Cooking a turkey for holiday celebrations is a big job and a time-consuming procedure. Thankfully, Thanksgiving leftovers can be frozen which means none of your hard work is wasted, saving you money and loads of time in the future.
Ready cooked turkey can be incorporated into many different dishes, from turkey sandwiches to salads, pasta, and casseroles. Having the ready prepared meal in the freezer is very handy on busy weeknights when you need a healthy meal in a flash.
Here is everything you need to know to safely freeze leftovers or uncooked turkey successfully.
Types of Turkey You Can Freeze
Raw turkey can be purchased as a whole bird, or prepared and portioned into white meat, dark meat, ground turkey, and turkey sausage.
White-meat cuts come from the turkey breast. Whole turkey breasts are available with or without the skin, bone-in, or deboned. Turkey meat known as ‘dark meat’ is generally more flavorful and includes drumsticks, wings, and thigh cuts.
Regular ground turkey is a combination of white and dark meat. Turkey burgers and meatballs are made from regular ground turkey with the addition of a binder to prevent drying out.
Raw turkey sausage is generally pork-free encased in vegetable cellulose casings, however, always refer to packaging labels to be certain. Turkey sausage is made from ground turkey with a variety of spices and seasonings.
Traditionally, turkey is prepared by stuffing and roasting the whole bird for a Thanksgiving meal, but there are various other ways in which turkey can be prepared.
Turkey can be brined and smoked, made in a crockpot, deboned for a roulade or turkey-wellington, fried, or even slow-cooked. Turkey meat can also be bought sliced, minced, or deboned and portioned.
Turkey can dry out easily if not prepared and stored correctly. It is often served with gravy or cranberry sauce when eaten as a main protein or sliced thinly and layered onto sandwiches.
Can Turkey be Frozen?
Yes, raw and cooked turkey can be frozen and preserved for a few months in the freezer. It is important to keep the turkey protected from contact with air and moisture to prevent it from drying out and avoid freezer burn.
Cooked turkey should always be cooled to room temperature before freezing. Freezing cooked turkey while still warm will cause large ice crystals to form which will also cause freezer burn resulting in the deterioration of the product’s flavor and texture.
How To Freeze Cooked Turkey
Follow these simple steps if you have too much Thanksgiving dinner leftover turkey:
Step 1: Cool
Cool the turkey to room temperature. To speed up the cooling, you can place it in the refrigerator or slice it while still warm.
Step 2: Debone and Cut
Remove the turkey flesh from the bone as well as the skin. This makes using the turkey much easier when needed. You can either discard the bones or freeze them separately to make stock or soup at a later stage. Once deboned, slice or cut the turkey into the desired size pieces.
Step 3: Bag It
Portion the turkey into the amounts you will need at a given time. Freezing each portion separately allows you to remove what you need from the freezer for one meal instead of having to thaw and use the entire batch at once. Place each portion into a resealable plastic bag.
If you freeze leftover turkey with gravy, pour the gravy over the turkey in the freezer bag. Make sure to leave at least an inch of headspace for the expansion of the liquids during the freezing process.
Freezing the turkey with gravy or cranberry sauce will assist in keeping it moist, however, only freeze gravy if it is flour-based. Cream or milk-based gravies will not freeze well.
Press out as much air as possible and seal the bag tightly.
Step 4: Label and Freeze
Using a permanent marker, label the sealed bag with the date to keep track of how long it has been stored in the freezer.
How To Freeze Raw Turkey
The best way to freeze raw turkey is to keep it in vacuum-sealed packaging to protect it from contact with air and moisture. A whole turkey purchased from the store is usually packaged in air-tight, vacuum-sealed wrapping to keep bacteria out.
Whole turkey can be frozen in the store packaging, however, it is important to check that the packaging has not been broken or pierced and that it is leak-proof. For an extra layer of protection, wrap the packaged turkey in another layer of plastic wrap before freezing.
To freeze turkey portions, thighs, wings, drumsticks, or mince, place the pieces into resealable freezer bags. For mince, strips, or cutlets, portion the meat into smaller quantities for packaging. This way you can prevent having to defrost the entire batch and remove only what you need.
Once packed, press out any air from the freezer bags and seal. Label with the date before freezing so that you can keep track of how long the meat has been in the freezer.
How To Thaw Turkey
To thaw any type of raw or cooked turkey, remove it from the freezer and place the freezer bag on a plate in the fridge overnight. Never leave the frozen meat to thaw on the countertop at room temperature as this will compromise the safety of the food.
To defrost frozen turkey faster, you can also place the sealed bag in a cold water bath, changing the water every 30 minutes.
Freezing turkey not only saves on food waste, and money but allows you to have delicious food ready at the drop of a hat without needing to do much at all.
Whether raw or cooked, portioning the turkey into smaller quantities before freezing allows you to thaw the meat quickly, and avoid having to defrost more than you need. With a tendency to dry out easily, turkey should always be protected from contact with air and moisture when packed for freezing.
Whether tossing the turkey with dressing in a salad or adding it to a hearty casserole, you can thankfully enjoy your holiday cooking labor for months after the festivities by preserving turkey in the freezer.
Up next: How To Reheat Turkey
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