How to reheat turkey leftovers and keep them moist

This past weekend was the unofficial launch of the holiday season for us. There were are few small signs to note the commencement, though nothing particularly unusual for a late November day.

I planted a Christmas amaryllis and placed it on a warm window sill, to be turned each day. From deep in the walk-in closet, I unearthed strings of lights for the eves and a wreath, for the front door. While the boys rakes the last of the leaves in the back yard, I baked shortbread in the kitchen and sent out hot cocoa to warm their tummies.

In the evenings, I splashed cranberry syrup in a glass with a little gin and tonic and sat down to plan, really plan, my cookie swap, as well as make a list of holiday baking essentials. For Sunday dinner dessert I opened up a jar of mincemeat and serve mini tarts with tea. It felt like the right thing to do.

These are the day of shortbread and spice, cocoa and cranberries. It’s a time of careful list making and time-saving tricks, like today’s post for storing and reheating turkey while still keeping it moist. It’s a classic kitchen trick, nothing I can take credit for, but a solid one, nevertheless, and a tried and true method  used by my mother-in-law every Thanksgiving and Christmas.

How to reheat turkey (and keep it moist) on

Seeing as our numbers can reach as high as 40 or 50 on major holiday’s, Danny’s step-mother cooks her turkey (sometimes two) the day before the dinner, carves them completely, and packages them between lettuce leaves as shown. The lettuce  prevents the meat from drying out, both overnight and during the reheat.

Roasting the bird, and getting the carving out of the way is a huge time-save on Thanksgiving or Christmas day. It also means the gravy can be made in advance with the turkey drippings.

So if you are considering roasting a turkey in advance, or simply hoping to reheat leftovers, this method is for you.

  1. Carve the turkey and slice into portions.
  2. Line an oven-proof dish with iceberg lettuce.
  3. Layer turkey inside the dish.
  4. Drizzle turkey with a little turkey or chicken stock.
  5. Top turkey with more iceberg lettuce.
  6. Cover dish tightly with foil and chill.
  7. Preheat oven to 350F.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes with foil and lettuce intact
  9. Check if the turkey is heated through.
  10. If hot enough, transfer turkey to a platter and discard the lettuce. Serve at once.

Reheating time will vary depending on how many pounds of turkey you are warming. Check it frequently and watch that it doesn’t goo longer than needed. All the lettuce won’t matter if you roast it far too long!

Now, are you all set for roasting a turkey or do you need my handy printable tutorial?

How are you gearing up for the holiday season?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. Lovely, thankyou for this tip! This year we actually have 2 turkeys… due to a turkey-purchasing blunder/misunterstanding between myself and my Dad. LOL! So we’re cooking BOTH of them! AAAND will have a ton of leftovers… this is perfect advice. Thanks!

    Also, don’t forget the option of soup! We’ll definitely be making a ton of it this year! I just got done posting a super-simple recipe.

  2. Sounds perfect! Hoping that you’ll have a little tutorial on how to carve the turkey as perfectly as the one in the photo!

  3. Great tips, Aimee! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  4. What a great idea Aimee! Totally just sent this to my mom. No dry turkey sammies for us!

  5. LOVE this!! Totally sharing this with my readers later today. Did not know this trick – I love this!

  6. So cool. Who would have ever thought. Thanks for great tips!

  7. Great tip, Aimee! Loved reading about all your holiday Christmas preparations – you’re kids and husband are so lucky to have you!

  8. Wow, that is an interesting tip!

  9. Great tips!

  10. Very smart & I totally needed this post girl 🙂

  11. This is blowing my mind – what a great trick! Good luck with the big snow. Just clearing out from our first ‘dump’ of 70 cm here in London, ON. Kids were really happy…! : )

  12. I love this tip Aimee. It’s genius. Reading over your post I’m wishing I was having dinner at your place.

  13. I usually steam my leftover turkey, but your way sounds so much better!

  14. The lettuce is such a great tip! Thank you!

  15. I used cabbage because I didn’t have any iceburg lettuce. It worked well.

  16. what I would like to know Aimee, have you ever used this idea and frozen the turkey? I’m having to bake my turkey this week and am looking for freezer ideas. If I try this before you respond I’ll post about the success/failure I get.

  17. Hi – I am making 3 turkeys for Thanksgiving this year and am doing them the day before this year. When you carve the bird do you let it cool completely first? Also, if you don’t do you put the warm bird on the lettuce or let it cool? Thanks!

    • Good question! Definitely don’t carve a hot bird, let the juices return to the meat (resting period). I think it would be fine to carve it warm or cold. And it should be packed COLD into the lettuce. Happy Cooking!

  18. I tried this and the turkey tasted lke wet lettuce, really nasty….

  19. I have tried this in the past and it works like a charm!
    Can you freeze it like this and get the same results?

  20. Ever do the lettuce tip with ham?

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