How to Freeze Your Thanksgiving Turkey Leftovers

How to Freeze Your Thanksgiving Turkey Leftovers //

For the first time in five years, I’m not going to be the one making the Thanksgiving turkey this year.  I know I’ve gone on and on about how much I love coming up with the Thanksgiving menu and cooking for my family and friends in years past, but this year, I’m not going to have access to the majority of my pots and pans. Or my dishes. Or a fridge/freezer in which to store leftovers.

Why? Because we’re moving back to Minnesota at the very start of December. Apparently, I am completely incapable of just making one major life change at once, so we are taking on a cross-country move while I’m 6 months pregnant. For more evidence of my craziness, see May 2010, in which I graduated college, got married and moved from Wisconsin to New York. Most people would just do those things one at a time, but not us.

So my Thanksgiving serving dishes are already packed up and stashed in the basement, ready for the movers. I’ve pared down to just my most essential pots and pans, and boxed up the rest. And I’m now on a mission to use up everything in my pantry in the next two (!!) weeks so it doesn’t go to waste.

BUT I didn’t want to miss out on the holiday cooking fun. So I may or may not have cooked up some Thanksgiving turkey anyways…in early October. Yep.

Here’s the thing: I know a lot of you are going to have a TON of turkey left over after your big feast. We’ve already talked about what to do with the bones (hint: make turkey stock!), but what about all the extra meat? Unless you have a giant family that goes crazy for leftover sandwiches and wants to eat them day in and day out for the rest of November, you’re going to want to freeze some of that leftover Thanksgiving turkey. And good news: it is super easy to do. Here’s how.

Three Ways to Freeze Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

For all three of these methods, make sure the turkey is cooled completely before you pack it up for freezing.

1. Diced.

Remove all the meat from the bones, and dice the turkey. Place in a freezer-safe container or bag, and squeeze out as much air as possible as you seal the container. You’ll only want to keep a quarter inch or so of free space at the top, as the poultry won’t expand much. Freeze. Diced turkey will do well in soups and chills later.

2. Shredded.

 Same as above, but shred the meat instead. Shredded turkey will lend itself well to tacos and pasta dishes.

3. In Gravy.

Shred your turkey, and pack into a freezer-safe container or bag. Pour gravy over the top of the poultry, and make sure you leave at least 1/2” empty space at the top to allow the gravy to expand as it freezes. Seal and freeze.

To use, defrost the sealed containers in the refrigerator overnight before using. If you are making a sauce or soup in the slow cooker, you can just toss the still-frozen turkey in the slow cooker as well.

Turkey Stock for Freezing

Make your own turkey stock to get more use out of your Thanksgiving bird! // savvyeat.comLet’s talk turkey. Turkey stock, specifically. Do you toss the turkey bones as soon as Thanksgiving dinner is over, or are you giving them a second life and turning them into stock?

Listen, you put a lot of time, energy and money into that roasting that turkey. Sure, you’ll get to enjoy it for multiple meals – both at the big Thanksgiving feast, and then in plenty of leftovers. But why not extend the use of your turkey a little further, and use the bones to make a turkey stock that you can use all winter long? Bonus: it also allows you to use up all those vegetable odds and ends that you surely generated while cooking all your sides.

Making your own turkey stock is as easy as 1-2-3:

  1. Save your veggie scraps as you’re cooking dinner – carrot peels, onion skins, celery leaves, herb stems. If you’re cooking in advance, just toss everything in a freezer bag and freeze until it is stock-making time!
  2. After Thanksgiving dinner, remove all the turkey from the bones to refrigerate or freeze for leftovers, and set the bones aside. If you aren’t making your stock until the next day, refrigerate the carcass now too.
  3. Simmer your turkey bones with the veggie scraps and maybe a few spices. Strain and refrigerate or freeze.

Easy as that! You’ll need to set aside a few hours for the stock to simmer (the longer it cooks, the more flavorful it will end up being). BUT it is nearly all inactive time, so you can use those hours to digest your turkey dinner, relax after a long day of cooking, or decorate for the next holiday.

Turkey Stock

Cook Time: 3 hours

Turkey Stock

This turkey stock is super flexible, so feel free to alter the amounts of vegetables and herbs to your liking. If you have a bunch of onion skins, toss some of them in the pot. Same goes for the tough green parts of leeks, shallot skins, carrot leaves, rosemary stems or sage sprigs.


  • Bones from one turkey
  • 3 stalks celery OR the leaves from 6-9 stalks of celery
  • 2 carrots OR the peels from a bunch of carrots
  • 4 sprigs oregano OR the stems of 6-8 sprigs of oregano
  • 3 sprigs thyme OR the stems of 5-7 sprigs of oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • Water to cover the bones


  1. Put the turkey bones, celery, carrots, oregano, thyme, peppercorns and optional bay leaf in a large stockpot. Pour in water until the liquid sits around 1" above the top of the solid ingredients.
  2. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 3 hours, up to 8 hours.
  3. Remove from the heat and skim any fat or foam off the top that you can.
  4. Strain the stock. You can either do this by pouring the stock through a fine-mesh sieve set over a large container, or by lining a colander with cheesecloth and pouring the stock through that. Discard the solids and refrigerate the stock.

Make Ahead and Storage

If you don’t plan to use the stock within 3 or 4 days, you'll need to freeze it. Pour it into freezer-safe containers (be sure to leave at least 1" of head space to allow for expansion!) or into ice cube trays to freeze. If you go the ice cube tray route, move the stock to freezer-safe plastic bags or containers once the stock is frozen through. Use within 6 months.

And before we go, one safety note for you: If you plan on using the turkey leftovers or making your own turkey stock, be sure to refrigerate your bird within two hours of it coming out of the oven. If it sits at room temperature for longer than that, dangerous bacteria can multiply, making your poultry unsafe for consumption. Nobody wants that!

PS: Still feeling overwhelmed by Thanksgiving planning? Use this flow chart and planning tips for a low-stress Thanksgiving menu!

PPS: This is the turkey recipe I’ve used for the last four years. It has never let me down!