Anyone who's ever served a holiday dinner knows that one of the best parts of hosting the feast is the leftovers. Smoked turkey once was a country pleasure. But today, thanks to sleek, family-sized smokers this succulent dish is served at suburban and urban celebrations as well. It can even be ordered from the most upscale purveyors of meats and poultry. Even the leg, which is not as versatile as the turkey breast, can make great leftovers provided you know how a few "down-home" tricks.
Things You'll Need
- Cooked turkey
- Oven-proof or micro-proof pans
- Paring knife
- Conventional or microwave oven
Consider the lowly turkey leg. This is the part of the bird that, when roasted traditionally, is often the orphan of the feast. Its tendons cook hard and it usually ends up being given to an older child who loves to be able to pick it up and munch away, pretending that he's on a "reality" show. Smoking the bird, however, is a slow-cooking process that breaks down the substances that make those sword-like tendons stiffen. The end result is tender and sweet rather than tough and dry. A smoked turkey, like a roasted bird should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Stuffing should always be prepared separately.
Treat leftovers right from the beginning. Leftover turkey should be refrigerated as soon as possible---no later than two hours after it comes out of the oven---and be kept at a temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If possible remove the meat from the bone because it tends to soak up moisture from the meat if left intact. Store the leftover turkey in sealed plastic bags to preserve their moisture content. Legs, with their higher bone-to flesh ratio, benefit especially from this storage technique.
Separate the legs from white meat when reheating smoked turkey. Place in a pan covered with foil and reheat in a 325 to 350 degree oven until the meat reaches a temperature of around 155 degrees. It is not necessary to re-cook the turkey, just heat it to serving temperature. Some cooks add a bit of turkey or chicken broth to the pan to minimize evaporation. Whole turkey legs should probably not be reheated in a microwave. The bone (much like a ceramic coffee mug) can become super-hot, drying out the turkey rather than just heating it.
Reheat turkey leg meat that has been removed from the bone by slicing and placing in an oven-proof dish with a little broth, covering it with foil and heating in a 300 to 325 degree oven just until it's hot enough to use. Heat the leg in the microwave on a low setting for a minute or two, depending on the quantity. Spread it out in a microwave-proof dish, add some broth and cover with plastic film or a lid. Again; the nature of smoked meat does not react well to high heat; because of its high moisture content, it absorbs heat fast and dries out if only slightly overheated.
Put refrigerated turkey leg meat directly into casseroles and pastas, adding the meat to the dish just before it goes in the oven or into the sauce as it heats. Once the meat has been cut into bite-sized pieces, there is no need to heat it separately. It need only be heated to serving temperature.
Tips & Warnings
- An easy way to heat turkey (or vegetables or frozen cooked shrimp) for pasta is to put it into the colander before draining the pasta; the boiling water heats the turkey. Simply toss and add seasoning or sauce for a finished dish. The smoky flavor of the turkey flavors the pasta more thoroughly that when the meat is added at the last minute.
- Frozen smoked turkey should be thawed in the refrigerator, never by faster methods. It must be gently brought to room temperature in a covered container (or bag) to avoid drying.
- Yes, you can use your convection oven to reheat turkey. Just remember that, like the microwave, it heats more efficiently. Adjust time accordingly.
- Turkey must be cooked to 165 degrees Fahrenheit to be safe to eat and keep. It must be refrigerated quickly to be safe to re-use.