How Long Is A Frozen Turkey Good For?

Purchase too much turkey or need less than you thought? You may find yourself with a whole turkey that you’re not ready to cook, but you can’t leave it in the fridge. A fresh or thawed turkey will only last a few days. Freezing a whole turkey or turkey pieces can be an ideal way to extend its shelf-life and to even get ahead on shopping for next year’s holiday feasts.

Yes, freezing meat is a great way to save it to use for another time, but i’s important to know the meat’s quality can change when it’s stored for an extended amount of time in the freezer.  

Here’s what you need to know about how long turkey will last in the freezer. Plus, get tips for storing turkey properly so it’s more likely to maintain its flavor and freshness.

Southern Living Simple Roasted Turkey on a platter to serve
FRED HARDY, FOOD STYLIST: MARGARET MONROE DICKEY, PROP STYLIST: HANNAH GREENWOOD

How Long Can You Store Turkey in the Freezer?

Turkey can be safely stored in the freezer indefinitely, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the flavor and texture tend to decline the longer it sits in the freezer.

The USDA offers recommendations for how long turkey can be stored in the freezer for optimal taste before it may begin to decline in quality:

  • A whole turkey can be stored in the freezer for up to 12 months.
  • Turkey pieces are best consumed within nine months.
  • Ground turkey can be stored for up to three to four months.

Tips for Properly Freezing Turkey

According to the USDA, turkey can be stored in its original packaging. However, plastic wrap is permeable, meaning meat is more exposed to air. Meat that is exposed to air can lose its moisture, and freezer burn is more likely to occur. Although meat with freezer burn is considered safe to eat, the taste and texture will change.

One of the ways to ensure your turkey is stored properly is to wrap it in an air-tight plastic bag or vacuum seal it, if possible. 

Can You Store Cooked Turkey in the Freezer?

If you have a lot of leftover cooked turkey, storing it in the freezer for another meal is a good option. Similar to frozen uncooked turkey, you don’t want it to stay in the freezer long term as taste and texture will diminish over time. The USDA recommends only storing cooked turkey for three to four months in the freezer since moisture can be lost, which influences the quality of the meat. 

Tips for Thawing Turkey

When you’re ready to thaw your frozen turkey, make sure you follow food safety protocols. The University of Florida Extension suggests three ways to defrost your turkey:

  • in the fridge
  • in cold water
  • in the microwave

They don’t recommend leaving it on the counter at room temperature to defrost as this could create an environment for bacteria growth and put you or anyone who eats the meat at risk for a food-borne illness. 

Thawing turkey properly takes time. The recommended guidelines are 24 hours per four pounds of turkey. This means if you have a 12-pound turkey, you’ll need at least 72 hours (or three days) for it to fully defrost.