Loving Leftovers: Thanksgiving Turkey


Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.


Before you know it, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day that has been set aside to reflect on the many blessings we have received as individuals, as families, and as a nation.

Most of us will enjoy a roast turkey as the centerpiece of that celebration. The first meal is amazing; the next day we can enjoy turkey sandwiches with mayo and cranberry sauce (my husband's favorite). Perhaps on day three, we'll reheat a slab of white breast meat with a dab of gravy and some leftover mashed potatoes, but then what?

Are you getting tired of the turkey day repast? Let's find a way to hit the restart button (or in the words of the 21st century, the control-alt-delete keys).

Thanksgiving Turkey Recipe

Before we create the perfect use of turkey leftovers, don't we need to have the perfect turkey? Just in case you don't (or wonder if there is something better than the recipe you have in your file), here is my version of the perfect roast turkey.

Ingredients and Equipment You Will Need:

  • 1 fresh turkey or frozen turkey that has been safely thawed
  • 1 roasting pan, with lid
  • 1 roasting pan rack


  1. You will need a covered roasting pan to make this work. Don't use a foil disposable pan. Don't use an open pan. You must have a roasting pan with a cover.
  2. Remove the wrapping, the plastic leg ties, the neck and whatever other goodies might be hiding in a sack or sacks inside of the turkey.
  3. Thoroughly inspect that raw bird. Remove any loose fat, pin feathers, or whatever other nasty things you might find lingering within and without.
  4. Next, place the now clean turkey upside-down in the roasting pan on the roasting rack. Most recipes say "breast up." I always roast "breast down" so that the juices trickle down to keep the breast meat moist. Dry the skin thoroughly with paper towels and then rub about 2 tablespoons of olive oil onto the skin. Salt and pepper the skin.
  5. This is also the time to add "aromatics" (see below) to your turkey. Fragrant/flavorful fruits, herbs, and spices inserted into the cavity of your turkey will add impart their subtle flavors to the turkey meat and will enhance the resulting juices (which will be used to create an amazing gravy).
  6. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Place the upside-down turkey (uncovered at this point) in the oven and roast for 30 minutes. This will destroy any bacteria lingering on the outside of the turkey.
  7. After 30 minutes, place the lid on the roasting pan and lower the temperature to 200 degrees F. Roast for 1 hour per pound minus 3. Yes, you read that correctly, one-hour per pound of turkey, and then subtract 3. If perchance your turkey is a 12-pounder, roast for 9 hours. Because your oven might not be precisely 200 degrees, I would recommend that you check on your turkey one hour before it is due to be done.
  8. At this point, your turkey will be done—moist, succulent, tender, and most of all safe!
  9. Allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes, and then carve and serve. Or, do as I do—cook your turkey one day before you plan to serve it. Allowing it to rest even more than 30 minutes makes carving super easy, and you can reserve the drippings, refrigerate overnight, and skim the fat from the top to make a healthier gravy.

Suggested aromatics

  • 1 large onion, cut in quarters
  • 3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 or 3 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 or 3 sprigs fresh sage, thyme, and/or rosemary
  • 1 large orange, cut in quarters

Leftover Recipe Ideas

In many recipes using "leftovers," turkey and chicken are used interchangeably. Pot pies and noodle dishes are routine, ordinary, and don't require much imagination. We can do better than that. Here are some creative uses for the leftover Thanksgiving Day bird.

turkey and potato cakes

turkey and potato cakes

Leftover Turkey and Potato Cakes

Barry is the author of three best-selling cookbooks, a freelance food writer, and a full-time blogger. In these crisp potato cakes, he combines all of our favorites from the Thanksgiving meal—turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and then a drizzle of gravy on top. I think these might be even better than the original meal.

turkey carnitas

turkey carnitas

Turkey Carnitas

Carnitas ("little meats" in Spanish) are tender bits of shredded cooked pork that are then braised in lard. These crispy little bits are luxurious in street tacos—a guilty pleasure for sure. But Kenji has found a way to remove (at least some of) the guilt. The pork is replaced by the leg and thigh meat of the turkey. Oh, these are so good!

turkey thai curry

turkey thai curry

Turkey Thai Curry

Ginger, lemongrass, and Thai curry paste—those aren't the flavors I typically associate with turkey or Thanksgiving, and that's what makes this dish so special. Give your boring leftovers a wakeup with this brightly-flavored curry and rice.

pesto panini

pesto panini

Pesto Panini

Chungah (the creative mind of DamnDelicious) does it again with a flavorful, beautifully photographed sandwich that will totally transform your leftover turkey. Trust me, this tastes as good as it looks.

Rustic Turkey Tart

Cook's Illustrated is an American cooking magazine published every two months by America's Test Kitchen in Brookline, Massachusetts. Founder Christopher Kimball's philosophy, which the magazine reflects, is that there is a "single best way to make a dish" that leads to "nearly bulletproof" results.

This recipe is from their files and was reprinted on the website GeniusKitchen. The tart combines all of my favorite things. A buttery, flaky pastry is filled with turkey, sweet-tart dried cranberries, tangy-funky blue cheese crumbles, and firm pear slices. The contrast of sweet/savory/creamy/funky/crunchy will create a party in your mouth!

The pastry crust recipe is from my personal collection.

Sour Cream Crust (makes enough for two single-crust pies)

Butter and sour cream make this crust very rich and flaky; I find this recipe a bit easier to work with than traditional pie crust recipes that use only shortening or lard.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons milk


  1. Place flour, salt, and butter in the bowl of a food processor. Cut in butter using on/off pulses. The mixture will resemble coarse crumbs.
  2. Add sour cream and pulse until blended.
  3. Add milk and process until dough forms. Gather dough into a ball. Cut the ball of dough in half.
  4. Place a sheet of waxed paper on a work surface and flour lightly. Place one piece of dough in the center of the floured waxed paper, turn over to coat both sides with flour. Place a second sheet of waxed paper over the top of the dough. (You now have a "sandwich" of waxed paper, floured dough, and waxed paper).
  5. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into an 11-inch circle.
  6. Remove the top layer of waxed paper and then gently drape back on the dough. You are doing this to release the dough so that it no longer adheres to the waxed paper. Quickly flip the dough/waxed paper sandwich over and remove the other sheet of waxed paper.
  7. Gently ease the dough into a 9-inch pie plate, being careful to not stretch the dough.

Turkey Quiche With Leftover Stuffing "Crust"

This frugal recipe is something I created for my family a few years ago.


  • 3 cups leftover stuffing
  • 1 cup cooked turkey, diced
  • 1 cup Swiss cheese, shredded
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 5.5-ounces can evaporated milk, (not condensed milk)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Press leftover stuffing into a lightly greased 9-inch pie plate or quiche pan, forming a crust. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine turkey and cheese. In another bowl, beat together eggs and evaporated milk. Sprinkle turkey-cheese mixture into hot crust. Pour egg-milk mixture atop.
  4. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
  5. Bake quiche 30-35 minutes or until the center is set. Remove from oven; let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

What makes this recipe work?

  • Traditional quiche is made with pie dough. In this recipe stuffing (which has already been baked into golden, buttery goodness) provides the support for the quiche filling.
  • The star of the filling is the turkey which has already been cooked, cut from the bone, cooled, and skin removed. Dicing and preparing it for this recipe is easy.
  • Swiss is the traditional go-to cheese for quiche, but if you have another type of cheese leftover from your appetizers (Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, provolone, etc.) use that instead. This recipe is VERY forgiving.
  • Want to find a home for that last scoop of peas, or carrots, or that last broccoli spear? Stir it in with the turkey.

Thanksgiving Leftovers Muffins

This last-minute addition is from the blog Leite's Culinary, my go-to place on the internet for innovative, fun, and always tasty creations. David Leite uses a cadre of reader recipe testers (I'm one of them), so I can assure you that this meal will not disappoint. Thanksgiving leftovers muffins layer stuffing, gravy, turkey, and mashed potatoes into individual muffin cups that bake up quickly in the oven. The edges are crispy and the interior is ooey-gooey with gravy and tender chunks of turkey (white or dark, your pick).

© 2018 Linda Lum


manatita44 from london on November 03, 2018:

Haha. This brother is getting old. What can I do?

I work up to Friday then forget time.

Good you can see your 'plight.' :) means you can let go occasionalĺy.

Have a great Saturday evening

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 03, 2018:

Manatita, perhaps I am frugal to a fault. And my desk is always clean (I drive my family a little bit crazy with my OCD). I wish you a blessed Sunday as well (although I am still in the midst of Saturday--'tis not even noon yet).

manatita44 from london on November 03, 2018:

I think, Linda, that you are perhaps more methodical than Bill and John, perhaps more frugal too. Ha ha. Actual, it has its merits, as like a clean computer, you do not have to return to heavy clutter. So perhaps you are priceless after all. We'll meet and blend in Love, the eternal version. Lol.

Happy Thanksgiving Day! A bit early for Turkey, but your purpose is not Christmas, naturally. Some 'beauty-licious' colours though. Have a blessed Sunday.

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on November 02, 2018:

I'm very happy for you Linda. It does make the holidays so much more special when your family is all together. Talking about Thanksgiving is really getting me in the mood too. Thanks

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 01, 2018:

Thank you, Rachel. I am looking forward to this particular Thanksgiving because my younger daughter will be home with us and she will have the time to help with the cooking. In fact, she loves to cook and other than the turkey and gravy I think she will be taking over my kitchen. She has been emailing and texting me planning the menu. So much fun!

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on November 01, 2018:

Hi Linda, You have some great ideas here for left over Thanksgiving dinner. I am pinning this whole hub. Thanks for sharing.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 01, 2018:

Roderic, do you have an oven thermometer? Please make sure that your oven, if set for 200, is truly 200. I'm fascinated that you do most of the cooking. For me, the best part of the meal is the gravy (but you can't have that without roasting the turkey first haha).

Rodric Anthony Johnson from Surprise, Arizona on November 01, 2018:

I am going to try this turkey method this year. I usually cook the bird slow stuffed with dressing, cornbread dressing. I think I want to cook the turkey and dressing separately this year just to try your suggestions. I do most of the cooking in the family. My wife is not into it as I am.

The funny thing is that none of us in the family like roasted turkey so much. We get it and make it every year out of tradition. Maybe it will be better this year trying your suggestions.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 01, 2018:

Shauna the upside-down part doesn't concern me, but I don't think I would want low-and-slow on the stuffing itself. Something about that makes me feel you would be dancing with disaster (health-wise). However, if you used your traditional roasting method, but flipped Tom upside-down I'm sure you'd be OK.

I don't cook stuffing in the bird because my younger daughter loves stuffing but she is a vegetarian. (Yes, I make a special mushroom gravy just for her and have enough other side dishes available that she doesn't miss the turkey).

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on November 01, 2018:

There's always too much left over turkey. I'm a once-a-year turkey eater. Probably because I can't eat it unless I make my grandmother's cornmeal stuffing and giblet gravy, both time-consuming dishes, but a must-have with turkey (in my opinion). Anyway, I love the idea of turkey potato cakes and your turkey quiche, Linda. I also like your tip of roasting the turkey upside down. It makes perfect sense! I'm one of those old school cook the stuffing in the bird types. Would I still be able to cook Tom upside down if he's stuffed with stuffing?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 01, 2018:

Pamela, you are so very kind. I'm wishing that I had turkey leftovers now so that I could make some of those turkey-potato cakes.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 01, 2018:

Nell, I know that Thanksgiving is a U.S. "thing", but do you have turkey available? It is so moist and flavorful--it doesn't taste like chicken.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 01, 2018:

Bill, on a rare occasion turkey parts will be on sale (typically the drums) but only near Thanksgiving are they priced so inexpensive. My frugal ways keep me from buying a whole bird outside of the month of November. Don't tell anyone, but I have one hiding in my freezer from last year.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 01, 2018:

These leftover turkey recipes look and sound delicious. Using leftover turkey can sure be more interesting to eat when you try something different. Thanks for these suggestions.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on November 01, 2018:

Flourish, how can one go wrong with cheese? Yes, paninis are better than just a simple sandwich (impressive looking, aren't they? Always look like you really fussed) but are very easy to do.

Nell Rose from England on November 01, 2018:

We don't have thanksgiving over here, so have a lovely time! And the food looks amazing!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 01, 2018:

Actually these are some pretty cool ideas and yes, I get tired of turkey by Day Four. I've always wondered why I'm never smart enough to buy a turkey in June? Why wait until November considering how much I love it? So stuck in tradition, I am. I don't remember ever buying a turkey other than at Thanksgiving. A bit silly,don't you think? :)

Happy Thursday, Linda!

FlourishAnyway from USA on November 01, 2018:

Such an excellent and timely article with Thanksgiving coming up. That panini looks like something I will make my family.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on October 31, 2018:

John, turkey tastes so good and is so inexpensive, I wonder why we don't eat it more often. Maybe these recipes will help. Thanks for stopping by.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 31, 2018:

All wonderful recipes for using the left-over turkey, Linda. I do love turkey but we don't have it often enough. We don't celebrate Thanksgiving here, though sometimes have it at Christmas

Related Articles