How to Reheat Turkey to Ensure the Best Thanksgiving (and Leftovers) Ever

Kate Merker
Photo credit: Mike Garten

From Good Housekeeping

Whether you are looking to get ahead this turkey day or you have made it through this year’s Thanksgiving dinner and are looking forward to leftovers, you may find yourself asking friends and family how to reheat turkey. Whether you roasted, fried, or even smoked your bird this year, here is how to keep it tender and juicy, and — most importantly — avoid drying it out.

Photo credit: Mike Garten

How can you reheat a fully cooked turkey? Put it in the oven.

According to my grandfather who owned a restaurant in Queens for decades and cooked and reheated countless turkeys in his lifetime, this is the foolproof way to reheat a fully cooked turkey while keeping it moist and delicious.

He would roast turkeys and then carve them, carefully separating the breasts and the thighs, removing any bones and then slicing them at exactly the same thickness. Next, he would arrange the slices in single layers, a shallow pan, or baking dishes, and drape clean dishtowels over the top. He would gently pour simmering chicken broth over the towel just until it was damp. Each dish would get wrapped in foil and placed in a 300°F oven until the turkey was steaming (the USDA recommends taking the turkey to 165°F). He would always warn: don’t mess with the temperature, keep it low or the turkey will become tough and stringy. So that’s what I have been doing and telling people to do ever since.

What temperature should you reheat turkey to?

Like with all meats, it is important that you reheat your bird to 165°F, which is the temperature recommended by the USDA to prevent foodborne illness.

Can you cook a turkey the day before Thanksgiving and reheat it?

If you are like us, you too are on the hunt to get ahead this Thanksgiving. While you certainly can cook an entire turkey the day before and then reheat it, we would suggest getting a jump start on some of the accompanying dishes instead. Make and freeze pie crust, bang out your cranberry sauce, which will keep for at least 3 days, or try some make-ahead Thanksgiving appetizers. If you still absolutely insist on making your bird ahead, roast the turkey as you normally would. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes (tip out any juices and reserve for gravy). Carve turkey, separating the legs, (keeping them separate is the best way of how to reheat breasts, and wings. Separate the drumstick from the thighs, then remove the bones from the thighs (it is easier to do this when the turkey is still slightly warm). I like to keep each piece as intact as possible. The more you break it down and slice it, the greater the possibility of it drying out. Place the pieces in airtight containers and refrigerate overnight. Remove the pieces from the refrigerator. Slice the thigh and breast meat into pieces as even in thickness as possible. Arrange the slices in a single layer in shallow pans or baking dishes and drape a clean dishtowel over the top. Bring some chicken broth to a simmer, then gently pour the chicken broth over the towel just until it is wet. Wrap the dish in foil and warm in a 300°F to 325°F oven until the turkey reaches 165F.

How to reheat small servings of turkey

There are two ways to reheat a small amount of turkey (say if you're building yourself an epic turkey sandwich and want to pile a couple of slices that have been warmed through) and for this, we recommend skipping the oven preheat and using the microwave or stovetop.

In the microwave: cut the turkey into similar sized pieces and arrange in a shallow baking dish (the sides help it steam). Sprinkle with a bit of chicken broth, then cover the bowl. Microwave on medium until heated through.

On the stovetop: Add 1/4 in broth to a large skillet and arrange the turkey in a single layer on top. Cover the skillet, bring the broth to a simmer, and cook until heated through.

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