Thanksgiving Turkey Reuben Sandwich Recipe

Turn leftover turkey into a Reuben-style sandwich with cranberry sauce and turkey gravy.

Leftover Turkey Reuben Sandwiches

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Leftover turkey gravy adds savory depth and meatiness to Russian dressing.
  • Combining sweet and sour cranberry sauce with the fermented funk of sauerkraut lends holiday vibes to a classic deli sandwich.
  • Preheating the leftover turkey and cranberry-kraut for the sandwich ensures that the cheese melts quickly upon assembly.

I am not the biggest fan of serving or eating roast turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, and I much prefer cooking other birds that not only can more easily fit in my New York City–sized fridge and oven but also pack more flavor, like duck or even chicken. Or if dinner guests aren't in a fowl mood, I will gladly cook a slow-roasted pork shoulder, tri-tip beef roast, or even a city ham instead. But while I won't necessarily miss the bird, I do miss having zipper-lock bags full of leftover turkey in the fridge for making sandwiches the next day.

Even though we love to breathe new life into leftovers with dishes like hot and numbing Sichuan-style turkey salad or turkey chintan ramen, turkey sandwiches are magical, and it would be a crime not to pile up some of your holiday bird between two slices of bread for lunch on Black Friday. Most people have a signature leftover sandwich that they wait all year to bust out, but just in case you want to switch things up, here's an easy leftover Thanksgiving turkey Reuben to try out.

Overhead of components for turkey Reuben sandwiches: toasted rye bread, leftover roast turkey, cranberry-sauerkraut, Russian dressing, and Swiss cheese.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Now, before we even get into it, I just want to make it clear that I'm not going to get dragged into a semantic argument about whether a sandwich that doesn't involve corned beef can be called a Reuben. Some people might want to call this sandwich a Rachel, but, along with subbing turkey for corned beef, a Rachel swaps in coleslaw for sauerkraut, and that's not what I'm doing here.

Making coleslaw the day after Thanksgiving is not in the spirit of leftover sandwiches; digging out that jar of sauerkraut from the back of the fridge is. And after a heavy holiday meal, I'd rather go with the fermented funk of kraut than with the creamy slaw. If you really didn't get in enough family squabbling on Thursday night, feel free to argue about what to call this sandwich with your nearest and dearest. It is rich, full-bodied, and beautiful, so let's just call it Reubenesque.

To give this sandwich the full Thanksgiving leftovers treatment, I start by reheating pieces of pulled or sliced turkey in the oven in a little foil packet with a touch of turkey or chicken stock to moisten the meat, which, let's be honest, is usually on the dry side. Heating the sandwich ingredients is a trick that Daniel uses in his classic Reuben recipe, which ensures that the cheese melts quickly when the sandwiches are assembled.

Closeup of cranberry-sauerkraut on top of turkey for a Reuben sandwich.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

I heat up the sauerkraut with some leftover cranberry sauce; the sweet and tart fruit complements the tang of the kraut without overwhelming it.

And for the final bit of Thanksgiving-leftovers flair, I stir some rich turkey gravy into the Russian dressing for the sandwiches. I love adding meaty, savory depth to dishes in the form of condiments (don't worry, I am not here to give another bootleg TED Talk on the importance of XO sauce, even though XO Russian dressing would be a power move). When you have flavor powerhouses like gravy kicking around in your fridge, you should put them to good use.

Stacking Chef's Press weights on a turkey Reuben sandwich as it cooks on an electric griddle.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

To assemble the sandwiches, follow Daniel's advice and start by buttering up and toasting slices of rye bread on one side.

I leave it up to you whether to finish the sandwiches in batches in a skillet, on an electric griddle, or on a baking sheet in the oven. Whichever way you choose, slather the untoasted sides of rye with the gravy-spiked Russian dressing, before layering on the turkey, cranberry-kraut, and Swiss cheese.

Draping Swiss cheese over a cranberry-sauerkraut while building Reuben sandwiches.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

If you are using a skillet or griddle, start sandwich construction with a slice of cheese on each piece of bread. If you are going with the oven method, hold off on the cheese for the four slices of bread that are getting the turkey and kraut, and lay the cheese on top, so it will melt evenly when you pop the bread in the oven.

For griddling, I like to press and weigh the sandwiches down with a Chef's Press or two to promote even browning on the bread and quick melting for the Swiss cheese.

An open-faced turkey Reuben sandwich on a rimmed baking sheet, with melted Swiss cheese.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Once the cheese is gooey and ready to go, close up your sandwiches (if you went with the oven method), slice them in half, and serve them up. Fair warning: there won't be any leftovers left over, so make sure to set aside a Reuben for yourself before they all get gobbled up.

Leftover turkey reuben sandwich plated

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Recipe Facts

Active: 20 mins
Total: 25 mins
Makes: 4 sandwiches

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Ingredients

  • For the Russian Dressing:
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) turkey gravy
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) chopped dill pickles or dill pickle relish
  • 2 tablespoons (30g) prepared horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For the Sandwiches:
  • 1 pound (450g) leftover roast turkey, pulled or sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) homemade turkey or chicken stock, or store-bought, low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 1/2 cups (8 ounces; 225g) sauerkraut
  • 1/4 cup (3 ounces; 85g) store-bought or homemade cranberry sauce
  • 5 tablespoons (70g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 8 slices rye bread
  • 8 slices (8 ounces; 225g) Swiss cheese

Directions

  1. For the Russian Dressing: In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, ketchup, gravy, pickles, horseradish, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.

  2. For the Sandwiches: Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet and place turkey in the center. Bring foil edges up to form walls, then add stock to turkey. Bring edges of foil together, and crimp seal foil packet. Transfer to oven to heat turkey through, about 10 minutes.

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  3. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine sauerkraut and cranberry sauce and set over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through, about 5 minutes; cover and keep warm.

  4. Evenly spread butter on one side of each slice of bread. Heat a larger cast iron skillet or griddle over medium heat. Working in batches, toast bread, butter-side down, until crisp and golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer toasted bread slices to a rimmed baking sheet, toasted-side up; allow to cool slightly.

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    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  5. Flip bread slices over, so untoasted sides are facing up. Spread Russian dressing evenly on each slice of bread. If you are finishing sandwiches on a griddle or in a skillet, layer one slice of cheese on each slice of bread. If you are finishing sandwiches in the oven, layer one slice of cheese on only four slices of bread. Divide turkey evenly over four bread slices (for oven sandwiches, use the four slices without cheese), making sure to let any excess stock drip off before arranging on bread. Divide cranberry-sauerkraut mixture evenly over turkey. Layer remaining cheese slices over cranberry-sauerkraut.

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    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  6. If finishing sandwiches in the oven, transfer baking sheet to the oven and bake until cheese is fully melted, about 3 minutes. Close sandwiches, pressing each one together lightly. If finishing sandwiches on a griddle, close sandwiches and cook over medium heat, pressing down on sandwiches with a weight or spatula, until cheese is fully melted, about 2 minutes on each side. Serve immediately.

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    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special equipment

Rimmed baking sheet or 12-inch cast iron skillet or electric griddle; Chef's Press

Make-Ahead and Storage

The sandwiches are best enjoyed immediately. Russian dressing can be made ahead and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.