We show you how to prioritize your Turkey Day leftovers to make sure none of it goes to waste.
After the fun and prep of Thanksgiving Day comes the next hurdle: Using up an absurd amount of leftovers. Which dishes do you need to finish ASAP, and which ones will be fine hanging out in your freezer for a few months? We have the lowdown to make sure none of the food you lovingly labored over will go to waste. A few general rules to get started: Make sure your food is properly cooled to room temperature before storing, and when in doubt, package as airtight as possible to prevent freezer burn.
The type of soup you have leftover determines whether or not they’re worth freezing for the long haul. Soup with pasta doesn’t freeze well—the pasta tends to get super mushy after defrosting, so you’ll want to eat that up first, the days after Thanksgiving. Soup that has cream or dairy in it is also a no-go: It can separate or get grainy when you try to heat it up.
Other soups tend to do just fine in the freezer, depending on how you pack it up. Remember that liquids expand when they freeze, so you don’t want to try to pack that Tupperware to the brim—that’s a recipe for a mess. It’s a balance though; you don’t want to underpack because too much empty space means it’ll get freezer burn faster. Instead follow this rule of thumb: Pour your soup into a freezer-safe container with about an inch of extra space to allow for expansion.
Stuffing is one of the few Thanksgiving table remnants that’ll get better if you store it away. Make sure to freeze it up in small batches so that you don’t have to thaw out a whole family-sized portion each time. Pro tip: Heat stuffing up in your oven instead of the microwave—this means less sogginess and an overall fresher taste instead of a sad leftover-y flavor.
Remember our rule of thumb: If your gravy is cream or dairy based, it’s not going to do well in the freezer and will separate and get grainy; make sure to use it up ASAP. If your gravy is flour-based, it should be fine in the freezer for a few months. Freezing gravy in ice cube trays means it’s easier to portion and serve without having to thaw out a huge batch.
Leftover turkey can freeze well as long as you make sure to separate the meat from the bones and portion it into bags or airtight containers to prevent repeated thawing and freezing that can lead to spoilage. Don’t want any of the bird to go to waste? You can save those bones to make a flavorful and versatile stock for soups.
As if you needed an excuse to indulge, for a pie that’s already been baked and cut into, it’s best to try to finish it up ASAP—they’re not going to weather the freezer well. Cream-based or custard-based are especially bad at freezing—they’re prone to separate when you try to defrost.
If you truly have an insurmountable surplus of a fruit, pumpkin, nut, or other well-stabilized pie (can’t relate), make sure to tightly wrap the pie in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn. When you’re ready to eat it, let it defrost in the fridge, and then bake in the oven for a few minutes to crisp up the crust again.
As irresistible mashed potatoes are at your Thanksgiving dinner table, they aren’t the greatest after a stint in the deep freeze, especially if you were heavy-handed with the butter and cream. You’ll want to eat these up, ASAP. Freezing them changes their texture entirely, from fluffy and creamy to grainy and mealy. Mashed potatoes aren’t looking too appealing the next day? Transform them into Cheesy Leftover Mashed Potato Waffles or use on top of a Shepherd’s Pie to break up the spud monotony.
Super versatile, cranberry sauce freezes exceptionally well, so there’s no pressure to finish it up fast. Make sure to freeze it in small airtight containers or even in an ice cube tray for easy serving and thawing, and you’ll be able to enjoy it for weeks to come in other sweet and savory dishes.
Bread tends to freeze relatively well, but if you’re looking for optimal moisture and bread that won’t defrost into a stale and crunchy state, whole loaves work better than slices or rolls. Just make sure to wrap whatever you’re working with as airtight as possible and leave no corners exposed to prevent unpleasant freezer burn. Also important: unleavened breads like flatbreads are usually a no-go for the freeze—because they don’t have as much fat as leavened breads, they tend to dry out and get cracker-like in the freezer.