Some of you are in it for the stuffing. Some of you like Thanksgiving for the green bean casserole, I'm sure, and others really do dream about the perfect forkful of dark meat turkey and tangy cranberry sauce. But for plenty of folks, the real point of Thanksgiving comes later: the leftovers sandwich. And while most of us are happy with a little turkey and some cranberry sauce on toasted bread, chefs and food bloggers tend to get a little more creative.
I asked some Thanksgiving leftover sandwich obsessives from around the country about their ultimate day-after Turkey Day creation. Here's what they had to say.
"I love the sandwich. I start with untoasted whole grain bread, whatever we have around, and add a little cold gravy—that's essentially a little spread of its own. Then Duke's mayo. It's the best mayonnaise ever. I'm not from the South but I understand the loyalty there. It's an old school, really good, salty and vinegary mayonnaise. Add the cut-up turkey and some leftover cranberries. You know, my mom is gaga for cooking turkey, she's all about the leftovers—so maybe that's embedded in me—even if I host Thanksgiving, she'll buy her own turkey and spend the whole day cooking it, just to have the leftovers. I tend not to love the whole Thanksgiving meal, but I live for the sandwiches after."—Stuart Brioza, State Bird Provisions, San Francisco, CA
"I want a post-Thanksgiving sandwich that makes you sit up straight, so I'd stick to turkey and add slivers of avocado, pickled onions, and a smoky chili mayo (made with either chipotles or spicy smoked paprika)."—Amanda Hesser, Food52
"Do a sort of sweet/savory Monte Cristo. In the sandwich would be a thin schmear of gravy, sliced turkey, some Chinese mustard, and some sort of cheese like Swiss or Gruyere. A challah-type bread would be good, but white bread would be best. Then, French toast-batter the sandwich and cook like you would French toast. I would turn the cranberry sauce in to a sort of spicy sweet jam to dip the sandwich in. I think even a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top would be good!"—Johanna Ware, Smallwares, Portland, OR
"Although I traditionally like white bread sandwiches, sometimes I like to get real creative. Last year, I took a really hot waffle iron, brushed with butter, and pressed two scoops of cold leftover sage stuffing side by side until crispy, about six to eight minutes. I popped them off and used it to make two open-faced sandwiches. I topped each toasted stuffing half with a little bit of gravy, dark meat turkey, cranberry sauce, and some more gravy. If I really wanted to double down, I'd add some leftover mashed potatoes as well. If there are a few stray brussels sprouts laying around, I'd pop them on top too, but make them extra crunchy first—Michael White, Altamarea Group, New York, NY
"We have decided this year to celebrate the time honored tradition of the Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich at The NoMad this year. We start with a brioche roll baked fresh by our amazing pastry team. Because brioche is soft and buttery, it's perfect for soaking in all the juices from the turkey and gravy. We then add some cranberry chutney to brighten up the flavor of the meat. Then, we put in a few roasted chestnuts for texture, so there's a little bit of a crunch to balance the juiciness of the sandwich. What really sets this sandwich apart, though, is the butternut squash mustard we use (squash, Dijon, and pickled mustard seeds). It adds that essential pop of acidity, cutting that intensely rich flavor."—Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park and The NoMad, New York, NY
"To me, Thanksgiving isn't truly Thanksgiving without turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing. When making a leftover sandwich, omitting the stuffing makes sense, but it absolutely must include the other two; layering in a spread made from roasted sweet potato and some sautéed shallots really ties everything together. Build the sandwich in the following order: mozzarella, cranberry sauce, sweet potato spread, turkey. Also, make sure you use bread thick enough to stand up to a panini press because throwing it on there to finish is the perfect way to keep the flavors of Thanksgiving going for days afterwards."—Tom Colicchio, Craft Restaurants, New York, NY
"The ideal post-Thanksgiving snack is what I call the Turkey Tamale. Basically, it's a Thanksgiving meal wrapped in the stuffing. First, lay out a sheet of plastic wrap and scoop out some cornbread stuffing into the center. Now flatten out the stuffing into a rectangle roughly four inches by six inches. Pile up turkey and cranberry sauce as well as any other leftovers you like in the center. Now wrap the cornbread stuffing around the filling. Once you have completely encapsulate the filling roll your tamale up in the plastic wrap. Now you will twist the ends until it gets nice and packed together. Remove the plastic wrap and then heat up in a frying pan."—Ian Atkins, Stella Taco, Portland, OR
"The ultimate post-Thanksgiving leftover sandwich starts with the sweet rolls my mom makes for Thanksgiving dinner. They're tender but not too rich and as white as can be. After that I keep it fairly simple; cream cheese, mustard (dijon), cranberry sauce, and turkey (dark meat). I serve the sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy then finish it all off with a slice of Grandma's pumpkin pie. I think it's this plate that I crave more than the actual meal."—Ashley Rodriguez, Not Without Salt
"I confit my turkey legs. It's empirically the best way to enjoy turkey dark meat. My go-to is to make a Turkey Confit Reuben with the leftovers. Juicy confit, tons of Russian dressing, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and rye bread."—Scott Dolich, The Bent Brick, Portland, OR
Ever since I learned about the shooter sandwich, my world has been rocked! Imagine, all of your leftovers, packed into a self-contained bread bowl? It's the most genius way to pack turkey and trimmings into a sandwich. Basically, you take a round loaf of bread, hollow out the middle, and layer your leftovers—mashed potatoes, greens, stuffing, turkey, sweet potatoes, and cranberry sauce—inside. Close your bread bowl, wrap it up, press, slice and serve! One tip: I like to layer my greens at the bottom, so the bread doesn't get too soggy from wetter foods and condiments."—Stephanie Smith, 300 Sandwiches
"After a 15-hour day serving Thanksgiving dinners, morning-after cravings rarely consist of extravagant turkey sandwiches, or even any meat at all. I usually bring home some of our chestnut stuffing and use it to create a Thanksgiving version of the Japanese pub fare classic, okonomiyaki. I mix the stuffing with an egg and shredded brussels sprouts; put on a stove top griddle and cook until crisp on both sides. Then, I smother it with with Kewpie mayo and bulldog tonkatsu sauce. Sandwiched between slices of freshly baked white bread (or leftover Parker House rolls) with pickled ginger and toasted nori, this one never fails to please."—Nick Pfannerstill, Dovetail, New York, NY
"Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and it's the one holiday I don't cook for. Our friends Pheobe and Andre always host and they always prepare two different turkeys—one deep fried, one roasted. With the inevitable leftovers, I like to make an open-faced Croque-Monsieur for lunch the following day. I like layers of flavor so my version of the sandwich starts with a slice of toasted country bread, which I top with warm pieces of dark turkey meat, a couple slices of Emmental cheese—that I'll melt in the broiler—verjus gravy instead of a traditional béchamel, and I finish the whole with a spoonful of rosemary cranberry sauce. It's always such a treat to sit down and eat such a decadent lunch while I reminisce on the best day of the year."—Amorette Casaus, Ardesia, New York, NY
"Obviously turkey and cranberries are must have items in a leftover sandwich. But why not make a hash with your leftover sweet potatoes or mashers, and turkey, maybe with an egg on it? Terrific breakfast sandwich. Use your leftover brussels sprouts as a slaw or quick pickle them to add to your turkey sandwich."—Michael Madigan, Bowery Bagels, Portland, OR
"The traditional Thanksgiving leftover sandwich has a problem. It's already full of starch in the form of mashed potatoes and stuffing. Why do you want to add bread, which also dilutes the flavor of the holiday's main attractions? The Stuffing Sandwich solves this problem. Take two baseball-sized balls of stuffing. Beat two eggs and mix them with the stuffing. Form the stuffing back into balls and put them in a hot skillet with oil. Press them flat and fry them until they're golden brown and crispy on both sides. Now use those stuffing patties in place of sandwich bread! I recommend thin layers of mashed potatoes on both sides to act as a mortar. Add turkey, cranberry sauce, and whatever else you like, and you're in business.—Dan Pashman, The Sporkful, You're Eating It Wrong
"Wonder bread, cold turkey, stuffing, Ocean Spray canned cranberry sauce, and a touch of mayo. This sandwich brings back great childhood memories. I was able to fix it myself, because there was no cooking involved. Still to this day, canned cranberry sauce is still my go to when eating at home. It's probably one of the few canned products I enjoy."—Harold Dieterle, Kin Shop and Perilla, New York, NY
"I like to take a lot of mayo and add it to leftover dressing. Then I pile that onto cold turkey between two pieces of squishy white bread with a little butter-bean chowchow. It's like everything you would have on your dinner plate between two pieces of bread—the full Thanksgiving experience in one bite!"—Sean Brock, Husk, McCrady's, and Minero, Charleston, SC
"I've never understood the appeal of the all-the-leftovers-between-two-slices-of-bread post-Thanksgiving sandwich. To me, a great sandwich is always about balance and restraint, even if we're talking about a sandwich motivated by a glut of holiday leftovers. A hearty loaf of bread with a crackly crust is key—I'd rather defrost and re-crisp a crusty loaf from the freezer than use the standard presliced sandwich bread I keep on hand for my morning toast or tuna or egg salad sandwiches. I don't eat a lot of meaty sandwiches anymore (having grown up on deli meat, I largely gave it up with a few key exceptions), but a roasted turkey sandwich, pulled in nice thick slabs from the leftover bird, on good bread with a little Dijon-spiked cranberry sauce... I can get behind that. I'll probably go all California on it and tuck in some ripe avocado, too, because turkey and avocado just belong together, Thanksgiving or not."—Cheryl Sternman Rule, 5 Second Rule
"Scouring through the remains of the Thanksgiving feast is definitely one of my favorite things to do, whether it's midnight after all of our friends have left and the family is asleep, for breakfast the next day, or for lunch after a morning hike. The ultimate sandwich would be some crusty ciabatta bread topped with turkey leg meat, some of my chanterelle hazelnut stuffing, a potato pancake or two, chopped brussels sprouts, and topped with a duck egg and spicy aioli. Dipped in a cup of warm gravy and accompanied by a glass of cold milk, it would be absolutely delicious. Next step: a nap."—Craig DiFonzo, Lungomare, Oakland, CA
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