How to Freeze Thanksgiving Leftovers

How to Freeze Thanksgiving Leftovers

Congrats! Thanksgiving dinner was a success and now everyone is now recovering from the enormous meal by relaxing (read: snoozing) in almost every room in the house.

But in the kitchen, there’s a mountain of leftovers! You know trying to send leftovers home with your relatives is only going to make a small dent in what’s left.

So now what?

You could let the leftovers go bad in your fridge, but that would be a sad waste of the food you worked so hard to make.

You could increase your calorie intake for the next few days, but that’s not exactly a good idea. Or, you could simply freeze most of the leftovers.

This is your guide to freezing Thanksgiving leftovers.

And the basic rules are simple: Don’t defrost and then re-freeze food, and try to save food in an airtight glass container that is both oven and microwave safe.

1. Turkey

roasted turkey | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: 3 to 4 months

You can only eat so many leftover turkey sandwiches. After a few days, freeze what’s left of the turkey.

For safety reasons, you should only defrost as much as you’ll be able to eat at one time, so freeze small portions into separate containers.

Add some broth to help prevent the meat from drying out. Reheat the turkey at 325° F until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° F.

2. Ham

carving ham | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: 3 to 4 months

Leftover ham is slightly trickier to freeze than turkey because it dries out more quickly.

Freeze it in an airtight container or in a vacuum pack. Reheat it in an oven-safe container, covered with foil, at 325° F until the internal temperature is 165° F.

Only reheat as much as you will eat in one sitting.

3. Stuffing

turkey stuffing | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: 1 to 2 months

Stuffing is the glue of a Thanksgiving meal, and it can be reused in recipes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Both bread and grain-based stuffing store best in an airtight container, and can be reheated in the oven at about 325° F.

4. Mashed Potatoes

plate of mashed potatoes | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: Up to 1 year

Depending on the recipe, mashed potatoes can stay frozen for about a year.

If they were made with butter, dairy milk, sour cream, or heavy cream, they will freeze well in an airtight container or freezer bag, and can be reheated in a microwave or oven at about 350° F.

Separating the mashed potatoes into single-serving sized balls will allow you to defrost only as much as you need at one time.

However, if the mashed potatoes were made with broth, avoid freezing them because ice crystals tend to form, making them watery when defrosted.

Convince your guests to take these or enjoy them within four days of the day you made them.

5. Sweet Potatoes and Yams

sliced yams | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: Mashed – Between 3 and 4 months; Whole – Up to 1 year 

If you’re stuck with leftover sweet potatoes or yams that are mashed or pureed, freeze them in an oven-safe airtight container.

To reheat, cover the container with foil and put it in a 350°F oven until warm.

If you’re left with whole or halved baked sweet potatoes or yams, let them cool completely, and then wrap them individually in foil to freeze, thaw, and reheat at 350°.

6. Green Beans and Brussels Sprouts

green beans | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: Up to 1 year

Brussels sprouts and green beans freeze best when they are plain and haven’t been blanched.

If there is any fat in the mix, like butter, then it’s best to keep them out of the freezer because the fat will separate.

A dish with crumb toppings should also stay unfrozen, because the breadcrumbs will become soft and mushy after they are defrosted and heated.

But if they’ve only been topped with light seasonings, like lemon or garlic, then they’ll do just fine if frozen and defrosted

7. Other Vegetables

roasted veggies | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: Up to 1 year

Most veggies freeze will well if they are blanched first, especially if they are frozen in a vacuum pack.

Stay away from freezing vegetables with high water content, such as lettuce, cucumber, bean sprouts, and radishes, because they will get mushy upon reheating.

If you’re left with an abundance of herbs, chopping them up and freezing them in olive oil for up to two weeks should preserve most of their flavor.

Freezing them in a standard ice cube tray makes it easy to defrost just the right amount. Consider adding one cube to a pan to serve as the base for a sauce.

8. Green Bean Casserole

green bean casserole | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Bad news – this dish is one of the few Thanksgiving recipes that doesn’t freeze well.

Crumb toppings usually become mushy when defrosted, and sour cream and yogurt can curdle and separate when defrosted and reheated.

It can hold for three to four days in the fridge, but after that, toss it.

9. Other Casseroles

sweet potato casserole | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze time: 2 to 3 months

Don’t freeze a casserole if it it’s topped with crumbs, fresh fruit, or herbs. The crumbs will get mushy when defrosted, and fresh produce tends to turn brown.

But, if you can remove the garnishes off before freezing, then this will allow it to be frozen. Casseroles can be reheated in the microwave.

10. Cranberry Sauce

cranberry sauce | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: 2 to 3 months

People are often quite particular about what kind of cranberry sauce they like on a Thanksgiving spread.

It might be a pain to make a homemade sauce and buy the canned stuff, but either way, it freezes the same.

You can freeze large portions in an airtight container, or individual servings in an ice cube or muffin tray. To defrost, heat the cranberries on low in a saucepan.

11. Gravy

gravy | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: 3 to 4 months

There are seemingly endless variations of gravy, and depending on its base, it will freeze differently. Gravies that are thickened with flour or cornstarch will freeze well.

But gravies that have been thickened with fat (like a roux) will separate when defrosted, so avoid freezing these.

Similar to cranberry sauce, gravy can be frozen in an airtight container, freezer bag, muffin tin, or ice cube tray.

When you’re ready to use it again, defrost it in a saucepan on low.

12. Soups

bowl of pumpkin soup | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: 2 to 3 months

Soups with a cream or high-fat base, like chowders and bisques, tend to separate when defrosted and are best left unfrozen.

However, broth-based soups, like vegetables soups, will freeze the best.

If you freeze the leftover soup in an airtight, microwave-safe container, just pop it in the microwave to defrost.

13. Pie

sliced pumpkin pie | how to freeze thanksgiving leftovers

Freeze Time: 2 to 3 months

If by some chance you manage to have leftover dessert, you don’t have to worry about it going to waste.

Wrap pumpkin, pecan, apple, or sweet potato pies tightly with plastic wrap or place them in an airtight container and pop them into the freezer.

Thaw it in the refrigerator and reheat in the oven, but only thaw as much as you’ll eat at one time.

However, don’t keep custard or cream pies past three to four days, as they tend to separate when defrosted.


For more inspiration on how to use the leftovers you can’t freeze, check out these 10 recipes!