When it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, I'll obsess over the menu and fantasize over eating those leftovers. But actually planning how to store those leftovers -- that's something I'll usually leave for the last minute. I mean, who daydreams about food containers? But it's worth planning ahead for that. After all, food safety experts say you should refrigerate your leftovers within two hours -- so it helps to have a plan.
Storing those leftovers can seem daunting right after that big meal. But you know what? We're here with a game plan that'll make putting away Thanksgiving a snap! Now get ready to divide and conquer.
Long Before Dinner:
1. Make sure you have plenty of bags and containers. It's hard to estimate how many leftovers you'll have in advance, but look over your containers before you do your Thanksgiving shopping. Does everything have a lid? Do you think you may be short? Do you have a variety of sizes? Do you have small and gallon-sized storage bags? Keep in mind, food safety experts recommend saving food in smaller-sized, flat-shaped batches.
2. Save food containers. We have plenty of plastic ware, but I also keep my jam jars (and their lids!) for storing leftovers. Be creative. BUT: Never store food in opened tin cans.
3. Find out who wants what. A lot of the time you'll have guests and family members who want a piece of that Thanksgiving leftover bounty. Find out from everyone what they have their eyes on. No promises, since there are no guarantees that you'll even have leftovers of everything! But if you have a written list of who wants what that makes it a little easier. Encourage people who want leftovers to bring their own storage containers so no one has to worry about returning anything to you.
4. How soon will you use those leftovers? The food safety rule of thumb is to refrigerate anything you'll use within three or four days. Freeze anything you'll use after that.
1. Using food storage bags: These are great for soups and gravy. Put a gallon bag inside another container. Then pour in the soup or gravy and seal well. Let sit on the counter a minute or two to make sure it's not going to leak. Now the bag will fit just about anywhere in your refrigerator or freezer!
2. Breaking down the bird. You've got a handle on the sides -- now for the big bird. You best strategy is to break down that turkey into smaller pieces. If you cooked your stuffing inside the bird and left it in through dinner, definitely remove that first. Tear off the legs at the joints (if they're not already disconnected). Carve off what's left of the breast and back in big chunks. Getting the turkey back in the refrigerator soon is your main priority, so get those big pieces wrapped/stored and in the refrigerator first.
3. Turkey stock. Once you've got all the meat off the bones, throw the carcass in a big stock put with a carrot, half an onion, a couple bay leaves and pepper corns, and some salt. Cover with water. Let simmer gently, ever so gently, for a couple of hours while you're packing up everything else. Store in bags. But only if you're really committed to making turkey stock! If you're not, don't let that carcass sit out for hours telling yourself that you'll get around to it eventually. If you don't have room for it and all those other leftovers in your refrigerator or freezer just throw it out.
4. Freezing. If you're planning to freeze some of that turkey for future use, most likely you'll be using the turkey for things like pot pies or enchiladas. So you'll want to tear up the turkey before freezing. Take out one big chunk of turkey from the refrigerator at a time, shred completely, and freeze before starting the next big chunk of turkey (unless you've got volunteers to help you shred at the same time). Store shredded turkey in plastic bags wrapped in foil or in freezer bags. Stack bags flat in the freezer. Never freeze in glass containers.
5. Pies and desserts. The general rule of thumb is that fruit pies should be stored in the refrigerator and nut pies (pecan) can be stored at room temperature.
Do you have any Thanksgiving leftovers storage tips?
Image via J Wynia/Flickr