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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

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Read More From Delishably

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

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