Gentle reheating with a bit of moisture keeps roast turkey leftovers tender and succulent. Different heating methods work equally well for frozen or refrigerated leftovers, for turkey that was originally cooked at home and for turkey brought home from a deli rotisserie.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you use roast turkey leftovers within 3 to 4 days for the sake of quality and safety, or that you freeze the leftovers for up to 4 months.
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In the Microwave
Reheating turkey slices or pieces takes just seconds in the microwave, but drying out the turkey can also happen in those same seconds. To help ensure that your turkey doesn't become tough, use one or more of these methods:
- Arrange turkey pieces in a single layer or overlap slices slightly. Add a few tablespoons of chicken stock, water or leftover gravy to the turkey, stirring it in so all the turkey is covered.
- Cover the turkey, and microwave on a medium-high power setting.
- Begin cooking for as little as 1 to 2 minutes with a few slices of turkey. Then, stop cooking, check to see if the turkey is completely warm and rearrange the pieces on the plate; or rotate the plate if the turkey needs more heating.
Cut turkey into pieces before reheating to keep the meat from drying out and to allow it to reheat evenly and safely. USDA guidelines caution against reheating whole turkeys and whole breasts, but allow reheating legs and wings.
On the Stovetop
Depending on how much turkey you have to reheat, use either a skillet or a pot, and keep your eye on the process, since it may take only a few minutes to heat the turkey. Use this quasi-poaching method to heat the turkey gently:
- Bring the liquid you plan to use for reheating to a boil, using about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of liquid in a skillet and double that amount of liquid in a pot.
- Once the liquids boil, add the turkey, stir it so all pieces are moistened and reduce the heat to low.
- Cover the pot tightly; let the turkey reheat slowly and gently. Check it every few minutes, stirring to redistribute the liquid.
Cook leftover turkey slices, pieces and casseroles until they register 165 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read meat thermometer.
In the Oven
Reheating in the oven allows you to heat a large quantity of turkey on a baking sheet or in a large roasting pan.
- Set your oven to 350 F.
- Spread the turkey pieces in a single layer, overlapping slices if you need to so all the pieces fit.
- Sprinkle a few tablespoons of liquid to moisten the pieces, and cover the pan tightly with foil.
- Large turkey pieces take from 20 to 45 minutes to reach 165 F, while slices may reach that temperature in 15 minutes. If you have pieces in different sizes, heat the larger pieces for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and add the smaller pieces before returning the pan to the heat.