Updated on 09.23.14

Dealing with Thanksgiving Leftovers

Trent Hamm

Instead of a “Dinner with My Family” this week, I thought I’d discuss how to deal with the mountain of Thanksgiving leftovers that many families find themselves with today.

Each year, my mother takes charge of preparing a huge family Thanksgiving meal. Each year, there’s a small mountain of leftovers to deal with.

I know that many other families find themselves in the same boat. What do we do with all of these leftovers? This year, I spent some time perusing a pile of old Thanksgiving food magazines, cookbooks, internet sites, and other places looking for good things to do with leftovers from Thanksgiving. Here are some of the ideas I found.

Ideas on How to Deal with Thanksgiving Leftovers

1. Leftover Turkey

can easily be cut into small pieces and used as part of a pasta dish three days later or so. Preparing a turkey marinara or a turkey alfredo is easy – just prepare the sauce, add some cubed turkey, and put the sauce over your preferred pasta. The sauce alters the flavor of the turkey so much that it becomes a new meal.

Another approach is to use leftover dark meat and bones to prepare some turkey stock. Take everything that’s left from the turkey and put it all in a crock pot along with any extra leftover vegetables (such as green beans), some pepper, and a small dash of salt. Let it cook on low all day, then filter out all of the leftovers, leaving behind some delicious turkey stock. Freeze the stock, then use it as the base for soups and other things throughout the winter.

My favorite use, though, is to just cube it and save it in small bags. This way, you can quickly pull a bag of the turkey out of the freezer and use it as a salad topping. I did this for multiple Thanksgivings and found that I was always happy to toss some cubed turkey on top of my salads at home.

2. Leftover Mashed Potatoes

can be used in a lot of ways. My personal favorite is to save them for a few days, then form them into discs and fry them with a bit of vegetable oil, making potato pancakes. If your potatoes are particularly soft, you may want to add just a bit of corn starch to thicken and harden the pancakes so that they don’t fall apart in the pan.

Another use for leftover mashed potatoes is in shepherd’s pie, which can be made a day or two after Thanksgiving and easily frozen for later use. Just fill a 9″ by 13″ pan about half full with leftover vegetables, add some cooked meat that you prefer, pour some appropriate broth on top (about a cup), and then spread the mashed potatoes on top. You can even sprinkle a little cheese on top if you’d like.

One final trick – and this is a great thing to do if you have mashed potatoes that you’re going to freeze – is to incorporate them into a simple biscuit recipe. Just add them in to give your biscuits a special texture and flavor. Biscuits are easy. All you need is 3 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of baking powder, a teaspoon of salt, a quarter cup of sugar, half a stick of cold butter, a beaten egg, and somewhere between half a cup and a full cup of buttermilk. Combine all of the ingredients until the dough you make is just barely sticky (start with half a cup of buttermilk and add more if it’s just too dry). If you’re using potatoes, just mix in the potatoes with the dough for a bigger batch.

3. Leftover Dressing

(or stuffing) can be a bit of a challenge. One technique that seemed interesting was to press as much of it as you can into a square container, squeezing it in there very tightly. Leave it there for a while, then remove the stuffing. You can then slice the stuffing, using it for sandwiches (yes, that would be pretty carb-heavy, but you could also add plenty of other condiments and toppings).

One important thing to note, though, is that stuffing/dressing freezes really well. Usually, we freeze our leftover dressing and then use it in a month or so with another meal when we’re in a pinch. It can make a great side to an otherwise dull meal.

4. Leftover Cranberry Sauce

simply begs to be used in muffins or scones, particularly if you have the whole-berry kind and not the gelatinized sauce (though that can be used, too). Simply find your favorite muffin or scone recipe and use the cranberries as an ingredient in them. Delicious!

My favorite use, though, is to turn it into barbecue sauce. That’s right – barbecue sauce. Just take a cup and a half of the sauce and put it in the blender with 3/4 cup ketchup; 1/4 cup honey; a tablespoon of cider vinegar; a teaspoon each of Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and garlic powder; and a pinch of cayenne pepper and ground black pepper. Mix this into a puree, then save it for next summer for a tremendous barbecue sauce.

5. Leftover Turkey Gravy

can be used much like a stock if you freeze it. You simply water it down and use it as the base for a soup at a later time. It works surprisingly well, as the boiling and the stirring causes the gravy to thin out into a flavorful soup starter.

You can also save the gravy to use as part of a pot pie, or use it as the liquid ingredient in the shepherd’s pie above (though that may be too much Thanksgiving taste right after the meal, so if you do this, I’d freeze the shepherd’s pie to use at a later date).

Hopefully, these tactics will keep you from throwing out perfectly good holiday leftovers this year!

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  1. My wife and I simply LOVE to put the leftover dressing into an omelette the next morning. I like mine with cheese, hers with leftover gravy on top. Many flavors combining together. Quite delicious.

  2. Tootie says:

    Good ideas! Last year, I used some of the leftover turkey (and stuffing, too) to make turkey pot pie. It was pretty tasty. I’ve also used the leftover turkey in soups – it’s good in basically any soup where you would use chicken.

  3. Kyle says:

    I can’t believe Trent is dissing dark turkey meat!

    But on the other hand, my relatives have dozens of ideas for leftovers, but Trent’s were all original to them. Thanks! I will have to try them.

  4. elyn says:

    Leftovers, well, I just like to eat them reheated, but we’re vegetarian, so we don’t have the turkey forever problem. This year though, we’re having friends over for a leftover potluck- they bring theirs, we break out ours and have a second feast.

  5. lurker carl says:

    Reheat and have everyone come back on Saturday to eat up the leftovers.

  6. Jacque says:

    Is it just me or does it sound like someone else wrote this post? Perhaps Sarah?

    We just eat Thanksgiving dinner again until all the sides are gone. If there’s even more turkey we do turkey sandwiches possibly with a bit of mashed potatoes and a good amount of mayonnaise. Boring, I guess, but I love it!

  7. Brittany says:

    A good friend called me today and mentioned he was making perogies out of his leftovers. Made a dough from the stuffing and mashed potatoes, filled them with turkey and cranberries. Yum.

  8. Shelley says:

    Cranberry sauce makes excellent fruit muffins a la Tightwad Gazette recipe. We freeze dressing in ice cream scoop portions and put them in a plastic bag for sensible calorie consumption over the coming months.

  9. littlepitcher says:

    You can take the gravy, add a little caraway seed and just a hint of mustard, then simmer the white meat in the gravy and serve it on bread or on the dressing. I like habanero peppers in cranberry sauce, so it is used in place of salsa.

  10. kevin says:

    Put them on a plate – put in microwave – heat for 60 seconds.

  11. Marinda says:

    Hot turkey open faced sandwiches. You can toast the bread, heat the turkey and gravy, layer it and pop it under the broiler with a dusting of cheese or keep it plain. Get out the forks and napkins and enjoy.

    Stock is made fro the bones of the turkey and we make a huge batch of turkey and sausage gumbo, freeze and use in the next six week for a good supper with rice and a green salad.

  12. SLCCOM says:

    Take the stuffing and make burger bundles. Take a pound of hamburger, put a small can of condensed milk in it and mix. Pat out a circle of meat, put in about a eighth cup of dressing. Pull the meat up around the dressing and pinch closed. These can be made in advance and frozen for later use.

    Put about 5 in a glass casserole dish, and cover with the sauce: take 1 can cream of mushroom soup. put in 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon of ketchup. Bake until bubbly, serve with noodles.

  13. renee says:

    Mix cranberry sauce with an equal amount of mayo and spread on your turkey sandwich.

  14. I love left over turkey. So while we traveled for thanksgiving, we did buy one turkey that we will probably cook up in about two weeks for the left overs! We have a number of favorite dishes for left over turkey… love it in salads, and left overs the next day for sandwiches, of course the hot open face sandwiches with left over mashed potatoes and gravy, but also some turkey with a bit of barbecue sauce on an open sandwich… or turkey, peas and half cooked elbow macaroni and a can of cream of chicken soup as a casserole. Delicious. Almost any recipe you can make with chicken you can use left over turkey. Sometimes not quite as good using already cooked meat, but very fast.

  15. Creede says:

    Around our house Thanksgiving leftovers are what’s known as a “self-correcting problem.” In fact some years we’ve done two turkey dinners in the week so we can have more leftovers!

  16. Kate says:

    If we aren’t home for Thanksgiving dinner, I make a Thanksgiving dinner just to have leftovers. I think I like the leftovers better than the actual dinner. Soups, pot pies…YUM!

  17. valleycat1 says:

    I’m with #15 & #16. The only item we freeze part of is the turkey (there are only 2 of us, so 12 lbs of turkey goes a long way). We also freeze the carcass & use it with the saved meat for soup in a week or so. More immediately, we just reheat any of the other leftovers & enjoy.

  18. Rockledge says:

    #12 SLCCOM Well, now, I do a lot of cooking and read cookbooks like novels and I’ve never heard of that. Thanks for posting it.

  19. Tom says:

    Thanksgiving empanadas. I’ve done this for the past three years using a Sandra Lee recipe from Food Network. Basically, mix together some leftovers with taco seasoning and cheese, take a pie dough and cut circles out. She uses 2in circles, I get through leftovers faster by cutting larger circles – thy can hold a lot more filling via the magic of surface area to volume, and they’re more of a meal than a snack-y food. Stuff, crimp, poke vent holes and bake for 20 minutes. We serve with cranberry sauce.
    I also plan to make turkey enchiladas. Don’t ask me why all my leftovers turn into TexMex.

  20. michele says:

    Leftover potatoes make easy and delicious gnocchi…and gnocchi can be frozen and eaten later! Add one whole beaten egg and 2 cups of flour to each one cup of leftover mashed potatoes. Mix together well, then knead until smooth. Roll out into a long snake shape, then cut small pieces off and roll lightly with a fork to get the striped marks. Freeze immediately, or drop into boiling water. When they rise to the top, they are cooked! Sauce and serve.
    We also use leftover stuffing to make meatballs. I use it instead of breadcrumbs and it’s really delicious. Meatballs can be frozen forever, too after cooking.

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