TL;DR Don't defrost your frozen bird in a pool
Anyone is welcome to call the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line to ask about how best to prepare their Thanksgiving turkey, and Thanksgiving Day is the staff's time to shine. "We have 50 people on the phones on Thanksgiving Day, and we will answer 12,000 calls," explained Christopher Clem, a Turkey Talk-Line Expert who has been working the phones for the last four years—and questions can range from how to defrost your turkey to the best way to cook your turkey in the microwave. (Seriously.) But the Turkey Talk-Line Experts are well-trained in all things turkey, not just the cooking part, and are equipped to answer basically any turkey-related question you throw at them—even when it comes to what to do with leftover turkey.
Clem was a great person to talk with about what to do with leftover turkey because Clem really loves turkey. I asked him if he ever got sick of eating turkey, even the day after Thanksgiving, and he laughed. "No, wouldn't that be terrible? For a Butterball person to get sick of turkey?" Clem loves turkey so much that he cooks turkey even when it's not Thanksgiving, and he's truly an expert in how to make the most of your leftover turkey the next day.
But half the battle is storing your leftover safely so it doesn't accidentally make you sick. So here are some tips on how to safely store, reheat, defrost, and eat your leftover turkey, straight from an expert at the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line. And if you somehow still have questions, you can always give them a call or shoot them a message yourself.
Store It Correctly
Being able to use your leftover turkey also means that you stored your leftover turkey properly, which means putting it away as soon as you finish your meal. Or, at least, within two hours. Take the turkey carcass, and carve the meat off the bone. "We don't want to store turkey on the bone or cool it on the bone because it doesn't cool as effectively for food safety."
You also want to store it properly, which means placing it in a shallow layer rather than a big mound. "It cools more effective if we spread things out, cover it with wrap or a tight-fitting lid," explained Clem. You can also use a Ziploc-style bag. "Again, put it in there, but arrange them so they're flat instead of all piled up. They're going to cool better and defrost better that way."
Freeze If Needed
You only have three days to use those refrigerated leftovers, so if you want to make them last, pop those bad boys in the freezer. Just be sure to pack your turkey separately from your other sides, like stuffing or mashed potatoes, before you freeze. And even though the leftover turkey will last a very long time when frozen, "for best eating quality—that's not dried out or freezer burned—let's use them within a month," advised Clem.
Defrost It Safely
Don't defrost your frozen turkey leftovers at room temperature. "Anytime we have things sitting at room temperature, they're in what we call the 'danger zone,'" explained Clem. "Anything between 40º and 135º is a dangerous place for food to be held for any length of time, because bacteria can grow that could potentially make you sick." That's why defrosting your frozen leftovers in the fridge is probably the best option,. "It's more gentle on the meat, so the proteins don't dry out." But if you forgot to plan ahead, you can also defrost it in the microwave, or, "if it's in that zipper-style bag, and it's nicely tight and sealed, we can run it under some cold water, and it'll defrost rather quickly."
Clem did recall one man from Florida who claimed the cold water defrosting method didn't work. "I said, 'Oh, gosh. I'm sorry to hear that. Could you tell me more? What exactly went wrong?' And he said, 'I put it in my pool, and when I went back for it, it was gone.'" Clem laughed on the phone with me as he told the story. "Obviously a dog or an alligator or something came and snatched the turkey." So, you know. Don't defrost your turkey in the pool, especially if you live in Florida.
Now that you've safely stored and defrosted your Thanksgiving leftovers comes the perennial question of what to do with them. One of Clem's favorite ways of serving up leftovers is to make a frittata because, in his words, "A frittata basically welcomes any addition." His favorite—and Butterball's—day-after Thanksgiving frittata recipe involves taking a can of diced tomatoes and whatever leftover vegetables you might have on hand. "With some olive oil in a pan, we're just going to heat through the drained diced tomatoes, the green vegetables, the meat. Just heat them enough to warm up in the skillet, then crack in eight eggs, lightly beaten. Stir it a little to get it to begin to set, slide it into your preheated oven and bake it until it's golden and bubbly." If you're like Clem and prefer something with a bit of spice, try adding crushed red peppers. You can also sub in a couple tablespoons of salsa for the diced tomatoes.
Alternatively, you could just go for the turkey, straight out the fridge. "I personally have no problem with cold meat covered in hot gravy," admitted Clem. "So that's how I reheat it in my household. We have a nice quantity of gravy, we get it really nice and hot, and then pour it over slices of the cold meat and that warms them through, without drying out."
Really, there's no wrong way to eat your leftover turkey if you stored it correctly, so you know it's not going to make you sick.