It’s so hard to estimate the right amount of turkey to make for Thanksgiving. With all the filling side dishes and dessert looming in the background, sometimes the main dish earns a smaller-than-expected portion on the plate. The good news is that turkey leftovers taste great—we can think of all kinds of clever ways to enjoy them. That said, it’s easy to overcook leftover turkey, resulting in a dry and unappetizing bite.
You don’t have to suffer from this sad fate, though, because we know best ways for reheating turkey.
How to Reheat Turkey Without Drying It Out
The first step is to store the turkey properly. Don’t just toss it on a plate and stash it in the refrigerator; exposing the meat to air overnight is the quickest way to create a dry crust on the surface. Once cooled, keep leftover turkey tightly covered or—better yet—in a sealed container.
The next step is adding moisture when you reheat the meat. You’ll see in our reheating methods below that we add homemade gravy, chicken stock or butter to the turkey before heating it up. This ensures that juices in the turkey won’t escape as steam when they’re exposed to heat.
Finally, we absolutely recommend covering turkey as it reheats. Use an aluminum foil pouch in the oven, a microwave-safe dish or a skillet fitted tightly with a lid. If the juices surround the turkey meat instead of evaporating off into your kitchen, the leftovers will taste so much better!
Method #1: Oven
This is our preferred reheating method because leftovers almost always taste best when they’re reheated using the original cooking method. That said, you won’t want to turn the oven up as high as you did for the original roasting. We like reheating turkey at 300° F—low enough to prevent the heat from drawing moisture away from the meat, but high enough that it won’t take hours to reheat.
Place your leftover portions in aluminum foil and spoon a few spoonfuls of gravy or chicken stock over the meat. Add a pat of butter and close the foil tightly. Alternatively, you can use a casserole dish, but make sure to cover it tightly with aluminum foil to prevent the steam from escaping.
Cook the turkey for 30 to 45 minutes, until it’s warmed all the way through. When reheating large pieces of turkey, it’s a good idea to use an instant-read thermometer to make sure each piece reaches 165° F.
Method #2: Stovetop
This is our second-favorite method. It’s quicker than the oven, but the turkey turns out juicier than in the microwave. It’s also a good option if you’re reheating skin-on pieces.
Place the turkey pieces in a skillet and add 1/2-inch of chicken stock. Cover the pan with a lid and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-high heat. Simmer for a few minutes until the turkey is warmed through. If you want to crisp up the skin, discard the liquid and dry the pan with a clean towel. Add a teaspoon of oil and heat it over high heat. Add the reheated turkey, skin-side down, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the exterior is crispy.
Method #3: Microwave
This method is great if you’re reheating one or two servings of turkey. It’s really best to cut the turkey into bite-sized pieces first, decreasing the chances of the outside drying out before the inside heats all the way through.
Place the turkey pieces in a microwave-safe container. Add a few spoonfuls of chicken stock and a pat of butter. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. Cook the turkey on 70% power for one minute for each reheated pound.
Reheated turkey can taste so juicy and delicious, it might be worth roasting an extra Thanksgiving turkey just to make sure you have leftovers!
How Many Times Can You Reheat Turkey?
It’s not a good idea to reheat turkey more than once. Technically, as long as it reaches 165° F each time, it’s safe to eat. That said, every time you heat and cool food, it passes through the danger zone (between 40° and 140° F). Bacteria thrive in this range, and giving them multiple opportunities to grow just isn’t a good idea. It’s best to err on the side of caution and reheat leftover turkey only once.
Can You Cook a Turkey the Day Before and Reheat It?
Absolutely! If you’re looking for a stress-free Thanksgiving, go ahead and roast the turkey and let it rest like normal (or use our flavorful grilling method). Then, carve it and cover it tightly with a lid or plastic wrap before placing it in the refrigerator. Reheat it using one of the methods above, and dinner is served. The oven method works best here, mostly because it fills your kitchen with the irresistible aroma of cooked turkey. Your dinner guests will think you spent all morning cooking!