Top Tips for Storing Thanksgiving Leftovers


I bought my Thanksgiving turkey from Costco last week, and I didn’t bat an eye when I hauled the 25.63-pound frozen bird into my cart.

Mind you, I am cooking for five people this week. Yes. Five. It wasn’t until I got home and tried to shove this beast of a bird into my refrigerator that I realized I had just bought five pounds of turkey per person.

Clearly math is not my best subject (or I would have settled for a turkey in the 12-15 pound range), so I will find myself with an abundance of leftovers tomorrow. I spent last weekend preparing for the aftermath of roasting a 25-plus pound turkey, and I found some good information—I’m passing along a few tips in case you find yourself in the same boat.

Here’s hoping the bird will actually fit into my oven tomorrow morning. At 4:00 a.m.

What to do today:

  1. storingMake sure you have plenty of bags and containers. Food safety experts recommend saving food in smaller-sized, flat-shaped batches, so I stocked up on both quart and gallon-sized freezer bags. I also went through my cluttered cupboards and matched all my containers with their respective lids to be sure I could pack up the leftovers soon after our meal is over. And I bought various sizes of reusable/disposable containers for sharing leftovers with guests.
  2. Plan how you’ll use your leftovers. Will you make turkey soup or enchiladas the next day? Or will you be hitting Black Friday sales all day and taking a break from the kitchen? If you don’t plan to use your leftover turkey by Saturday, freeze it. You’ll be able to keep it safely in your freezer for about four months, but really, it shouldn’t stay in your fridge for longer than a couple days.
  3. Make room now. It’ll be a lot easier to store away your leftovers if you clean out your fridge and freezer ahead of time.


What to do after your meal:

  1. Break down the bird. Your best strategy is to break down your turkey into smaller pieces before refrigerating it. Tear off the legs at the joints (if they’re not already disconnected). Carve off what’s left of the breast and back. Put the turkey you’ll use within the next few days back in the fridge and freeze the rest.
  2. freezerFreeze in portion sizes. If you’ll be using leftover turkey in recipes (like I will be for the next three months), tear up the turkey before freezing, and package it according to the amount you’ll need for each recipe—don’t try to freeze the whole amount in one bag. Store shredded turkey in freezer bags and stack bags flat in the freezer. Never freeze in glass containers.
  3. Practice good food safety. Some of this is common sense (like, don’t leave food on your dining room while you go out to shop for five hours), but other things are less obvious. Believe it or not, over 400,000 people get food poisoning from Thanksgiving leftovers each year. Here are some important safety tips:
  • Pack up and store leftovers within two hours of your meal—experts say that two-hour mark is key to preventing bacteria growth.
  • Refrigerate pies that contain eggs (pumpkin, custard and cream pies). Fruit pies can be kept at room temperature for two days; refrigerate them and they’ll last two days longer.
  • Once you’ve packed up and stored your leftovers, keep the refrigerator door shut for a while. It takes some time to cool the food down to a safe temp.

Any other advice you’d like to share? Let us know how you’ll be using your leftovers.



53 thoughts on “Top Tips for Storing Thanksgiving Leftovers

  1. Thanks for the tips…I have always been worried about putting things away right away after eating since I had food poisoning from a hamburger that my grandparents left out for too long. Planning on how to use leftovers is a good thing to think about also..we have never done that.

  2. Always love to have leftovers..especially the turkey. I freeze individual portions to use in recipes and also just when I want a turkey sandwich!

  3. We have a bunch of people coming over and they know to bring their own containers for taking leftovers home. We put them in the fridge after filling them and leave them there until it’s time for them to leave.

    • Hi Emi – I used to freeze in glass containers, too, but according to the research I did for this, glass can be susceptible to cracking at extreme temps, even if you leave room for expansion. There IS glass that is made specifically for freezing – tempered glass is safer, from what I learned. But most sources that I consulted warned against using “regular” glass in the freezer. I’m loving my freezer bags better, anyway, because they’re more flexible than glass. :)

  4. Some really good tips! I never prepare beforehand, with enough bags and bowls for leftovers. And then I’m rushing to stuff things everywhere.

  5. thanks for the freezing tips! This was my first year cooking a Turkey, and even with only a 10lbs. bird, it was way more than enough for the four of us :)

  6. We just put wrap over all the serving dishes and shove them in the fridge, looks like we need to rethink this strategy, lol.

  7. Once I package up the meat, I put all the bones in the slow cooker with some onions, carrots, and celery. Add water to the top, put on low for 18 hours, and the next day you have yummy, healthy turkey soup!

  8. Great ideas! I love the idea of freezing them in serving sizes and of planning what you’ll use them for ahead of time! Stuff I never gave much though to :)

  9. Great idea about planning ahead what you are going to do with the leftovers. We usually have so much and have to throw some away eventually. Will try that next year!

  10. thanks for the tips. i always have too many leftovers and end up tossing too much. this year i just gave the leftovers to a friend knowing they would eat them

  11. Thank you for all the great tips!”Make room now” seems to be the one thing I ALWAYS forget to do!! My fridge is a hot mess right now! LOL

  12. You had a lot of great tips.I have a Food Saver machine that I use for leftovers and What little bit of turkey I had left over I sealed up to use later.I found a good sounding recipe for turkey casserole that I’m going to try later.I buy a 12 to 14 lb. turkey and I would have loved to seen your 25 plus lb turkey.

    • Oh my – it was HUGE. My oven rack was bending under the weight of it. I have four big bags of leftover turkey in my freezer as we speak, so the upside is, I have plenty leftover for meals. :)

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