14 Ideas for Thanksgiving Leftovers

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“I think leftovers are one of the best things about Thanksgiving!” – Amy Sherman of Cooking with Amy.  This was the general consensus when I asked some food writer friends what they do with their leftovers. Here’s some advice.

1. Update the traditional leftover sandwich

“I just recently created some holiday recipes for a grocery store and some of them used leftover turkey,” Amy says. “One of my absolute favorite recipes was a turkey, jack cheese and cranberry sauce melt on whole wheat bread.” A great example: her grilled cheese, pear and turkey sandwich.

“Turkey is really good in all kinds of grilled cheese sandwiches, so get as creative as you like with it,” Sherman says. ” Try it with chutney, slices of apple, tomato, roasted red pepper or a layer of leftover cooked vegetables like sautéed spinach or creamed onions. You could even use turkey in a Reuben (in place of pastrami) or Cuban sandwich (in place of the roast pork). I like cheddar, jack or swiss cheese paired with turkey. Grilled cheese turkey sandwiches are so easy to make even kids can make them. Best of all they let you enjoy some of the flavors of Thanksgiving in a fresh way.”

2. Make a Drink with the Cranberry Sauce

Seriously. For an elegant post-holiday toast, make a simple cranberry champagne cocktail by putting a teaspoon into the bottom of a flute and top with sparkling wine. Alternately, you can try my recipe for a “Crantini” for a post-shopping break. Combine 1 1/2 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. Cointreau, 1 teaspoon cranberry sauce in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously and pour into chilled martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

3. Mashed potato patties

Olga Massov of the SassyRadish.com has a terrific idea for leftover veggies. “One of my favorite things to do is to take leftover mashed potatoes and make these mashed potato patties with them and whatever leftover vegetables I have. Usually it’s caramelized onions and/or squash so I just combine them (cut the squash into smaller pieces if need be), bind with an egg, and fry in olive oil. I mix a lemon-dill yogurt dipping sauce and voila – vegetables reborn. It makes for a really delicious post Thanksgiving lunch!”

4. Kentucky Hot Browns

My neighbors across the street are proper Southerners and introduced me to the day-after-phenomenon known as a “Hot Brown.” Essentially, it’s an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with Mornay sauce. The result is crazy good. The Bitten Word has a great recipe for it.

5. Make Stock

“I always make stock,” says Sheri Wetherall, the editor-in-chief of Foodista.com. “I roast the carcass with carrots, onions, celery and whatever yummy root veggies I have on hand until the bones are dark and golden, then simmer it for a long time on as low as I can get it until I have a luscious broth! I freeze it in small-sized batches for soups throughout the year. Check out my stock recipe on CookFearless or the Ultimate Chicken Stock from Bruce Aidells on BonAppetit.com

6. Make Soup

When you’ve got the stock, you can make a wide range of soups. You can keep the flavor of the holiday meal or really change it up. Here are four very different options:

7. Turkey Gumbo

Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen and cookbook author Bruce Aidells do what I typically have done with a leftover turkey: make turkey gumbo. “What’s great about this is that it’s nearly a one-pot meal, easy to make and has such intense flavor that’s DIFFERENT from night-before Thanksgiving menu,” Jaden says. I totally agree. You can try Jaden’s recipe or mine here on CookFearless. The latter recipe calls for a dark roux made in the oven which takes a bit longer. Or, you can follow Jaden’s lead and use a lighter roux, which takes about 10 minutes to cook on the stove top.

8. Turkey and Dumplings

Keep the comfort food going. Wetherall has a great twist on the classic chicken and dumplings on Foodista.com.

9. Make Turkey Salad

A twist on chicken salad, a simple turkey salad can be an easy lunch when plopped onto a bed of simple greens or put inside a pita. I like this recipe from Kalyn’s Kitchen.

10. Turkey Pot Pie

A classic. I liked this updated version with cheddar biscuits as the top crust from Just a Taste.

11. Sweet Potato Souffle

If you end up with a lot of mashed sweet potatoes like we seem to every year, consider trying your hand at shifting them into a souffle. Note: this won’t work if you covered up their naturally sweet flavor with tons of syrup or marshmallows. Marla Meredith at FamilyFreshCooking.com has a lovely recipe for sweet potato souffles with feta and sage.

12. Fry the Leftover Sage Leaves

I did this a couple of years ago. It genuinely intensifies the flavor and adds a certain something to a leftover sandwich or even crumbled into a dish. Saveur’s recipe is the best one I’ve found.



13. Try Turkey Curry

Remember the opening of Bridget Jones Diary? Every New Year’s Day, Bridget’s mother hosted her turkey curry buffet. I found it hard to get a turkey in November. Why? They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving and turkey tends to be reserved for Christmas dinner. Curry is a very traditional means to dispatch the leftovers from the holiday turkey. I’ve used this recipe from the BBC site for the past couple of years. When it calls for “double cream,” you just use whipping cream. I’ve used sweet potatoes in place of the butternut squash.


14. Make croutons

It seems like there’s always leftover rolls and bread from holiday meals. You can only eat so many sandwiches or consume so many carbs. Don’t throw it away. Dice it up, toast it and make it into croutons.

[Updated November 2015.]

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.


  1. Another great way to dress up leftovers is to make pastry turnovers. Simply cut up turkey in small pieces and mix with leftover veggies to form a “hash’ consistency. Season well with salt, pepper and a bit of sage. Roll out pastry sheets and cut into 4 x 4 inch squares (you can find pastry sheets in the frozen food section). Place a scoop of the hash in the middle of each sheet and press closed to form a triangle. Brush the top with egg.
    Cook for about 20 minutes in a 400 degree oven or until golden brown. Serve with leftover turkey gravy and cranberry relish…yum!

    P.S. I’ve actually used this trick for all kinds of leftovers – from pot roast to mexican. It’s always a crowd pleaser!

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  3. I agree completely with Amy about the turkey leftovers! Some great ideas here; thanks for the shout-out.

  4. Jennifer C says:

    Love all these great ideas. The cranberry cocktails are keeper! Thank you!


  1. […] It’s Thanksgiving, and all you should do is give thanks for the good stuff in your life, and pack up the rest with the leftovers. […]

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