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It's Christmas time! Which means that most of us will undertake the annual tradition of cooking a turkey and subsequently cooking way more than we can actually eat. But how long does cooked turkey last in the fridge if you simply can't go back for seconds or thirds?
It pays to know just how long turkey can be stored as it can be easy to lose track of the days between Christmas and New Year, but if you cooked a turkey in 2022, you definitely shouldn't be eating it the same in 2023 unless it's been frozen.
So whether you just miscalculated the size of turkey you need or purposely overcooked with leftovers in mind, find out everything you need to know about how to store your cooked turkey.
How long does cooked turkey last in the fridge?
If you know how long cooked chicken can be stored in the fridge you'll be happy to know the answer is broadly the same for turkey too. The general consensus is that you can store cooked turkey in the fridge for 3-4 days, though the answer varies across countries as food standards agencies have issued slightly different advice.
In the US, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (opens in new tab) advise using refrigerated turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3-4 days. This advice is echoed by the National Turkey Federation (opens in new tab) who say that refrigerated meat can last for up to four days. Most chefs we consulted also agreed with this.
The UK Food Standards Agency (opens in new tab), however, advises to exercise caution and to consume refrigerated cooked turkey within two days.
Once you've cooked your meat, cool and cover it for 1-2 hours before placing it in the fridge. "Ideally, the meat should be taken off the carcass and transferred into smaller containers for the fridge (this is because large pieces of turkey will take longer to cool down, increasing the risk of bacterial growth)," advises Jane Cook, founder of food and sustainability blog, Hungry City Hippy (opens in new tab).
How to store cooked turkey
Everyone we consulted had the same answer to this question: in an airtight container, and away from raw meat. Because turkey has the propensity to dry out, choosing the right container is important as you want to retain as much moisture as possible. Ensure that it has fully cooled down before putting it in the fridge. If you want to follow the fundamental rules of a well-organized fridge, store it on the upper shelf.
Can you freeze cooked turkey?
Yes, you can freeze cooked turkey. It will be safe to eat for some time, although both the UK And US Food Standards agencies warn that it should be consumed within two months. After that, the meat is still safe to eat for quite some time, but the quality may have diminished.
Before freezing, ensure the meat is fully cooled down, ideally portioned into small pieces. It can be frozen once it's cooled down or after it's been refrigerated as long as it's not been left in the fridge for longer than the times stated above.
How to tell if cooked turkey has gone bad
A slimy texture or bad smell indicates that the meat may have gone bad.
"Cooked turkey may dry out a little after a couple of days; this is completely normal (and a great excuse to chuck it in a creamy turkey pie or shredded turkey curry)," explains Jane. "However, if the meat starts to take on a slimy texture, to smell bad or change color, don't be tempted to risk it - these are all sure signs that the turkey has gone off. Patches of white or blue-green mold are more obvious signs."
Look out for other changes in texture too. "If the turkey feels sticky, then you know it’s past its freshest days. After that, the meat will begin to smell and taste bad," Jonas Karlsson, Head Chef at Aquavit London (opens in new tab) tells us.
How to reheat cooked turkey
Reheating turkey is easy and most methods don't present any hygiene or safety issues, however, the meat can quickly dry out which impairs the taste - so it's important to retain moisture when reheating it
"I would reheat the turkey by adding it to a nice boiling stew and serve up immediately to avoid the turkey drying out," suggests Jonas.
Broths, stews and curries are all great recipes for cooked turkey as the thick sauces mean the meat is warmed up without drying out. Not to mention, they make great lunch ideas if you're entertaining friends. However, if you'd like to reheat it on its own, you can heat it up in the oven at a low temperature (180C / 365F) for around 30 minutes. If you're cooking it in pieces, pack them in aluminum foil and add in a little moisture like stock, gravy, or butter. If you're cooking the meat whole, follow the same method but use a dish covered with aluminum foil instead.
You can also microwave the meat for speed, simply place it in a microwaveable container with some moisture. This is our least preferred method as the meat does tend to dry out and be less succulent, but if time is your priority, it's undoubtedly the best way. Ensure the meat is piping hot before serving.
What to do with leftover turkey
There are endless turkey recipe options when it comes to cooking leftovers, but our personal favorite is a hearty (post) Christmas sandwich. "I would enjoy the meat cold in a sandwich and pair with a creamed beetroot salad or enjoy in a homely stew," agrees Jonas. You can also fry up any leftover veggies, stuffing or sausages and add them in.
"A leftover Christmas sandwich is the simplest way to enjoy your festive turkey, but I also enjoy cutting up the meat and any leftover veggies, adding them to a large saucepan with chopped tomatoes and whatever spices I have to hand to make a warming and comforting curry," adds a Christian Onia, Head Chef at SUMI (opens in new tab).
Or, if you're feeling creative, think about creating a turkey chowder. "For a perfect way to use leftover turkey (along with any remaining veg and seasoning) without too much effort, how about a hearty turkey chowder?" says Natalie Coleman, Head Chef at The Oyster Shed (opens in new tab).
"Simply shred the leftover turkey and combine with some stock and double cream, along with thyme, bay leaves, potatoes, onion, leek, celery and carrots, plus some crispy bacon lardons for the ultimate Boxing Day meal. Best served with a warm, crusty bread roll – this is comfort food at its finest!"
Anna is an editor and journalist, specializing in SEO and digital content production. First carving her career in communications and advertising agencies in Berlin and Barcelona, Anna's former life saw her work for film studios and inside a fashion house, before she moved to Metro.co.uk (opens in new tab) where her career highlights include heading up the SEO desk during the Covid-19 pandemic. Anna's published work ranges from culture and films to human interest features and live news coverage.
In her spare time, she enjoys watching movies, discovering the next big thing in music, traveling, online shopping, and poring over poetry and magazines. When she's not consuming those things, she's probably writing about them.
Originally from Glasgow, Anna has lived in Berlin, Barcelona, and London, not to mention stints in Guernsey and Athens. When she's not struggling to navigate a new language, she's always chasing the next hot trend and perfect black dress (you can never have too many).
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