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Thanksgiving

How Long Does Leftover Turkey Last?

Left with too much turkey? We’ve got some ideas for how to use it up, and how to know when it’s time to toss it.
By Published Nov. 24, 2022

You really outdid yourself on that Thanksgiving turkey. Crackly skin over tender meat richly spiced with fresh thyme and parsley . . . the guests loved it. But, unless you were feeding a small army, chances are you have some leftovers.

Even stored properly in an airtight container, leftover turkey won’t last forever. But how long will it last? Can you freeze it?

Don’t worry. We’ll answer these questions and give a few suggestions on what to do with those leftovers.

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How long can leftover turkey stay in the fridge?

From a food safety perspective, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), turkey can stay in your fridge for three to four days. After that, you run the risk of dry, leathery meator worse, foodborne pathogens.

You don’t want your turkey to dry out while it’s in the fridge. To make sure you’re getting the best out of your leftover turkey, it’s important to store it properly. You’ll want to store the leftover turkey in an airtight container to avoid off flavors and keep the meat moist.

If it’s been more than three days, my colleague Sam Block found that turkey is a protein that actually freezes well (even the carcass for eventual stock). The USDA warns that turkey left in the freezer for more than three months begins to lose moisture and flavor. So, don’t forget about those leftovers.

Uses for Leftover Turkey

So you’ve got four days. After you’ve reheated the turkey for a recreation of your Thanksgiving meal, you’re probably looking for more creative ideas. Luckily, there are lots of ways to use leftover turkey. Here are some of our favorites.

1. Sandwiches: A turkey sandwich is a post-Thanksgiving go-to. Try decadent, open-faced Prosperity Sandwiches with thinly sliced leftover turkey and sauteed mushrooms topped in melty cheddar cheese. Or, even more out-of-the-box, toss some shredded leftover turkey with a rich sauce for Pulled BBQ Turkey with Red Cabbage Slaw.

Prosperity SandwichPulled BBQ Turkey Sandwich

Prosperity Sandwiches (left) and Pulled BBQ Turkey with Red Cabbage Slaw (right).

2. Pasta: Leftover turkey makes great pasta, too. Our recipe for Turkey Tetrazzini features 4 cups of chopped leftover turkey enveloped in a chicken stockbased velouté, but if you have leftover turkey stock, here is a great place to use it up as well.

3. Salad: After all that dressing, gravy, and mashed potatoes, you may need some fresh greens. Anywhere you see chicken in a salad, turkey can be substituted. Try a Smoky Turkey Cobb Salad or a Turkey Club Salad. Bonus: If you have tortillas, a salad can easily become a wrap.

4. Soup: We have a host of soup recipes specifically with leftover turkey in mind. They can use light and dark meat interchangeably, so whatever is left will work. Turkey Noodle Soup even uses up a leftover turkey carcass with a little white wine for bold turkey flavor. Turkey Barley Soup and White Turkey Chili are some more great options.

Smoky Turkey Cobb SaladTurkey Barley Soup

Smoky Turkey Cobb Salad (left) and Turkey Barley Soup (right).

5. Get Creative: I remember turkey omelets for breakfast fondly. I looked forward to turkey melts, hashes . . . all the ways my grandfather would build entirely new dishes from leftover turkey.

Sam Block developed a sumptuous recipe for Thanksgiving Benedict, featuring all your favorite bits of its namesake. But it doesn’t have to stop there. With some green enchilada sauce and taco seasoning, spice up dinner with Green Chile Turkey Enchiladas.