5 Ways to Use Your Turkey Leftovers

by Matt Moore on November 25, 2011 · 24 comments

in Cooking, Food & Drink, Travel & Leisure

Enough is enough – I’m going on a diet.

Those are typically the words that come out of my mouth every Friday morning after the Thanksgiving holiday.  Certainly, my actions the day before pretty much always set me up for such a statement.  After a day of overeating and watching football, I tend to feel a bit slower in my step.

But, as in most years, it never fails that I tend to push that diet off to the week ahead.  After all, there are so many leftovers from Thursday’s feast that I’d be a fool to let it all go to waste.  Ah, the power of procrastination.

Yet, the idea of repeating the exact same meal from the day before often loses its luster on my tired taste buds.  So instead, I seek out ways to re-use all of that goodness before I stare down a week of grilled salmon and salad.

In other words, don’t be bored with your meals, or even worse, let great food go to waste!  Entertain your family and friends one more time around with these great ideas for turkey leftovers!


Smokey Turkey Quesadillas

These tasty bites are perfect for enjoying more football with friends.  Simple, quick, easy and delicious–just the way cooking’s supposed to be.  (Prep 10 minutes, Cook 10 Minutes, Serves 4 – 6)

2 Cups Leftover Turkey, chopped
1 Teaspoon Chili Powder
1 Teaspoon Cumin Powder
4 Tablespoons Butter, separated
4 Large Flour Tortillas
4 Cups Pepper-Jack Cheese, grated
Sour Cream and Salsa, to serve

Combine the first three ingredients into a bowl and mix until evenly combined; set aside.  Meanwhile, melt a tablespoon of butter at a time into a non-stick skillet.  When butter has melted, add one tortilla into the pan.  Arrange ½ cup chopped turkey, and 1 cup of cheese onto one side of the tortilla.  Using tongs or a spatula, carefully fold over the other side of the tortilla to cover the ingredients.  Allow the tortilla to cook and slightly brown on one side, flip and repeat on the other side.  Remove from pan, cut into even wedges, and serve with sour cream and salsa.  Repeat process for remaining ingredients.

Turkey and Sausage Gumbo

A delicious and hearty soup that makes use of all of that wonderful leftover turkey, including the white and dark meat.  (Prep 15 minutes, Cook 1 hour, Serves 4 – 6)

¼ Cup All Purpose Flour
¼ Cup Vegetable Oil
1 Onion, finely diced
1 Green Bell Pepper, finely diced
4 Cloves Garlic, finely diced
1 Can Petite Diced Tomatoes
32 oz Turkey (Chicken) Stock
1 16 oz Bag Frozen Okra, cut
1 lb Andouille or Smoked Sausage, sliced
4 Cups Leftover Turkey, chopped
Hot Cooked Rice, to serve

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, slowly cook the flour and oil together, creating a roux about the color of a dull penny; 20 minutes.  Next, add bell pepper and onions and sauté until tender, 4 – 6 minutes.  Add garlic and tomatoes; continue to sauté for another five minutes.  Slowly add the stock and increase the heat to medium high until the mixture begins to simmer.  Add okra, return to a simmer, and cook for another 10 minutes.  Finally, add sausage and turkey and heat through – 10 minutes.  Serve with hot cooked rice.

Turkey Cobb Salad

I like to consider this as somewhat of an “indulgent” salad.  Filled with tasty bits of turkey, crispy bacon, and creamy blue cheese dressing, this is a great way to get started in moving towards the direction of a diet–even if it is a bit heavy.  Keep in mind that many of these ingredients can be prepped ahead of time; making this meal more of an “assembly” rather than an actual dish that requires cooking.  (Prep 10 minutes, Cook N/A, Serves 2)

4 Cups Romaine Lettuce, chopped
1 Vine Ripe Tomato, diced
½ Red Onion, finely diced
4 Slices Crispy Cooked Bacon, chopped
2 Hard Boiled Eggs, diced
1 Cup Leftover Turkey, chopped
Blue Cheese Dressing, to serve

Create a bed or even layer of lettuce onto a large plate or serving platter.  Next, top the salad evenly with remaining ingredients.  Serve with blue cheese dressing on the side.

Turkey Rotel

A comforting casserole filled with cheesy carbs, vegetables, and tender turkey.  A great make-ahead dish that can be prepped for dinner later in the day, or simply frozen and used for a meal on a busy weeknight.   (Prep 15 minutes, Cook 45 minutes, Serves 4 – 6)

1 lb Dried Spaghetti
½ Stick Butter
1 Red Bell Pepper, diced
1 Onion, diced
1 Jalapeno, finely diced
1 Cup Frozen Peas
1 lb Velveeta Cheese, chopped
1 Can Cream of Mushroom Soup
1/3 Cup Milk
4 Cups Leftover Turkey, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Cook spaghetti according to directions on the box, or al dente; 10 – 11 minutes.  Drain pasta and set aside.  Meanwhile, melt butter into a skillet over medium heat.  Add bell pepper, onion, and jalapeno and sauté until tender, 4 – 5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, including the cooked pasta, and mix thoroughly until the cheese is just melted and ingredients are well combined.  Add the entire contents of the skillet into a greased casserole dish and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Serve.

Pesto + Turkey Submarine Sandwich

An upgrade on the traditional turkey sandwich, the pesto adds a sweet and savory flavor that enhances the delicious turkey.  Pile these ingredients high on a loaf of Italian bread, and slice into individual portions to serve your hungry guests.  In a pinch, most grocers offer pre-prepared and jarred pesto to save time.  (Prep 10 minutes, Cook N/A, Serves 4)

Fresh Pesto

2 Cups Fresh Basil Leaves
2 Cloves Garlic, peeled
¼ Cup Pine Nuts or Walnuts, toasted
½ Lemon, juiced
Kosher Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper
½ Cup Parmesan Cheese, grated

Combine the first five ingredients into a food processor and pulse until evenly chopped.  With the processor running, slowly stream in olive oil until fully incorporated and smooth; season with salt and pepper.  Add cheese, and pulse until combined.  (Keeps in the fridge up to 3 days.)

Turkey Submarine Sandwich

1 Large Loaf Italian Bread
Fresh Pesto
1 lb Leftover Turkey, sliced
Iceberg Lettuce, sliced
Vine Ripe Tomatoes, sliced
Yellow Onion, thinly sliced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Red Wine Vinegar

Using a bread knife, carefully slice the loaf of bread in half, creating a top and bottom side.  Smear the bottom side with pesto sauce, and add a layer of mayonnaise to the top side.  Begin layering the sandwich, starting with the turkey, lettuce, tomato, and onion.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and splash with vinegar.  Place top side of bread on top of sandwich and slice into individual servings.  Serve.

How do you put your turkey leftovers to use? Give us your recipes in the comments!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Colonel November 25, 2011 at 11:36 am

Don’t forget casseroles. There’s no finer use for leftovers, plus you can usually make one using nothing Thanksgiving leftovers.

2 Robert November 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

There’s also turkey, cranberry and cream cheese sandwiches, been a favorite thanksgiving leftover food of the family’s for years.

3 Matt November 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm

I hate dry turkey, so since I’m managing someone else’s leftover dry bird, I make a soup from the ham juice and all the leftover veggies. Mashed potatoes, flour, and the rendered fat from all the turkey scraps, especially the tail that no one ever seems to want, makes a bowl of dumplings. Boil the whole mess for a bit, skim, and pour over whatever turkey or ham cuts are leftover for a delicious and hearty winter meal that doesn’t taste like dry, gutless, fridge turkey.

4 Patrick Regan November 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Just throwing a few alternate ways to make that Turkey gumbo, from a native New Orleanian:

1. Any kind of fat can be used to make the initial roux. Matt’s recipe is good, but if you want a little bit more authentic Creole recipe, go for butter. For more Cajun, up the spiciness, use veggie oil, and lose the tomatoes.

1.a. If you’re having trouble making a proper brick roux and have the time, do what many do: Cheat. Hit the oven to 350 degrees and bake the roux in there for an hour and a half. You won’t have quite the subtle gradations of doing it on the stovetop, but it’ll be burn-proof.

2. If you can find fresh Okra, it’s one of the few vegetables that, in my experience, seriously kicks the pants off the frozen kind.

3. Suggested spices: Dried thyme, bay leaf (make sure to take it out before eating), and cayenne pepper. Be careful with the cayenne, though. You can heat the gumbo up later with a good bottle of Louisiana, Crystal, or Tabasco hot sauce. You can’t take heat away.

But, if you have access to it, the real king high thing you can do to kick it up is:

4. Take about half the okra. Substitute a little file powder: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=file+powder&x=0&y=0

TRUE New Orleans gumbo flavor with that.

5 Roy Marvelous November 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Haha, I woke up today saying I’m going on a diet too! Definitely having a fat day…

6 Matt McCraw November 25, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I made turkey and cheese omlettes this morning. Yum.

7 Ciarán November 25, 2011 at 4:53 pm

When I saw this article was about food, the first thing I did was check the author. As usual, Matt does not disappoint.
Great article :)

8 Frank November 25, 2011 at 8:48 pm

I like a sweet and spicy turkey sandwich. Two pieces of toast, cheddar cheese, smoked jalapeno sauce, your favorite preserves (I like strawberry), and of course turkey (chopped). Mix the preserves and jalapenos sauce together in a 2 to 1 ratio. Spread on toast and assemble the rest. Enjoy.

9 Micah November 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Patrick Regan is right in saying of the gumbo, “for more Cajun, up the spiciness, use veggie oil, and lose the tomatoes.” I’m not a Louisiana native, but I’ve lived here long enough to know that gumbo doesn’t have tomatoes.

10 zeus November 25, 2011 at 9:47 pm

The amount of ideas are unlimited.

11 Bruce Williamson November 26, 2011 at 10:15 am

What leftovers? Anything not consumed during the meal ends up as turkey salad or turkey sandwiches.
Regarding gumbo from the wikipedia:
Creole gumbo generally contains shellfish, tomatoes, and a thickener. Cajun gumbo is generally based on a dark roux and is spicier, with either shellfish or fowl.

12 Darren November 26, 2011 at 10:54 am


This is a good use of leftovers too. :-)

13 Bill November 26, 2011 at 5:56 pm

We had duck rather than turkey. Our Friday leftovers featured duck meat sliders.

14 Lucius November 27, 2011 at 5:39 pm

I enjoy mixing leftover turkey with clove and citrus then wrapped in a bow to make pomanders. I love putting them under my friends Christmas trees and watching their delightful expressions come Christmas morning.

15 Chris November 28, 2011 at 8:52 am

Turkey a la King has to be one of the easiest and best ways to use that left-over bird. Just a few cans of soup, a cup of chopped onion, and some puff pastry and you have yourself a hearty thanksgiving remix.

16 Claude November 28, 2011 at 11:05 am

Im sorry to say we planned TOO well this year. We had enough bird for lunch and for sandwiches at supper time and it was gone. I miss my leftovers!

17 Brook November 28, 2011 at 4:47 pm

These look great, especially the turkey rotel! Here’s what I always do with my turkey leftovers: http://bit.ly/w2Ular.

18 robr November 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Turkey BBQ!!! Also works with leftover ham if that’s what you do for the holidays. Ham bbq is great and nobody thinks it will be delicious when they hear about it…

Put some turkey or thinly sliced ham bits in a little nonstick pot, heat it til it breaks down and crisps a little, throw some bbq sauce in and you’ve got yumminess that goes with beer. Homebrew all the way.

19 Chris H November 30, 2011 at 8:37 am

Just used leftover turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and green beans to make Thanksgiving Sushi. The potatoes had to be thick enough to hold the sushi roll together, and I used gravy and cranberry sauce as side dips. It was a fantastic success!

20 Tarcas December 1, 2011 at 10:56 pm

The song (sung to My Country ’tis of Thee) at the top of this post is a family tradition, particularly at Thanksgiving. I’m surprised to see it anywhere else.

21 Jim Collins December 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

This article missed where the flavor is — as well as half the nutritional value: the naked carcass. Take the bones, break the big ones with a pair of pliers; if you like, throw in leek or carrot, yellow onions, celery, and herbs of your choice, then put the lot in a crock pot and simmer slowly for a day. Taste it, then let your imagination run wild. It’s the stock for filling out a gravy, it’s the base for soup, it freezes indefinitely without harm, and it’s GOOD!

22 Gerard December 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I like the soup better than the turkey itself. To make the broth, I use a pressure cooker, and put the bones and left over carcass, including bits of stuffing in. Crack the bones with an pair of adjustable pliers before putting them in the pressure cooker. Gets more of the marrow into the broth which adds to the flavor.

23 Darba Rollins December 3, 2013 at 10:25 am

Turkey pot pie! Just use refrigerated pie crusts, cans of Veg-all, cream of chicken soup, and your leftover turkey. Season to taste.

24 Scott March 16, 2014 at 10:31 am

Scott here from Louisiana…..Just a couple of tips here on the gumbo….a specialty of mine. Vegetable oil is my least preferred oil due to it’s low smoke point and general lack of flavor. Butter as mentioned by another guy is a commonly used in Louisiana….also has a low smoke point but better flavor. If it’s your first roux I would recommend a peanut oil…..it has a higher smoke temp and gives you more leeway so as to not burn the roux. My personal favorite is bacon grease (you can use lard as well for a good flavor if you didn’t save your bacon grease). Do not bake your roux in the oven….it’s not manly. Cook it on the stove top preferably in cast iron. Stir continuously. ……roux making is the perfect time to drink beer with one hand and stir with the other while yucking it up with your friends. I often take out a small taste of the roux,add a touch of salt, and let my friends taste the roux at various levels of darkening so they appreciate what it’s doing. I highly recommend using a whisk. If you use a spoon or spatula you will eventually splash the cajun napalm on you. Your first instinct is to wipe the burning hot oil from your body. This is a mistake which you’ll probably make anyways.

Most cajun cooking starts with…..make a roux……add holy trinitiy…..

The holy trinity of cajun cooking is onion, green pepper, and celery……don’t forget the celery….pretty much anything else with the gumbo is a matter of personal preference and\or tradition. But a gumbo must have roux and the holey trinity or it’s just a gumbo like soup like what you might find north of the mason-dixon line.

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