Part of the pleasure of a Thanksgiving meal is the aroma of a turkey baking in your oven. Continue that great feeling by safely storing and also planning a variety of pleasing post-holiday meals with leftover turkey.
Store leftover turkey properly to prevent food poisoning. From the time you take the turkey out of the oven, you have 2 hours to serve it, eat it, and then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers - the turkey, stuffing and gravy. Why just two hours? Because bacteria that cause food poisoning can multiply to dangerous levels on perishable food left longer than 2 hours at room temperature.
It is important to take out all of the stuffing from the turkey soon after you remove the bird from the oven. Extra stuffing can be kept hot in the oven at 200 F while you eat, or should be refrigerated within two hours of cooking. Cut the turkey meat off the bone.
Store leftovers properly to prevent bacterial growth. Large quantities should be divided into smaller portions and stored in several small or shallow covered containers. That's because food in small amounts will get cold more quickly. The temperature of the refrigerator should be 40 F or slightly below.
Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. Stuffing and gravy should be used within 1 or 2 days. When reheating turkey, reheat thoroughly to a temperature of 165 F until hot and steaming throughout. Reheat leftover gravy to a rolling boil or 165 F before serving.
For longer storage, package turkey in freezer plastic bags, freezer paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil and freeze. Proper wrapping will prevent "freezer burn." Freezer burn is white, dried-out patches on the surface of food that make it tough and tasteless. Don't forget to date your packages and use the oldest ones first. Frozen, cooked turkey, should be used within 4-6 months, and stuffing and gravy should be used within one month. Foods frozen longer than recommended remain safe but may become dry and lose flavor.
When leftovers have been in the refrigerator too long or if they look or smell unusual, throw them out! Anytime you are in doubt about the freshness or safety of any food, dispose of it.
This is especially important for leftover foods. Dispose of any potentially unsafe food in a garbage disposal or a tightly wrapped package, so that it cannot be eaten by other people or animals.
Turkey makes a great first meal plus delicious leftovers that are easy to combine into a variety of scrumptious future meals. Try turkey year round and think "planned-overs" rather than "leftovers."
Try these delicious ways to use up the remainder of your Thanksgiving turkey: turkey chili, turkey and dumplings, turkey and noodle soup; or turkey and rice casserole. Get the idea?
Take some of your favorite recipes calling for cooked chicken and simply substitute turkey. You have thousands of choices.
Try the recipes below or use them as inspiration for your own!
Turkey and Cranberry Sandwich. Spread cranberry sauce on top of two slices of buttered bread. Place sliced turkey on one bread slice and cover with the other bread slice. Enjoy!
Grilled Turkey and Cheese Sandwich. Add thinly sliced turkey when you make a grilled cheese sandwich. For extra kick, spread a little cranberry sauce on the turkey.
Open-faced Hot Turkey Sandwich. Heat sliced turkey with leftover gravy until steamy hot throughout. For each sandwich, top once slice of bread with turkey slices and gravy.
Dress up the traditional sandwich with Dijon mustard or pesto.
Make a white sauce, add some turkey and seasonings and have creamed turkey on whole-wheat toast.
Go a little Mexican and use diced turkey instead of ground meat for turkey tacos, burritos or enchiladas.
Layer some sliced turkey, your favorite cheese and some sliced peppers between a couple of whole wheat tortillas; grill; top with salsa and enjoy a turkey quesadilla.
Stir fry some leftover turkey with your favorite vegetables. Add some rice and you have a full meal deal.
Make a turkey omelet or quiche for breakfast.
Add leftover turkey to a salad. Try it with mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, toasted pecans and romaine lettuce with a vinaigrette dressing for a tasty treat.
For recipes using turkey, check the 800 plus recipes in the data base of the National Turkey Federation.
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and
consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.