How Long Does Frozen Turkey Last: What You Need to Know

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If you're like most families, you probably only cook a turkey once or twice a year. That means that you might not be entirely sure how to properly store your turkey so that it stays fresh. After all, nobody wants to serve their family a dry, overcooked turkey on Thanksgiving! Luckily, we're here to help. In this blog post, we'll tell you everything you need to know about storing a frozen whole turkey.

frozen turkey

How to Store a Frozen Turkey

Storing a frozen turkey is actually pretty simple. Just pop it in the freezer and forget about it until you're ready to cook it! But there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, make sure that your turkey is tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or placed in a heavy-duty freezer bag. This will prevent freezer burn and help the turkey keep its flavor. You also want to put it in the coldest part of the freezer. Check your freezer temperature to make sure you food is safe and frozen solid.

If you have a fresh turkey in original packaging you can wrap it up, or use a freezer storage bag as you would with a bird that you bought frozen. The main thing with either is protecting the meat from freezer burn. Make sure you get it frozen before the expiration date. You want to eat it while it is the best quality of meat you can get and not lose flavor.

If you are freezing just a turkey breast or some ground turkey you want to follow the same guidelines. Do not freeze the ground meat on those Styrofoam trays if it comes fresh from the grocery store. At least put the package into a freezer bag, you can do the same for the shrink wrapped tubes of ground turkey that come already frozen.

Secondly, it's important to label your turkey with the date that you froze it. That way, you'll know exactly how long it's been in the freezer and can plan accordingly. Most turkeys will stay fresh in the freezer for up to two years. However, we recommend cooking it within the first year for the best flavor and texture. 

Finally, when you're ready to cook your frozen turkey, make sure to allow enough time for it to thaw properly. The best way to thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, placing it on a tray or plate to catch any drips, your roasting pan may be the only thing large enough to contain it, so make sure you have plenty of room in the refrigerator the week before you plan on cooking a turkey.

Allow 24 hours of thawing time for every four to five pounds of turkey. So, if you have a 10-pound turkey, you'll need to allow it to thaw for three days before cooking it. 

You can also use a cold water method for thawing if you are short on time. You want to place your frozen bird in the sink and cover with enough cold water, never use hot water for this step. Getting the meat too warm can cause food poisoning. You want to change out for fresh cold water and turn the turkey over every half hour to keep it chilled at a safe temperature. Using cold water usually takes about 30 minutes per pound of turkey. You must keep it chilled the entire time and keep changing the water for food safety. Thawing in the refrigerator for a few days is the best choice but the cold-water method can be done safely.

How long can you keep a turkey in the freezer before it goes bad?

A turkey can be stored in the freezer for years, but for it to still have a good flavor and texture cook it within a year. It is a good rule of thumb to check and make sure you don't have any turkeys from last year before buying a new one. Get the older ones cooked and don't have too many on hand. If you have one in the freezer for more than a year there is a significant loss of quality of the turkey flavor and texture.

If you have any leftover turkey you can package it well and freeze it once it is cooked. I would not keep this in the freezer quite as long but it is good for things like the bones if you want to make soup in the winter months, I often freeze the bones and some meat because I feel like we get tired of leftovers quickly in our house. Make sure to wrap in aluminum foil and then use a good freezer bag and put the date on it. I try to use these up within six months, the cooked meats have a shorter storage period for optimal flavor than the uncooked turkey.

Raw Turkey

How long do you keep a frozen turkey in the refrigerator?

Once a turkey has thawed all the way it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days before cooking. So when you are planning your meal and want to make sure the thawing process is complete before the big day.

You could even take it from the freezer and put it into the refrigerator a whole day earlier than you think you need and still be good. This is just a good idea to keep you from finding a partially frozen turkey on Thanksgiving morning because you miscalculated on your thawing time required, or maybe your refrigerator is colder than you think. A thawed turkey is key to making sure you have enough cook time for your Thanksgiving turkey dinner.

For planning you should start calculating your thawing time a week before Thanksgiving or when you buy your turkey. Decide how long you will need for the refrigerator method since refrigerator thawing takes longer than the cold water method. Once you have done calculations you should set a reminder in your phone or write on your calendar “Thaw Turkey” so you don't miss your day to transfer a large turkey from the freezer to the refrigerator, give your bird plenty of time to thaw.


Now that you know how to store a frozen turkey, there's no reason not to take advantage of sales on Thanksgiving turkeys! By freezing your turkey, you can save money and time while still serving your family a delicious Thanksgiving meal. Just make sure to give yourself enough time to thaw the turkey properly before cooking it. And if you have any questions about how long your particular frozen turkey will last, don't hesitate to give us a call! We're always happy to help.

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