How do you store a turkey after smoking?

Smoking a turkey infuses it with delicious smoky flavor, but proper storage after smoking is crucial to keep your turkey safe to eat. There are several steps you should take to properly store a smoked turkey and retain maximum flavor and moisture.

Quick Tips for Storing a Smoked Turkey

  • Let the turkey rest at room temperature for up to 2 hours before refrigerating.
  • Store the turkey tightly wrapped in aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
  • Refrigerate within 2 hours of smoking.
  • Use within 3-4 days for maximum freshness and flavor.
  • Freeze for longer term storage up to 2-3 months.

Letting the Turkey Rest Before Refrigerating

It’s important to let your smoked turkey rest at room temperature before you refrigerate it. Resting allows the juices to redistribute evenly throughout the meat. If you refrigerate too soon, the juices will pool in the center and the edges of the meat will become dry.

Leave your smoked turkey out on the counter or another safe surface for up to 2 hours before refrigerating. This gives the juices enough time to absorb back into the meat. Leaving it out any longer than 2 hours is unsafe due to bacteria growth.

Wrapping the Turkey Properly

Make sure your turkey is tightly wrapped before refrigerating or freezing. This helps prevent freezer burn which dries out the meat. It also contains the smoky aroma and flavor.

Aluminum foil is the best option for wrapping. Make sure the turkey is fully enclosed with no gaps in the foil. Plastic wrap also works well. Wrap it tightly along the entire surface of the turkey.

You may want to wrap in plastic first, then add a layer of foil over it. The double layer provides extra protection and containment of smoky flavor.

Refrigerating Promptly

For food safety, it’s essential to get your smoked turkey into the refrigerator quickly. Bacteria grow rapidly at room temperature on cooked meats.

Refrigerate the turkey within 2 hours of removing it from the smoker. Place it on a shelf toward the back of the refrigerator, rather than in the door where the temperature fluctuates.

If refrigerating longer than 2 hours after smoking, it’s best to place the wrapped turkey in an ice bath. This quickly cools the temperature before refrigerating.

Refrigerator Temperature

Set your refrigerator to 40°F or below. This adequately slows bacteria growth on the smoked turkey. Check the temperature with a refrigerator thermometer to verify.

Monitor the temperature and avoid opening the door frequently. This maintains a consistent cool temperature for properly chilling the turkey.

How Long Does a Smoked Turkey Last Refrigerated?

A smoked turkey will maintain best quality for 3-4 days refrigerated. The smoky flavor starts to fade after that time. The turkey may last up to 7 days refrigerated before substantial drying occurs.

Make sure you use clean utensils each time you handle the stored turkey. Never return previously touched turkey to the refrigerator, as this introduces new bacteria.

Discard any turkey that develops an off-odor, sliminess, or any other signs of spoilage after refrigeration.

Freezing Smoked Turkey

For longer term storage, freeze your smoked turkey immediately after cooling if you don’t plan to eat it within 3-4 days.

Divide the turkey into smaller portions before freezing if you don’t plan to use it all at once after thawing. This allows you to thaw only what you need.

Securely wrap each portion in plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Eliminate as much air as possible and ensure the turkey is completely sealed.

Label each package with the date and contents before placing in the freezer. This allows you to use the oldest turkey first.

Freezer Temperature

Set your freezer to 0°F. At this temperature, bacteria and other pathogens are halted from growing on frozen smoked turkey. Using a freezer thermometer can verify the temperature.

Avoid opening the freezer frequently. Each time the door opens, cold air escapes and the temperature rises. Allow adequate time for the freezer to recover back down to 0°F before opening again.

Duration of Freezing

Smoked turkey that is properly wrapped and frozen at 0°F will last 2-3 months before quality loss occurs. Beyond this time, the turkey will gradually dry out and the smoky flavor will diminish.

For absolute best quality, use frozen smoked turkey within 2 months. Discard any turkey that shows signs of freezer burn or other damage from freezing.

Thawing a Frozen Smoked Turkey

The safest method for thawing frozen smoked turkey is in the refrigerator. Allow 24 hours of thawing time per 5 pounds of turkey. Place the wrapped turkey on a plate or pan to catch any drips as it thaws.

For faster thawing, place the turkey in a leak-proof plastic bag and submerge in cold water. Change the water every 30 minutes to keep the temperature cool. Calculate 30 minutes per pound of turkey for thawing time.

Cook thawed turkey immediately after thawing. Do not refreeze thawed smoked turkey.

Reheating Leftover Smoked Turkey

You can safely reheat leftover smoked turkey for a quick sandwich or meal later in the week. Reheat only the portion you plan to immediately eat.

Use these reheating methods:

  • Oven: Preheat oven to 350°F. Place turkey slices or pieces on a baking sheet and heat until warmed through, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Microwave: Place turkey portions on a microwave-safe dish, cover, and microwave in 30 second intervals until heated through.
  • Stovetop: Heat turkey slices, chopped turkey or pulled turkey in a skillet over medium heat with a little broth, water or sauce until warmed through.

Only reheat turkey once for food safety. Discard any leftover reheated turkey.

Serving Smoked Turkey

Smoked turkey can be served hot off the smoker or reheated after storage. Some delicious ways to serve it include:

  • Slice and serve on sandwiches
  • Dice or shred for salads, omelets, casseroles, or soups
  • Slice for appetizers with crackers or flatbread
  • Dice and mix into mashed potatoes or stuffing
  • Slice and serve with BBQ sauce, gravy, or cranberry relish

Smoked turkey can be an ingredient in many recipes. The smoky flavor profiles nicely with hearty pasta dishes, chili, enchiladas, and more savory recipes.

Food Safety with Smoked Turkey

Proper food safety is critical when handling, storing and serving smoked turkey. Follow these guidelines:

  • Always wash hands before and after handling turkey
  • Avoid cross-contamination by keeping turkey away from produce and other foods
  • Never leave turkey sitting out at room temperature more than 2 hours before refrigerating
  • Refrigerate promptly in shallow containers for rapid, even cooling
  • Cook or reheat turkey thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F
  • Discard turkey that shows any signs of spoilage or contamination

Following correct temperatures and food safety practices will keep your smoked turkey fresh and minimize the risk of foodborne illness.


Can you freeze smoked turkey?

Yes, freezing is an excellent way to prolong the shelf life of smoked turkey. Wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap and freeze at 0°F for 2-3 months.

How long is smoked turkey good for in the fridge?

Refrigerated smoked turkey maintains best quality for 3-4 days. It’s still safe to eat for up to 7 days refrigerated, although the texture and flavor quality degrades over time.

What’s the best way to reheat smoked turkey?

The oven provides the best results for evenly reheating sliced or diced smoked turkey. Preheat oven to 350°F and reheat turkey pieces on a baking sheet until warmed through, 15-20 minutes.

Can you eat smoked turkey cold?

Yes, smoked turkey can be eaten cold and makes an excellent addition to salads, sandwiches, wraps and more. Be sure the turkey was promptly refrigerated after smoking to keep it safe to eat cold.

How do you know when smoked turkey is done?

Use an instant-read meat thermometer to check doneness. Turkey is fully cooked when the thickest part of the breast and thighs reaches 165°F. The meat will be firm and juices will run clear.


Smoking a turkey brings out amazing flavor, but proper storage is key after smoking. Let the turkey rest before refrigerating or freezing tightly wrapped. Refrigerate within 2 hours and use within 3-4 days. Frozen smoked turkey maintains quality for 2-3 months at 0°F. Follow safe handling tips and refrigerate leftovers promptly after reheating.

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