It's a peculiar irony of the Thanksgiving meal: We put all our toil, tears, and sweat into a beautiful presentation on the big day—the grand carving of the burnished turkey; the golden, steaming homemade rolls or cornbread nestled just so into their basket; the triumphant debut of the pie at the table while everyone oohs and ahhs—and yet everyone's favorite part of the whole thing is eating cold stuffing out of a plastic container at 11 p.m.
Okay, maybe not everyone's, but I'm certainly of the belief that Thanksgiving leftovers are almost better than the dinner itself: The stress of preparation is over, everyone's sufficiently relaxed (especially if they've had a couple of drinks) to not be overly concerned with formalities, and you're free to revel together in the gluttony of plateless, napkin-less, post-feast feasting. And if you can save some of those leftovers until the next day, perhaps you'll feel refreshed and ready enough to tackle a few more uses for them. Piling them onto a sandwich is a time-honored and delicious solution, but if you have the drive to do more, check out one of these 20 creative repurposings, from quesadillas to soups to stuffing waffles.
Breakfasts and Sweets
We're starting with a concoction that just might change your Thanksgivings forever—stuffing waffles. Seriously, there's no better way to eat stuffing than by pouring it into a waffle iron: You get a waffle's worth of nice, crispy edges, with a tender interior, and the pockets are perfect for catching both gravy and maple syrup (yes, you'll want to use both).
Turkey and Stuffing Waffle Croque-Madame Sandwich
What's better than the stuffing waffle? A sandwich made with a stuffing waffle: Top it with turkey, a fried egg, and a cheesy gravy-based sauce, broiled until bubbly and browned, for an open-faced croque that's post-Thanksgiving brunch perfection.
Waffled Mashed Potatoes With Bacon, Scallion, and Cheddar
Reheating mashed potatoes is tricky—it's near impossible to preserve that fluffy texture the next day. The solution is to mix your leftover mashed potatoes with eggs, buttermilk, and flour and transform them into golden, crunchy waffles. If that's not enough (hey, day-after-Thanksgiving only comes once a year!), load the batter up with scallions, bacon, and cheese.
Sweet Potato Pancakes Made With Leftover Mashed Sweet Potatoes
If you can make waffles with mashed potatoes, you can darn well make tender, maple-syrup-ready pancakes with mashed sweet potatoes. The recipe is similar, though here we replace the buttermilk with a combination of milk and sour cream—the extra tanginess helps balance out the potatoes' sweetness. Add baking powder and baking soda to help the pancakes rise and brown.
Kentucky Hot Brown
A gut-busting Hot Brown is just the thing to cure you of a post-Thanksgiving hangover. Pile leftover turkey on toast, top it with a rich Mornay sauce, then broil it until it gets bubbly and finish with a few slices of bacon. Tradition would call for tomato slices, too, but we prefer to hold off on those until summer.
Leftover Turkey Frittata
Frittatas are perfect for using up leftovers after any big meal, and Thanksgiving is no exception. This one is made with turkey, Brussels sprouts, and green beans—we actually use fresh vegetables to give some new life to the leftover turkey, but you can use yesterday's veggies if you've got them. Cranberry sauce mixed with Dijon mustard would make an excellent dip to serve alongside.
Day-After-Thanksgiving Stuffing and Turkey Breakfast Casserole
This is, for lack of a lovelier phrase, the garbage disposal of casseroles: You can throw in just about anything left over after Turkey Day. Stuffing forms the base, and cubed turkey is a natural add-in. From there, use whatever sides you'd like—sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are two good choices. Serve with cranberry sauce or a little gravy on the side.
Leftover Cranberry Sauce Cake
If you've got leftover cranberry sauce for days, put those tart and sweet flavors to work in a pretty sour cream coffee cake for any relatives overnighting at your house. This one is dense and rich, with a touch of orange zest, a crust of sugared almonds, and a band of bright, tangy cranberry sauce around the top.
Sandwiches and Such
Thanksgiving Leftover Grilled Cheese
Some people look forward to their leftovers sandwich even more than the Thanksgiving dinner itself. But you can do one better than the standard-issue turkey-and-stuffing-on-bread—you can envelop them in a couple of slices of cheddar or Jack and turn them into a buttery grilled cheese. And then dip the sandwich into gravy instead of tomato soup, of course.
Roast Turkey and Black Bean Quesadillas
A Tex-Mex spin on the grilled cheese, this quesadilla pairs leftover turkey with black beans, grated cheese, and pickled jalapeños for a vinegary element that brightens up the dish. You can substitute banana peppers or any other pickles you fancy.
Easy Turkey and Brussels Sprout Quesadillas
For these not-so-Tex-Mex but very Thanksgiving-appropriate quesadillas, use leftover turkey and freshly cooked sprouts. Shred the sprouts finely so that they incorporate evenly and take on an intense char when you cook them.
15-Minute Turkey Enchiladas
Most enchilada recipes call for individually rolling up fillings in tortillas, covering them with sauce, and baking them in the oven. This is a much easier stovetop version that lends itself well to a simple lunch of leftovers. What, you don't just happen to have homemade mole sitting around in your fridge? Store-bought is perfectly fine as well.
Soups and Stews
Roast Turkey Soup
If you've got a turkey carcass on your hands after Thanksgiving—which, you know, most of us will—it's practically a crime not to cook up a soup with it. There's not much to it: Simmer the carcass in chicken stock, then add carrots, celery, onions, and bacon. And if you've got leftover vegetables, like potatoes, peas, or Brussels sprouts, pretty much any of those can go into the pot, too.
Turkey Tortilla Soup
Turkey and red chilies pair remarkably well together, and if you're in the market for an easier leftovers dish than the enmoladas described above, a tortilla soup makes a great spicy and warming alternative. You can top the soup with store-bought tortilla chips, but freshly fried strips give you the best texture.
Slow-Cooker Leftover Turkey, Lemon, and Couscous Soup
A slow cooker is an extra-handy device to have on a lazy day after Thanksgiving. This soup uses a broth based on turkey wings and other leftover meat, plus heady aromatics like thyme and bay. White wine or Champagne—either a fresh bottle or whatever's left over from the meal—lends some acidity, and Israeli couscous bulks the soup up and adds a nice chewy texture.
Slow-Cooker Leftover Turkey and Andouille Gumbo
This recipe takes a little more prep time than the average slow-cooker recipe, as it requires you to sauté the vegetables and make a roux first, but the effort will be totally worth it. If you're already prepping celery, onion, and garlic for stuffing on Thanksgiving, chop up some extra to get a head start on this hearty day-after dish.
Slow-Cooker Leftover Turkey Chile Verde
This green chili infuses your leftover turkey with new life, using a salsa verde base made with broiled tomatillos, serrano peppers, onions, and garlic. Ancho chili powder and cumin add smokiness and earthiness, and a little cornmeal thrown in at the end thickens it up nicely.
Turkey 'n' Dumplings
Chicken 'n' dumplings is the old favorite, but the formula works just as well with turkey. We're partial to biscuit-like drop dumplings and a thick soup—in fact, we throw in some leftover gravy to give it extra body, although the soup will be delicious even without it.
Turkey Paitan Ramen With Crispy Turkey and Soft-Cooked Egg
A paitan-style ramen broth is rich, creamy, and opaque, and turkey does a fine job as a base. Simmer the drumsticks in the slow-cooked broth, then shred and sear them for crispy carnita-like bits of meat. Word of warning: This ramen recipe is not a slap-dash leftovers fix, but an all-day project—luckily, it's your stove that has to do most of the work, not you.
Taiwanese Turkey Rice
It's fairly well known that chicken rice is the national dish of Singapore. It's less known that southwestern Taiwan is home to a version made with turkey (usually steamed, but leftover roasted turkey will also work). Don't forget to reserve some of the drippings when you first cook the bird—you can use them to make a lip-smacking reduction sauce.