It's a particular irony of Thanksgiving dinner that, no matter how long you toil over fluting your pie crust just so or what steps you take to deliver piping-hot mashed potatoes to the table on time, what everyone gets most excited about is eating cold leftovers straight from the fridge the next day (or maybe late Thursday night). And sure, after a day spent making polite conversation with relatives you rarely see, ditching the formalities and engaging in some good old-fashioned gluttony can be deeply cathartic. But if you're feeling creative on Friday, and if you're willing to put in just a little bit of work, you can do a whole lot better than a cold turkey-and-dressing sandwich on white bread. Turkey can be repurposed to fill enchiladas or a rich bowl of ramen; cranberry sauce can add a bright and tangy layer to a dense coffee cake; and if you aren't already dusting off the waffle iron in anticipation of stuffing waffles, well, you just haven't been reading this site long enough. Here are our 20 favorite recipes for getting the most out of your Thanksgiving leftovers.
Breakfasts and Sweets
If you own a waffle iron, we hope you've made plenty of extra stuffing this year, because you won't want to let the holiday pass without trying these out. By pressing stuffing in a Belgian waffle iron, you'll greatly increase the acreage of crispy exterior, amplifying the crunchy bits that we all know are the best part of stuffing. Plus, those waffle-iron divots are just perfect for catching gravy and maple syrup (yes, we use both).
Turkey and Stuffing Waffle Croque-Madame Sandwich
Already an old pro at stuffing waffles? How about turning them into an open-faced sandwich topped with turkey and fried eggs? A typical croque madame is topped with Mornay sauce, but if you have Thanksgiving gravy on hand, you can add grated Gruyère or Comté to it to create an extra-meaty version.
Waffled Mashed Potatoes With Bacon, Scallion, and Cheddar
Because mashed potatoes reheat rather poorly, rather than trying to restore leftovers to their original form, try mixing them with eggs, buttermilk, and flour, which turns the mash into a batter for making crunchy-outside, fluffy-inside potato waffles. In an homage to our mashed potato casserole, we stir in scallions, chopped bacon, and grated cheese, too.
Sweet Potato Pancakes Made With Leftover Mashed Sweet Potatoes
A sweet potato mash isn't at its best the day after, but it makes an ideal base for moist, tender, and tasty pancakes. Adding a mix of sour cream and buttermilk, instead of buttermilk alone, contributes the extra tang needed to balance out the sweetness of the potatoes. Meanwhile, a bit of baking powder and baking soda helps the pancakes rise high and brown nicely.
Kentucky Hot Brown
The Hot Brown is a rib-sticking Kentucky classic, made by topping toast with turkey and creamy Mornay sauce, broiling, and finishing with bacon. Tomatoes are a traditional addition, but we'd leave them off this time of year, since you're not going to be able to find decent fresh ones. If you've had one too many glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner, this is just what you'll need in the morning.
Leftover Turkey Frittata
When I have leftovers to use up from any meal, frittata is the first dish I turn to. This one packs in turkey, Brussels sprouts, and green beans—you can incorporate ingredients as your store of leftovers (not to mention your taste) dictates, or use freshly sautéed vegetables, as we do here. To make a leftovers dipping sauce, try mixing cranberry sauce with Dijon mustard.
Day-After-Thanksgiving Stuffing and Turkey Breakfast Casserole
Even more versatile and forgiving than a frittata, this casserole will take pretty much any Thanksgiving leftovers you can throw at it. Our recipe calls for a base of stuffing, with cubed turkey mixed in, but the rest is up to you—sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and green beans would all work, and cranberry sauce and gravy would both be delicious on the side.
Leftover Cranberry Sauce Cake
My mom's cranberry sauce is something of a legend amongst family and friends, and every year she makes far more than we could ever eat on Thanksgiving—with good reason. One of my favorite ways to put it to use (besides adding a dab of it to everything I eat in the next week) is to bake a jewel-toned layer of it into this dense, rich sour cream coffee cake, topped with an aromatic sugared-almond crust.
Sandwiches and Such
Thanksgiving Leftovers Grilled Cheese
The leftovers sandwich is a time-honored post-Thanksgiving tradition, and, while piling odds and ends straight from the fridge onto bread is a perfectly adequate way to go about it, you'll never regret wrapping all those odds and ends in cheddar and making a golden-brown grilled cheese sandwich instead. Though grilled cheese and tomato soup is the classic pairing, we recommend dipping this one in gravy.
Roast Turkey and Black Bean Quesadillas
To give your leftover turkey a Tex-Mex flavor profile, pair it with black beans and grated cheese for these satisfying quesadillas. We use pickled jalapeños to give the dish some vinegary brightness, though any sort of pickles will do. A big handful of cilantro leaves adds freshness.
Easy Turkey and Brussels Sprout Quesadillas
The addition of freshly cooked Brussels sprouts means these quesadillas are a little less Tex-Mex and a little more Thanksgiving-inspired. Try to shred the sprouts finely—not only will it help them incorporate better, it'll also allow them to take on a nice char when they're cooked.
15-Minute Turkey Enchiladas
Enchilada recipes typically call for individually rolling up fillings in a casserole's worth of tortillas, covering them with sauce, and baking. But if that's a little more cooking than you're up for right after Thanksgiving, try this easy stovetop version (technically called enmoladas). It's made simply by rolling a handful of tortillas up with leftover turkey and store-bought mole (or homemade, if you've got it), baking them in a pan, and topping with salsa.
Soups, Stews, and More
Roast Turkey Soup
After Thanksgiving, you're probably going to have some extra turkey meat on your hands. You should also have a turkey carcass, which will be ready and waiting to be turned into soup. Simmer the carcass in chicken stock, then add carrots, celery, onions, and bacon. Got vegetables left over from the feast, like potatoes or Brussels sprouts? Throw them in, too.
Turkey Tortilla Soup
Though Thanksgiving turkey is a dish firmly linked to the US, turkeys were first domesticated in Mexico, and this recipe takes inspiration from that heritage. It pairs leftover turkey with broth, aromatics, and plenty of chilies—we like to use two pasilla peppers and two anchos, but you can cut it down to one of each to make a milder soup.
Slow-Cooker Leftover Turkey, Lemon, and Couscous Soup
Slow-cooking is a good way to save yourself from having to do too much work in the kitchen after a hectic Thanksgiving Day. This soup uses turkey wings to make a broth flavored with aromatics like thyme and bay; Israeli couscous adds bulk and a chewy texture. A cup of white wine supplies some necessary acidity (plus, it's a good way to polish off a bottle that wasn't finished over dinner).
Slow-Cooker Leftover Turkey and Andouille Gumbo
The half hour of active time required to sauté the vegetables and make the roux makes this slow-cooker recipe somewhat less hands-off, but it's worth the extra effort. Andouille, cayenne, and Cajun seasoning contribute its signature flavors, while Worcestershire sauce and Louisiana-style hot sauce lend it savoriness and heat.
Slow-Cooker Leftover Turkey Chile Verde
This slow-cooker recipe reinvigorates leftover turkey with a powerful chile verde base, made with broiled tomatillos, serrano peppers, onions, and garlic. We thicken the chili with cornmeal and white beans. A full complement of garnishes—cilantro, sour cream, red onions, pepper Jack cheese, and crunchy crushed tortilla chips—adds a range of satisfying textures and flavors.
Turkey 'n' Dumplings
Leftover turkey can be used in plenty of recipes where chicken is typically called for, such as this post-Thanksgiving spin on chicken and dumplings. Fresh aromatics flavor the comforting broth, to which we add bite-size chunks of turkey and easy biscuit-like drop dumplings. If you have any leftover gravy, you can use it to thicken up the soup.
Turkey Paitan Ramen With Crispy Turkey and Soft-Cooked Egg
This turkey ramen is more of an all-day project than a quick leftovers fix, so it's good for the Friday after Thanksgiving if you're relieved of family duty and have some time on your hands. Leftover turkey meat and bones become a rich, creamy, opaque paitan-style ramen broth when cooked with aromatics and charred vegetables. We add a few fresh turkey drumsticks to cook in the broth, shred the meat, and crisp it up in a pan, à la carnitas, to garnish each bowl.
Taiwanese Turkey Rice
It may sound like some novel reinvention of Singaporean chicken rice, but in southwestern Taiwan, it's traditional to make the dish with turkey—usually steamed, but leftover roast turkey works, too. If you've reserved any of the drippings from cooking the bird, use them to make a savory sauce to top each bowl, along with fried shallots and cilantro.