Just how long CAN you eat that turkey?

Thanksgiving is a great time together with friends and family and brings lots of LEFTOVERS! Along with it comes that "age-old" question: just how long can you eat that turkey?

It depends on what you mean. Are you wondering how long you can keep leftover turkey in the fridge? Or how long can you keep a frozen, uncooked turkey in the freezer? Or how long can you stand to eat leftover turkey? Good thing you are here, because we will address all of the above!

How long can you keep leftover turkey in the fridge?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that:
  • refrigerated cooked turkey should be eaten within three to four days.
  • stuffing and gravy should be eaten within one to two days.
  • casseroles and cooked vegetables should be eaten within three to four days.
  • fruit and cream pies should be eaten within two to three days.
In addition, be sure to:
  • refrigerate all leftovers within two hours of cooking.
  • keep your refrigerator at less than 40°F.
  • put leftovers in shallow containers, preferably two inches in depth.
  • follow the old saying, "when in doubt, throw it out" - regardless of how many days have passed.
An online resource I love to use this time of year is this conversion calculator from Butterball.com. It has several great tools, such as a formula to calculate how big a bird you need for the number of servings you want and how long to cook a turkey (after you have accidentally thrown away the cooking instructions)!

I really feel silly when I throw away the tag that has the weight printed on it. How many times have you had to dig that little sucker out of the bottom of a trash can? Sometimes I can't force myself to do it, so I carry the raw turkey to the bathroom scale and weigh myself with and without a big turkey in my arms to calculate the difference.

Every Thanksgiving, we ask ourselves why we don't cook turkey more frequently throughout the year. Everyone loves eating leftover turkey so much.

I started buying turkey that yields twice the number of servings we need so we have lots of leftover meat. I also buy a couple more frozen turkeys when the price goes down to keep in the freezer for later. Frozen turkey can be kept for up to two years, so why not stock up while it is on sale?

Flavoring your bird
Everyone has their favorite recipe, but if you are still undecided, may I make a suggestion? I have had the BEST reviews from my family when I use a “secret” ingredient from Tastefully Simple: Rustic Herb Seasoning. To cook your turkey the traditional way using this fantastic seasoning, try this recipe: Rustic Herb Turkey.

To brine or not to brine?
I like to use a variation of Tastefully Simple's recipe and dry brine my turkey prior to cooking because it helps the turkey stay moist. If you are not familiar with brining, it is a pretty simple concept. The salt/sugar mix absorbs into the meat, and as the turkey cooks the salt attracts water keeping the turkey from drying out. Brining can be wet or dry. There are many recipes out there, but they all follow the general guideline of mixing salt and brown sugar together with your favorite seasonings.

With a wet brine, it is usually recommended to add one cup of kosher salt and one cup of brown sugar per gallon of water. Usually turkeys are brined overnight, but you need space in your refrigerator to hold it or use a cooler. I have found it much easier and space-saving to use a dry brine.

I combine 1/3 cup brown sugar with 1/3 cup kosher salt and Rustic Herb seasoning. Reserving about 3-4 tablespoons of the mixture for the next day, rub the inside and outside liberally with the mix and refrigerate overnight. It will draw some moisture out of the bird, so make sure to place it in a pan to catch any drippings.

Baste for taste
Before cooking, take the reserved seasoning mixture and mix together with about ½ stick of softened butter. Carefully loosen the skin that covers the breast meat, separating it from the meat without tearing holes in it. Spread the compound butter mixture in between the skin and breast meat and spread whatever is left over the remainder of the bird. Cook as you normally would.

I have gotten RAVE reviews using the dry brine version of Tastefully Simple's recipe. I feel a little reluctant to share my secret to the perfect Thanksgiving turkey, but as long as you promise to share one of your secrets in the comments below, I will be ok with it!

But seriously … those leftovers!
That leaves us with the last question: How long can you eat leftover turkey before your family gets sick of it?

According to food safety guidelines, the leftover turkey should be eaten within 3-4 days. To make sure it is eaten (as opposed to throwing it in the trash), it is helpful to serve it up in creative recipes that freshen it up.

Here is a recipe that will freshen up that leftover turkey: Turkey Cherry Pasta Salad. Yum!
Turkey Cherry Pasta Salad recipe | Tastefully Simple

Another great recipe you can make with leftover turkey is Turkey Cranberry Flatbread Pizza. It uses Bountiful Beer Bread® as its crust and is delicious.
Turkey Cranberry Flatbread Pizza recipe | Tastefully Simple

White Bean Turkey Soup is also a great recipe for using up leftover turkey. The recipe calls for ground turkey, but you can substitute leftover turkey meat.
White Bean Turkey Soup recipe | Tastefully Simple

You can also substitute leftover turkey in this Creamy Turkey Linguine recipe.
Creamy Turkey Linguine recipe | Tastefully Simple

There are many, many more recipes like this in the recipes area. Click on recipes, search for the keyword “turkey” and you will have dozens of choices this November.

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