As beloved as Thanksgiving dinner is, it’s the leftovers that folks really get excited for. After all the stress of the holiday, there’s something incredibly comforting about eating cold stuffing straight from the fridge. Plus, after you’ve spent the past couple days cooking it’s nice to be able to mindlessly spread some leftovers onto bread and call it lunch. But if you aren’t burned out on cooking, there is so much more that can be done with your leftovers—you can fry up turkey into carnitas, stuff veggies into a grilled cheese, or turn mashed potatoes and stuffing into waffles. Keep reading for all of these, plus the rest of our favorite ways to use up Thanksgiving leftovers.
Breakfasts and Sweets
This recipe is so good that I’ve made batches of stuffing solely to waffle—a Belgian waffle iron maximizes the crispy, crunchy bits that are the best part of stuffing. You could serve these with maple syrup like regular waffles or use gravy to play up the Thanksgiving theme, but the best idea is to use both.
Stuffing waffles not enough for you? This recipe turns them into a croque madame variation by topping them with leftover turkey and a Mornay-style sauce made by melting grated Gruyère or Comté into gravy. Don’t forget the fried egg!
Leftover mashed potatoes are almost always a disappointment—they lose their fluffy texture when reheated. You can, however, repurpose them by mixing in eggs, buttermilk, and flour to make a waffle batter. You could keep the waffles simple, but they taste great with scallions, cheddar, and bacon added in.
Mashed sweet potatoes have the same trouble with reheating as regular mashed potatoes. We rescue them in a similar way, mixing them with milk, eggs, flour, and a few more ingredients to make a pancake batter. Sour cream adds enough tang to balance the sweetness of the spuds, while baking powder and baking soda help with rising and browning.
This Kentucky favorite is exactly what you’ll need Friday morning if you drink a little bit too much at dinner. The dish is traditionally made with turkey, Mornay sauce, bacon, and tomatoes—we’d recommend leaving off that last piece unless you’ve discovered some magical way to get decent tomatoes in November.
Making a frittata is just about the easiest way to use any leftovers—Thanksgiving in particularly gives you lots of ingredients to work with. This frittata pairs leftover turkey with fresh Brussels sprouts and green beans, but you could use leftover veggies if you have them. If you’ve got cranberry sauce around, mix it with Dijon mustard to make a dipping sauce.
As good as a frittata is for making use of Thanksgiving leftovers, this breakfast casserole is even better. It’ll swallow up pretty much anything—we use stuffing and cubed turkey as the base, and from there you can add sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, or whatever other sides you’d like.
Every family has their Thanksgiving must-have, and in my house that dish is my mom’s cranberry sauce. She always makes tons of it knowing that we will be happy to spread it on everything the week after Thanksgiving. If there’s a little too much, we’ll put it to use in this sour cream coffee cake topped with an aromatic sugared-almond crust.
Sandwiches and Such
If you’ve never loaded food straight from the fridge onto bread you’ve never really experienced Thanksgiving. But if you have had plenty of experience with the classic leftovers sandwich and want something more elevated, try pairing your leftovers with cheddar and griddling up a golden brown grilled cheese.
Turkey is a traditional ingredient in Mexican cooking, so it’s no stretch to make Mexican or Tex-Mex food with your leftovers. Here that means quesadillas, which we stuff with roast turkey, black beans, and grated cheese, plus bright pickled jalapeños and fresh cilantro leaves.
Creamy mashed sweet potato replaces cheese in this lightly spicy quesadilla. It’s a perfect recipe for the day after Thanksgiving festivities, when you’re exhausted, hungry, and desperately trying to figure out what to do with the ten pounds of sweet potatoes in your refrigerator.
If you want your quesadillas to taste more like Thanksgiving, try pairing the turkey with shredded Brussels sprouts. Shredding the sprouts finely lets them incorporate better with the meat and cheese and helps them char when cooked. We bring back the pickled jalapeños here—their acidic bite is essential.
Don’t feel like making a whole casserole full of enchiladas the day after Thanksgiving? If you’re just cooking for two, try these skillet enmoladas instead. They’re super easy—all you have to do is roll up a few tortillas with turkey and store-bought mole, bake them in a pan, and serve with salsa.
You might be tempted to throw away the carcass after making turkey stock, but there is probably some super-tender meat left on the bones. Rather than letting it go to waste, pick it off and crisp it up in a skillet to make a dead ringer for carnitas—the resulting tacos will be as tasty as anything you ate on Thanksgiving Day.
Soups, Stews, and More
You are making stock with the leftover turkey carcass, right? Simply simmering the bird in water with vegetables will make for a fine stock, but for the deepest, richest flavor try roasting the bones and browning the vegetables first. We also like to add just a couple tablespoons of tomato paste to give the stock an extra savory note.
If you don’t want to re-roast your turkey, this simple soup has a great flavor-to-effort ratio. All you have to do is simmer the carcass in chicken stock, then add bacon, onions, carrots, and celery. You can add in other leftovers, too—a little gravy will thicken the soup nicely.
Pretty much any recipe that normally calls for cooked chicken can be made with leftover turkey instead. Case in point: this Thanksgiving-ified version of chicken and dumplings made with broth, aromatics, and biscuit-like drop dumplings. As in the previous soup, if you have leftover gravy then throw a little in to thicken the soup.
Another recipe paying homage to turkey’s Mexican roots, this tortilla soup is made with broth, aromatics, and several kinds of chilies. The recipe uses two pasilla peppers and anchos to satisfy us spice lovers, but you can go with one of each if you’d prefer something a little less assertive.
One easy way to minimize the amount of cooking you have to do the day after Thanksgiving is to break out the slow cooker, which we use here to turn turkey wings, thyme, and bay into a comforting soup. Chewy Israeli couscous provides bulk, while a cup of acidic white wine from a bottle you opened during dinner perks the dish up.
This slow-cooker recipe isn’t quite as hands-off as the last one—sautéing the vegetables and making the roux takes about half an hour—but it’s worth the effort. Pairing the turkey with andouille, cayenne, and Cajun seasonings gives the recipe some serious Louisiana flair.
Our third slow cooker recipe gives leftover turkey the chile verde treatment, cooking it with broiled tomatillos, serrano peppers, onions, and garlic, plus cornmeal and white beans to thicken it all up. The chili is flavorful enough on its own, but it’s even better garnished liberally with cilantro, sour cream, red onions, pepper Jack cheese, and crunchy crushed tortilla chips.
Love cooking so much that you want to spend all day Friday in the kitchen, too? It’s a bit of a project, but slow cooking leftover turkey meat and bones with aromatics and charred vegetables makes a wonderfully rich and creamy paitan-style ramen broth. The meat used to make the broth is going to be way overcooked, so we add fresh drumsticks for a few hours to cook them, shred the meat, then crisp it up as in our turkey carnitas recipe.
You probably don’t associate turkey with Asian cooking, but in Taiwan it’s traditional to use turkey in a dish very similar to better-known Singaporean chicken rice. Generally the dish is made with steamed turkey, but leftover roast turkey works, too. If you thought ahead to save the pan drippings when you cooked the bird, you can use them to make a savory sauce.
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