The Shelf Life of Thanksgiving Leftovers
The classic sandwich of leftovers the morning after the big feast isn't to be trifled with, but no need to rush to finish — or, worse, trash — any delicious leftovers. With a little effort and some helpful tips (below!), you can let your Thanksgiving dinner keep on giving.
The night of Thanksgiving …
- The first step is to pack up the meal. Take the time to pack leftovers into small containers and resealable plastic bags; store in increments suitable for your kitchen needs — the smaller, the better for easier storage and convenience for use straight from the freezer.
- Use freezer- or storage-specific plastic bags and wrap, which are thicker and better suited to staving off freezer burn. Force out as much air as possible, limiting any exposure to the surface of the food, which also helps prevent freezer burn.
- Trash any perishables that won’t keep well, such as salads likely to wilt; hearty greens, like kale and cabbage, will keep for up to 3 days.
- Remove any stuffing from the turkey cavity and store separately.
One day after Thanksgiving …
- Breads will continue to rapidly dry out. Freeze for emergency dinner rolls, or prep into cubes or crumbs; wrap rolls in foil first, then plastic wrap, so the rolls can go straight into a preheated oven once the plastic wrap’s removed. Store in plastic bags with all the air forced out; even frozen, bread has a short shelf life (no more than a month) before it takes on the unpleasant taste of freezer burn.
- Freeze leftovers like turkey, casseroles or cooked grains, if desired, as they can freeze well for up to 3 months. Consider your household needs, and prep before freezing: Shred the meat for use in stews or casseroles, or finely dice to use in a salad or egg dish. Store both grains and turkey in 1-to-2-cup increments. Freeze casseroles by dividing into individual or family-size portions and wrapping them first in foil and then in plastic wrap; store in freezer-proof resealable plastic bags with the air pressed out to delay the onset of freezer burn.
Three to four days after Thanksgiving …
- Cooked vegetables — think roasted, steamed or fried — should be used or consumed. Get creative using vegetables as a filling or topping for foods such as calzones, tacos, pizza or omelets. Any food prepared in a sealed crust — such as dumplings, ravioli or croquettes — may also be frozen on a baking sheet and transferred to a freezer bag to store for up to 1 month.
- Mashed potatoes and leftover stuffing should be used — similar to cooked vegetables — or consumed. Due to the cellular structure of potatoes, whole cooked potatoes do not freeze well, but if mashed or used in a gratin, they’ll keep for up to 2 months. Reheating is best done covered in the oven to prevent dryness, with the cover removed during the last few minutes of reheating.
- Gravy should be used or frozen. Add a spoonful to soups or use as a pan sauce for a quick flavor boost. Otherwise, freeze the gravy in small containers and store for up to 2 months.
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Four to five days after Thanksgiving …
- Baked casseroles, such as gratins or lasagna, will need to be consumed if not already frozen in individual portions.
- Traditional Thanksgiving pies should be consumed. Pies can be frozen, but the texture is likely to change.
Five days to one week after Thanksgiving …
- Turkey should be used or consumed by this point.
Two weeks after Thanksgiving …
- Cranberry sauce should be used or frozen by this point; the addition of alcohol in some cranberry sauces may help it keep for upwards of a month. Freeze cranberry sauce in 1/2 cup increments for up to 2 months — snack-size bags work well and will lie flat for easier storage.
One month after Thanksgiving …
- Any frozen leftovers with signs of freezer burn can be tossed, as once reheated, they will likely have acquired an unpleasant taste.