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Monday, October 28, 2013

When you roast a turkey, do you have a hard time using all the leftovers?

I roasted my last turkey from autumn 2012, just a few weeks ago. We ate the traditional turkey dinner on night one, then moved to more creative recipes that use turkey, but mask the flavor with seasonings.

Turkey is by far the least expensive meat in our area, if bought on sale in the fall. The problem is, we're not terribly keen on turkey flavor, at least not dozens of meals worth of turkey per year.

Up until a few years ago, my problem was using all the leftover meat.  I would enthusiastically buy up several turkeys. I would, then, happily roast them, one every couple of months. But, the leftovers would linger in the freezer, until I managed, rather reluctantly, to prepare those turkey leftovers for family suppers. Being a reluctant cook is no fun, in my book.

I needed to come up with a better method for dealing with turkey leftovers. This is what works for me, and may work for you, as well.

I season and flavor the leftover meat before freezing, for ready-to-go meals from my freezer, using these turkey leftovers.

Preparing the cooked turkey for the freezer: getting a variety of flavors from one bird

I've discovered that I am more inclined to use the turkey leftovers, if I season the meat before freezing. The meat takes on the flavors of the spices and seasonings, while it freezes, often completely camouflaging the turkey-ness completely.

To give you an idea of how well this works for my family, with teriyaki turkey, my husband never fails to ask if it's beef. And with the Mexi-turkey, used in burritos last week, my son asked if it was chicken or beef, used in dinner. He has a good sense of smell and taste, so to "fool" him, I took as a victory.

Turkey in gravy

The day after roasting, I slice and freeze much of the breast meat, in the leftover gravy. I can usually get 2 turkey-in-gravy freezer meals for 5 people, with the remaining gravy. This is the obvious way to have  heat and eat turkey meals in the freezer.

A day or two later, I pull the remaining meat off the bones, chop, and divide into family meal portions. I season each meal portion right in the freezer container, as I work.

Teriyaki turkey

Some of the meat, I cover with homemade teriyaki sauce and freeze. The turkey will marinate in the teriyaki sauce during freezing and thawing. My usual teriyaki sauce is simply vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic and water to taste. This last batch, I used chive blossom vinegar, for a mild onion flavor.

Cooking this up, I saute some onions and vegetables in a little oil, then add the turkey using a slotted spoon, reserving the teriyaki sauce. I stir a spoonful of corn starch into the reserved teriyaki sauce, and cook until thick, in the skillet with the veggies and meat.

Ready-to-use turkey in onion, sage and celery gravy, for pot pie *or* turkey and dumplings

I use stock that I make from the carcass to cook a thin gravy, season with a lot of chopped onions, celery and crumbled sage. To this gravy, I add some of the chopped turkey meat, in portions large enough to use in turkey pot pie or turkey and dumplings, for the 5 of us.

To make a pot pie or turkey and dumplings, I add chopped carrots, green veggies and diced potatoes, to the container of turkey in gravy. I either heat in the stockpot (for turkey and dumplings), or cook briefly in a saucepan, before pouring into a pie plate (for turkey pot pie). Then, I top with biscuit dough or pie pastry, and finish up the cooking.


To flavor cooked turkey for Mexican-inspired meals, I toss the chopped meat with salsa, chili powder, cumin, a bit of vinegar, tomato paste and some stock, before freezing in 2 to 3 cup containers.

To prepare for burritos or tacos, I heat, adding some chopped green or red pepper, and salt to taste.

BBQ turkey

This is simply chopped turkey in a container with some thin, homemade BBQ sauce. To reheat, I add chopped peppers, and serve on buns or over noodles.

The end result -- by seasoning the turkey before freezing, I actually have to pace myself with using the leftovers, so that they will last a month or more. Now that's a switch!

Why would I buy so many turkeys? You must be wondering.

Each November, I purchase an extra couple of whole turkeys, using the Thanksgiving sales to get a rock-bottom price per pound. Last year, I spent about 30 cents per pound for whole, frozen turkeys. That's a phenomenal price per pound for meat, in our area.

I keep the extra turkeys in one of the freezers, to roast in months to come. It should be noted that frozen foods of any kind keep longest and best in stand-alone freezers. Freezers that are attached to refrigerators have more frequent temperature fluctuations. This affects the flavor and texture of the food, but not necessarily the safety.

In a stand-alone freezer, expect a whole turkey to retain its desirable texture and flavor for up to one year (according to Jennie-O). For frozen storage of a whole turkey in your kitchen freezer (combination fridge/freezer, set to 0 degrees F), quality will begin to degrade around 8 or 9 months. However, it may still be totally safe to consume. Cooked turkey, kept frozen, has a freezer life of 4 to 6 months.

With that knowledge, I make sure that we roast our last turkey of the year in late September or early October. After roasting these extra turkeys, we'll have one or two Thanksgiving-like meals, and I'll package up the leftovers for the freezer. According to, cooked turkey will keep refrigerated for 3 to 4 days. So, I try to get my cooked turkey packaged up for the freezer in that time-frame.

I'm always looking for new ways to use leftover turkey. Do you have any favorite recipes?


  1. We're eating turkey right now! I buy turkeys in the same way. I'm planning on making curry this week:

    I put it in all sorts of meals!

    1. Hi Brandy,
      Yum! Turkey curry sounds delicious. And this would be a good time of year for me to make that, with apples and tomatoes plentiful!

  2. We like turkey here, so no need to hide the taste. I usually just freeze the meat by itself. However, using some of your ideas would make meal prep easier later.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      I do sometimes simply freeze chopped turkey in stock. That's a nice way to give yourself flexibility -- you can make it into anything you want at the time. I can hardly believe that we're almost to Thanksgiving again!

  3. We like turkey, but it is always nice to have a variety. We do stir fries, quesadillas, pot pies,etc too. This year I want to try to can some of the stock, too.

    1. Hi Shara,
      Home-canned stock would be a great item for the pantry. You could just grab a jar as you needed, to add to soups and stews. Good luck with that!

  4. Shara

    I have canned both stock and meat, which make it so easy to make some of the above dishes without using up freezer space and keeps so much longer. I am currently awaiting sales to do amy annual 're-stock' of turkey meat and broth. have a great week everyone.


    1. Hi Lisa,
      I should really get brave and try canning something other than jams and pickles. My freezers are always bursting! I would love to peek inside the pantries of all of you canners!

    2. Lisa, did you can the meat and the stock together?

  5. I have a turkey from last year as well. I've been wanting to cook it, but I know I need to have an exit plan! Some other things you could make:

    Vegetable Turkey soup, and Turkey Pot Pie. The pot pie would freeze well for sure, the soup, probably.

    Great ideas! I'll have to try some of your suggestions when I get a moment to cook this turkey.

    1. Hi Katie,
      An exit plan -- that's exactly how it feels, isn't it? I always have to choose a week when I know I'll have the full day for roasting, and a second day for taking it apart. The taking apart is my least favorite part of turkey roasting, so having a plan at least gets me over the hump of thinking "what will I do with all this turkey?"

      I should really try making up the soup and freezing it, instead of freezing turkey in stock for making the soup later. Having it all made would be a real convenience. Thanks for the suggestions. Enjoy your turkey!

  6. We are like Live and Learn--we freeze meal-size portions and add them to whatever we are cooking. I like it with BBQ sauce and buns and turkey vegetable soup; I have an internet recipe for turkey stew which my husband and I are "okay" with but my kids love. My husband makes turkey tetrazzini (sp?). My quick-not-great-nutritionally-but-tasty meal is chicken pockets (pre-cooked chicken or turkey mixed with cream cheese in crescent rolls and baked). We also save the stock. I like your mexi-turkey idea.

    1. Hi Kris,
      Oh, I forgot all about turkey tetrazzini. I love that! I'll add that dish to my repertoire with the next turkey. And the pocket sandwiches sounds tasty, too. They'd be really great with a thin smear of cranberry sauce!

  7. Turkey is reasonably cheap here as well, and I never thought about adding Mexican or other flavourings to it, like I do with chicken. Thanks for the idea :)

    1. Hi Liz,
      how interesting (about turkey being cheap there as well). I always wonder if off the North American continent if anyone else eats turkey. But I guess they do! A whole turkey would probably give you enough meat for a season (if interspersed with other meats).

  8. Brilliant, you are so creative Lili

    1. Thanks, frugal spinster!
      Say, I wanted to tell you, I made donuts again today. Some I made as o-shaped ones, but the other half of the dough I made as twists, again. But this time using your method of twisting them. Very neat trick -- thanks! I found I got better with each one, and they held together nicely in the hot oil!
      It;s always nice to learn something new -- thanks again!

  9. I too tire of turkey very quickly and used to dread dealing with leftovers after a couple of days. But then a friend gave me a recipe for curried turkey and it masked the flavour so well that I now look forward to making it a couple of times a year. I serve it with plain macoroni noodles! Yum.

    1. Hi Jayne,
      We enjoy turkey curry, too. But I've never tried it over noodles. We usually use rice, but I'll have to try noodles this year. Thanks for the idea!


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