Ah, Thanksgiving. The only day when it is socially acceptable to gorge yourself on the wonderful cooking of your mother. The day when unbuckling your belt and letting your stomach loose is the norm. Our favorite!
And what is a Thanksgiving meal without the main attraction: your turkey? Although you have been preparing yourself for the day that you can finally let loose, you are still bound to be full quicker than you can finish that bird.
It is bittersweet to find that your turkey has not been consumed by the whole family in its entirety — on one hand, you are going to have to deal with the leftovers; on the other hand, you have leftovers to enjoy the next day!
Even with the hassle of preparing your leftovers, taking your turkey for another round is like getting Thanksgiving part 2. It is almost part of the tradition to store these leftovers and whip them out tomorrow for when your stomach has more space to spare.
It can be a tricky thing, though, to keep your turkey as flavorful and as moist as it was when it was first served. Of course, nothing beats your turkey being fresh out of the oven, but you’re still going to get something wonderful out of your leftovers if you put as much care into it as you did the first time you prepared your turkey.
Reheating Your Turkey
There are several ways to reheat your turkey, but some are obviously better than others. It’s quite easy if you have all the equipment, but there are alternatives if you have limited access to some of them.
Unsurprisingly, this is the best way to reheat your turkey. It introduces an even heat from all around which will gradually heat up your turkey without overcooking it further. The goal, generally, of reheating leftovers of any kind is to introduce heat slowly and evenly to the meat.
Through this method, you will be able to retain the moisture by limiting the amount of moisture that evaporates from the turkey. You will also be able to keep the texture if you follow the instructions correctly.
The downside with this method, though, is how long it takes. As mentioned earlier, we are going to have to heat our turkey up low and slow. Block out at least 30 minutes for this method. You can create your side dishes (or reheat them) while you’re waiting for your bird to heat up.
The first thing you need to do is to preheat the oven to 350°F and prepare a rack in the middle of the oven so that your turkey gets an even heat from all around. As your oven heats up, prepare your turkey by slicing it into uniform sizes. Be sure to make it as uniform as possible; remember, we want everything to be heated evenly so that all parts of the turkey are moist and not overcooked.
Place these turkey pieces into your baking dish or any shallow pan. Cover the pieces with chicken broth and add a small dollop of butter on each. This will keep the turkey pieces moist and flavorful. Other methods include placing a clean dish towel on top of the slices and pouring simmering chicken broth until the towel is damp. After this, wrap the baking dish in foil and place in the oven. The aluminum foil will prevent drying edges and will create more of a convection heat (or heat where all sides are evenly affected).
Keep in the oven for around 30 minutes. Make sure your turkey is heated up to 165°F as this is the safe temperature according to the USDA.
This is another great method to make sure your turkey stays moist. It can even improve the texture if you want to make the turkey skin crispier! It’s also much quicker than the oven, so you have to keep an eye on it.
Although this method usually does not introduce heat evenly, there are ways to create the heat convection that is similar to the oven method. Just make sure not to be too sudden with your heating, or else you’ll lose the moisture of the bird. It’s much easier to lose this moisture using this method, but with a few tricks similar to the oven method, you will have a fine dish to serve.
Again, the best way to prepare your turkey is to slice them as evenly as you can. This is to promote even heating and to make sure all your pieces are still moist. Place these slices into your skillet or whatever pan you have and add a bit of chicken stock, enough to almost cover all of the turkey pieces.
Cover the pan and bring to medium-high heat, enough to make the mixture simmer. You can also add some butter if you’d like to add some flavor. You probably will not need to dry up the stock or broth before the turkey gets warm enough; waiting for this will probably dry up your turkey as well.
If you want to add some extra crisp and texture to your turkey, discard the liquid and place some oil into your empty skillet. Place over high heat and, when ready, place your turkey in the pan skin-side down. Cook until crispy.
As you can imagine, the microwave method is the method we least recommend. I usually get such uneven heating with the microwave, not only with turkey but with any food I put in there! Although I do not have the answers as to why this is, we still will try to make the heating as even as we can.
Again, with the leftover turkey that you have, slice it into even pieces. If you have pieces that have the bone in, make sure to place it in a separate container and heat it separately from the boneless parts.
Place these slices into microwave-safe containers and drizzle with chicken broth or stock. Cover it with a microwave-safe lid or plastic wrap with no slits in it. Do not let the plastic touch the meat.
Try to heat the turkey in intervals so as to make sure you aren’t introducing heat that suddenly. Try doing intervals of a minute and turning the dish if your microwave does not have a turntable.
Make sure your turkey reaches a temperature of 165°F because this is the safe temperature for leftover foods according to the USDA (https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/portal/fsis/topics/food-safety-education/get-answers/food-safety-fact-sheets/safe-food-handling/leftovers-and-food-safety/ct_index#). How long it takes for your turkey to reach this temperature will depend on the power of your microwave, so make sure to keep that in mind.
- Slow and steady wins the race
Slow heating is always the way to go when it comes to leftovers in general. With turkey, however, it is much more important to go slow because turkey usually gets stringy when you heat it too quickly causing it to overcook.
If you notice, the temperature mentioned in the oven method is low to follow this principle. The stovetop compensates for its medium-high heat by adding chicken broth or stock which will absorb the heat first before the meat does, almost like a buffer. The same goes for the microwave and the process of heating it in intervals.
- Reheat once and never again!
Well, technically you can reheat turkey as much as you want as long as you heat it to the safe temperature of 165°F. However, the temperatures between heating and refrigerating or freezing are the temperatures ideal for bacterial growth. This means that it gets more and more dangerous to reheat your turkey the more often you do so.
- Add moisture
You’ll notice that I love putting chicken stock or broth and butter alongside my turkey pieces as I heat them. This is to keep the moisture locked into the turkey and even add some more. Adding moisture will make sure that the turkey does not come out stringy and too chewy.
- Cook and Reheat
If you need to prepare a day ahead for your Thanksgiving, you can definitely do so with your turkey! Choose one method from our listed 3 methods and you’ll be fine. This will lessen the stress of trying to perfect your turkey while your family expresses (very loudly) how hungry they are and how excited they are for the turkey.
Thanksgiving will always be a great occasion to show off your cooking skills. So long as you follow the right instructions and make sure your methods are safe, reheating is not a problem at all. Getting a food thermometer will help tremendously as this will help you monitor if you’ve reached the safe temperature.
Make sure to follow the tips I gave you, and you’ll be fine. Happy Thanksgiving part two!