How to make turkey stock from your Thanksgiving turkey carcass

Don't throw away your Thanksgiving turkey carcass, do this instead

I love Thanksgiving. Aside from the obvious reasons of taking time to be thankful for our blessings and the gathering together with family and friends, I love turkey. 

I love leftover turkey. I love turkey sandwiches. I love turkey soup.

Hubby sometimes suggests that we buy a boneless turkey breast, since we’re not feeding a big crowd anymore. He’s trying to save me some work. 

But I want the turkey carcass, and I always buy a bigger bird than we need so I’ll have plenty of leftovers.

What to do with leftover turkey

After the big dinner, I debone the rest of the bird and sort it into two piles: the bones and skin, and the leftover meat. 

The meat goes into the refrigerator, and we'll have leftover turkey disguised in several different dishes. I'll eat a turkey sandwich every day for as long as I can.

Just don't let that deboned meat in your refrigerator go to waste. You can do so much with it besides eating turkey sandwiches.

How long will cooked turkey last in your refrigerator? Just 3-4 days. Long enough for a few delicious turkey sandwiches, but you'll need to do something with the rest of it.

So have a plan ready, a list of recipes you will make with your turkey leftovers. 

In fact, making a plan for your turkey leftovers should be part of your Thanksgiving preparations. Sit down before the big day and write down a meal plan.

For instance:
  • Use turkey instead of chicken in your favorite recipes. Turkey and dumplings, anyone?
  • Make turkey pot pies (then bake them or freeze for later)
  • Use in stir fried dishes
  • Divide into meal-sized portions and freeze for future chicken (er, turkey) casseroles. Frozen turkey will last 2-3 months in your freezer.

But wait! Don't throw out that turkey carcass! You can stretch your already-tight holiday budget, make at least one more meal such as turkey soup, and even put some turkey stock into the freezer (or can it) for future meals. 

Just like turkey meat, turkey stock can be used instead of chicken stock in any recipe, and it's richer and more flavorful than chicken stock. 

What to do with the turkey carcass

After you remove the meat from the bones, break the carcass into two pieces. It will break naturally along the spine, so there is a front piece and a back piece. 

If both pieces will fit into a large zipper freezer bag, that's great. Probably you'll need two bags though, depending on the size of the turkey you purchased.

Divide all the miscellaneous bones, the wing tips, skin, etc, into these bags, label them and put into the freezer. 

I usually make turkey broth the next weekend, but you can wait longer and use the frozen bones to make broth later if that fits your schedule. Plan to make turkey stock within 2-3 months of freezing the carcass bones.

Of course, you can always make the stock right away and not freeze the bones at all.

Don't throw away your holiday turkey carcass. Make this delicious turkey stock instead.

How to make delicious, flavorful, good-for-you turkey stock

By the way, although the terms are often used interchangeably, stock and broth are not made in the same way. Technically broth is made from meat, while stock is made with bones.

They can be used interchangeably too, although (again, technically) broth is for "sipping" and stock is for "cooking." 

To make turkey stock, use your largest stock pot and start by adding the turkey carcass. If you can only fit one half of the carcass in your stock pot, keep the other half in the freezer for a future batch of stock.

Add to the pot any vegetable pieces you'd like to include. You might want to quarter an onion, toss in a few chopped celery ribs, a carrot or two, and some garlic, but feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand. Adding vegetables isn't required, but it does make a more flavorful stock.

Then fill the stock pot with water above the top of the bones. Put on the lid and simmer for several hours, or even all day. It warms the house and smells so good.

You could do this in your slow-cooker instead of on the stove top if you wish, however most slow-cookers won't hold as much as a stock pot will. 

When it’s finished - and it's totally up to you as to when it's finished, because there is no perfect amount of time for stock to simmer - strain the stock through a colander or strainer and discard the bones.

How to store turkey stock

Turkey stock can be stored in the freezer or you can pressure can it. 

How to freeze turkey stock: If you plan to freeze it, let the stock cool a bit before pouring it into freezer containers or zippered freezer bags. I freeze stock in 1-cup, pint and quart amounts.

Label and date the containers before freezing. 

If you're using zippered freezer bags, lay the bags flat on a freezer shelf until they are frozen solid. Then you can stand them up like books on a shelf so they'll take up less space. Use within 2-3 months.

How to pressure can stock: If you prefer, you can pressure can your turkey stock. This is handy if you are short on freezer space, and it does have a longer shelf life if canned.

You can follow my directions for pressure-canning chicken stock - just use turkey broth instead.

I’ve done both. Freezing is faster and easier, but I like to pressure-can stock in pint jars. It’s a quick start to white chili, or turkey enchiladas, or any number of other dishes. And my favorite turkey vegetable soup.

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