Shouldn't the cook enjoy the festivities?

Make-Ahead Turkey for the Holidays

by Deborah Taylor-Hough

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Can you imagine a relaxed Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without needing to actually cook a turkey on the big day? You'd be able to enjoy the festivities as much as your friends and family!

Believe it or not, it's possible to roast your turkey ahead of time and store the cooked meat in the freezer to reheat and serve on the big day. If this sounds a bit too much like eating leftovers, let me assure you that by following these simple freezing and reheating instructions, you'll have moist, delicious turkey. Your guests will not suspect that you didn't spend the entire holiday slaving away in the kitchen keeping watch over a hot oven.

Feel free to use your own favorite turkey recipe if you prefer, and then follow the freezing/reheating instructions at the end of this article (but I personally don't think you'll find a tastier turkey recipe!).

To Prepare Turkey:

  • 3 onions, quartered
  • 6 celery stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine (or water)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sage
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 3 cups chicken broth, canned (reserve for freezing process)

In bottom of a deep roasting pan, place two quartered onions, four celery stalks, the carrots, bay leaves and white wine (or water). Remove the turkey giblets, rinse bird inside and out. Pat dry with paper towels. Stuff the turkey loosely with remaining quartered onion and celery stalks. Brush the turkey with olive oil mixed with salt, pepper, sage, and thyme. Cover the turkey loosely with a large sheet of foil coated lightly with olive oil, crimping the foil on to edges of the roasting pan. Cook according to the chart below. During the last 45 minutes, cut band of skin or string between the legs and tail. Uncover and continue roasting until done. Baste, if desired.

Turkey Roasting Chart (loosely wrapped with foil):

  • 12-16 pounds / 325 degrees F / 4 - 5 hours
  • 16-20 pounds / 325 degrees F / 5 - 6 hours
  • 20-24 pounds / 325 degrees F / 6 - 7 hours

Testing for Doneness:

About 20 minutes before roasting time is completed, test the bird. The flesh on the thickest part of drumstick should feel soft when squeezed between fingers, drumstick should move up and down easily, and meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of leg should read 185 degrees F. (Or follow manufacturer's instructions.)

Freezing Instructions:


Pour the liquid and drippings from the roasting pan into a bowl. Remove the vegetables. Allow the bowl of liquid to cool in refrigerator until fat congeals on top. Scoop off the fat with a spoon and pour the drippings into a labeled freezer bag. After the drippings are thawed, use them to make gravy on serving day.

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Allow the turkey to cool in the pan for 1/2 hour; then place the turkey and its roasting pan into refrigerator. Allow to cool completely (several hours). When fully chilled, slice the turkey as usual. Remove all the meat from the bones. Place the breast and dark meat slices into a labeled freezer bags. Pour canned chicken broth into the bags over the meat. Then, freeze.

To Serve: Thaw the bag of meat and broth, and place into a covered baking dish for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Or place the turkey and broth into a microwave-safe dish, cover with plastic wrap, and heat until hot (the time will vary with different microwaves, so check manufacturer's instructions). Drain off the broth (reserve to make more gravy, if needed). Arrange the heated turkey slices attractively on a serving platter. Serve hot.

** Excerpted and adapted from the 10-Day Holiday Meal Plan in the best-selling book, Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month (Champion Press).

Deborah Taylor-Hough is the author of the bestselling Frozen Assets: Cook for a Day, Eat for a Month and A Simple Choice: a practical guide for saving your time, money and sanity. Visit Debi online at:

Copyright 2002 Deborah Taylor-Hough Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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