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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Roasting a whole turkey when I don't have a crowd to feed

Whole turkeys are a steal for meat, when bought during the holiday season, and stored in the freezer, even at the higher price per pound that we've seen in recent years. (I paid about 50 cents/lb last year for each of my turkeys.) But after the holidays, with only a small family to feed, we're not as thrilled with leftovers that last for weeks (I can get 8-10 family meals from a 20 lb turkey).  The last of the turkey is often the bits and scraps that we don't care for as much, like back meat, or the wings.

All that aside, I like the savings of having an extra whole turkey or two, for roasting during non-holiday periods. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I clear some space in the freezer for one or two extra turkeys. Then when the turkey deals come out, I buy three turkeys, roast one for the holiday and freeze the others, raw in their packaging from the store, with no extra attention to wrapping. Over the years, I've only had one turkey ever have signs of freezer burn, and that was one small-ish patch on a turkey that had been stored up against a frost-free freezer wall (where the heat cycles on and off to keep the freezer frost-free), for over a year. I typically roast the last of my extra whole turkeys in September each year, just after the weather has cooled and heating the kitchen with the oven is welcome, but still long enough before our Thanksgiving that the whole turkey, then, still feels novel.

This week I roasted my last turkey from Thanksgiving 2016. To circumvent my dislike for several meals of what we think of as the inferior parts of the turkey in the freezer-leftovers repertoire,  I actually cut off and froze what we think are the best parts -- the breasts.

When the turkey was roasted and ready to carve, my first step was to carve off one and a half breasts, as close to the bone as I could. I wrapped these pieces and tucked them in the freezer. For our family, one and a half breasts is about 3 family meals, with lunch leftovers. I kept the breast pieces in half-breast slabs, to hold in juices and flavor.

When I made the gravy, I also froze 3 containers of it, ready to go. What tackling the turkey this way does is force me to use the less-palatable portions of the bird, in the early days, when we're still happy-enough to be having so much turkey. And it gives me ready to go options for some of the leftovers, like simple, sliced turkey in gravy. (Basically, I made three convenience meals for our family, with little extra work.) I will still have some of the smaller bits of meat to use in pot pies or soups, but we will plow through much of that today, tomorrow and Friday.

I thought I would pass this on in case you have some of the same sentiments concerning roasting a whole turkey in the non-holiday season.

My advice if you buy extra turkeys for the freezer, keep them in an interior spot in the freezer, away from a wall, floor or ceiling of the freezer, where the temps can be more variable. According to the USDA, a whole, uncooked turkey will be safe to eat, if kept at 0 degrees F, indefinitely -- "Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe. Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage." The agency goes on to say that, for best quality, however, use within one year. (for more info on food safety, visit the USDA site)


  1. You and my husband should shop together. He was the one who introduced me to the concept of buying up turkeys and ham when they are at rock-bottom holiday prices, and then cooking them at non-holiday times. Turkey is not one of my favorite protein sources, but we typically use the leftovers in casseroles or soups and for that purpose, it's fine. Good advice on freezer storage. :)

    1. Hi Kris,
      I'm not a huge fan of the turkey flavor, except the breast meat. I do as you do, with the rest of the meat, use in casseroles, pot pies and such. It hides the turkey-ness. I think I have a ham in the freezer, too, from last year! Shopping the holiday sales is a great way to buy meat to use at non-holiday times.
      Have a great day, Kris!

  2. Hi Lili,

    Turkey sounds really good right now! I do have one in my freezer that my mom gave me last year. Dad can't have turkey as it gives him gout so I can't have them over for dinner either. I didn't use it then because I had bought one of my own. I should probably roast that thing right now and then portion it out for future meals just like you do. It will also make a bit more room in my freezer which is filled to the brim.

    I think roasting it sounds good, then I'll debone whatever I can, and then I'll use my pressure cooker to make a bunch of stock.

    It's quite warm here right now in Michigan 80 - 90 degrees all through mid-week next week. I may wait to do it when it cools off a bit.


    1. Hi Alice,
      wow, that is warm! In contrast, our house is struggling to stay above 62 F this morning. Enjoy the last bit of summer while you can.
      That sounds like a good plan, to roast your last turkey right after the weather turns cooler.
      Have a great day, Alice!

  3. Indian Summer here in CT, with temps to skirt 90 over the weekend. CrazY we just had lows of the 40's overnight about 2 weeks ago! I also love to stock up on turkey/ham/roasts/whole chicken when I get a great price. I now have 3 hotel style turkey breasts, one ham (thinking Xmas) and several roast beef in the chest freezer.

  4. Yum turkey:) I do not have one left from last year. We just have the freezer over the frig. That sounds so good. We had a sort of Greek chicken salad with orzo and olives over a bed of greens. It was really good. I like to make cold turkey salad with part of the left over Turkey.

  5. Sometimes, I stock up and sometimes I don't because I don't always cook them in a timely manner. But it is really nice to have cooked turkey to grab for meals. We'll see how the prices are this year.

  6. We also buy them ahead and roast them several times throughout the year. This year we have one "bonus" turkey still left due an older friend of mine deciding she doesn't want to lift them in and out of the oven anymore (disability, not laziness). So she gave me a turkey she had in her freezer. Waiting till it cools a bit to roast it--96 plus oppressive humidity doesn't make it appealing, but next week we're supposed to have a cold front and get down to mid-70's.


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