correctly frozen but the quality of the turkey will begin to decline after about a year or so. The taste and texture of the meat will likely be extremely poor after five years in a frozen state.

How long is leftover turkey from Thanksgiving good in the refrigerator?

From the time you carve your turkey, you have about two hours before it needs to be placed in the refrigerator. During the time that your cooked turkey is sitting out for serving, it should be loosely covered with foil to prevent bacteria accumulation.

The unused portions of turkey left should be placed into a covered container or plastic zipper bag and quickly cooled to a temperature of lower than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. These leftovers are then good for three to four days.

When should you throw out Thanksgiving leftovers?

Turkey will smell bad or develop a slimy texture when it has gone bad. There are a few rules that you can follow to ensure that it never gets to this point.

Throw turkey out of the refrigerator after four days, stuffing and gravy after two, sides after four, and desserts after three. You should always discard any food that you aren't sure about.

Final thoughts

Thanksgiving meals usually leave you with lots of leftovers. Improper food storage can cause unnecessary wastage of perfectly fine leftovers. To make the most of your turkey meal, follow our advice to ensure the safe storing of your leftovers.

Before you go, here are some other articles that may be of interest to you:

How To Monitor Storage Temperatures In Your Kitchen

Can You Dehydrate In The Cuisinart Air Fryer? [With Tips On How To Do So]

How Big Of A Turkey Can Fit In A 30 Quart Fryer?

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