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Creative New Ways to Use Leftover Turkey (With 7 Recipes)

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


Do You Need Some New Ideas for Using Thanksgiving Leftovers?

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).


In many recipes, turkey and chicken leftovers can be used interchangeably. Pot pies and noodle dishes are routine, and 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

1. 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

2. 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

3. 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

4. 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

Rustic turkey tart

5. 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!

However, I think my pastry crust recipe is even better than the one by Cooks Illustrated.

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, and 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 the 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.

6. 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-ounce can evaporated milk, (not condensed milk)


  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Press leftover stuffing into a lightly greased 9-inch pie plate or quiche pan, forming a crust. Bake for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine turkey and cheese. In another bowl, beat together eggs and evaporated milk. Sprinkle turkey-cheese mixture into the hot crust. Pour egg-milk mixture atop.
  4. Lower oven temperature to 350° F.
  5. Bake the quiche for 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 left over 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, carrots, or that last broccoli spear? Stir it in with the turkey.

7. Thanksgiving Leftovers Muffins

This last 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 leftover 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