6 New Ways to Use Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey

Standing in front of the open fridge with a fork in hand is one way to eat Thanksgiving leftovers, but we have a better idea. Make a sandwich. And not just a pile of turkey and potatoes on white bread with a bit of mayo. We’re talking about a creation that elevates those turkey scraps to something otherworldly. These seven creative recipes will make your Friday feast even better than the main event.

1. Leftover Turkey Sandwich with Spicy Cranberry Cream

Thanksgiving leftover sandwich, turkey, cranberry, stuffing

Turkey sandwich with cranberry cream | iStock.com

Sweet and savory, everyone’s favorite flavor combination, becomes even better with the addition of spicy chiles. Add Thanksgiving leftovers to the equation, and you have a recipe for success. Get a taste with Kelsey Nixon’s take on leftover turkey sandwiches, featured on Cooking Channel. The star of this handheld meal is the spicy and creamy cranberry spread. Though this recipe calls for cooking a fresh batch of cranberry relish, you can use leftover sauce. Smooth out the fruit in the blender, then follow the recipe from there.

Ingredients:

 Cranberry apple glaze

  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 2 cups cranberries
  • 1 cup cranberry juice
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Sandwiches and assembly

  • ½ cup cranberry apple glaze
  • 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 2 scallions, whites and greens, thinly sliced
  • ½ jalapeño, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 focaccia rolls, split lengthwise
  • 4 leaves green curly lettuce
  • 4 ounces leftover turkey, sliced
  • 1 cup leftover stuffing
  • Pickle spears

Directions: Combine cider, cranberries, cranberry juice, syrup, and vinegar in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until liquid is reduced to 2 cups and berries have burst, 18 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a blender, and purée until smooth. Let cool.

Combine ½ cup glaze with yogurt, scallions, and jalapeño in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk both mustards with honey to combine.

Spread honey mustard on bottom halves of each roll, and spread cranberry cream on top halves. On bottom roll halves, arrange one lettuce leaf, 1 ounce turkey, and ¼ cup stuffing. Close with roll tops. Serve sandwiches with pickle spears.

2. Roast Turkey Sandwiches with Artichoke Tapenade, Caramelized Onions, and Roasted Red Peppers

panini, Italian sandwich, grilled

Roast turkey sandwich | iStock.com

Take turkey to the Mediterranean with Closet Cooking’s sandwiches featuring sweet caramelized onions and a luxurious artichoke spread. The tapenade is pretty easy to throw together, but you might be able to find some at your local grocery store as well. If you can’t find an artichoke version, pick up some regular olive tapenade, then blitz it in the food processor with some canned artichokes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • ¼ cup water
  • 4 slices bread or 2 buns, halved
  • 4 tablespoons artichoke tapenade
  • 4 slices roast turkey
  • 1 large roasted red pepper, or one jarred roasted red pepper, halved
  • 1 handful baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise

Directions: Heat oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Add onion and water. Cook onions until extremely soft and golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes, adding additional water during cooking. Onions should be moist, but not wet.

Spread tapenade on two bread slices. Dividing equally, arrange turkey, red pepper, onions, and spinach on top of the tapenade. Spread remaining two slices of bread with mayonnaise, and close sandwiches, mayo-side down. Serve.

3. Thanksgiving Turkey and Waffles Sandwich

Belgian Waffles

Waffles | iStock.com

You can find plenty of recipes for turkey sandwiches on waffles all over the Internet. As great as they all look, most of them involve a lot of ingredients and a separate waffle recipe. Anyone who’s familiar with Will it Waffle knows you can usually shortcut your way to a waffle with just a bit of creativity.

For a Thanksgiving spin on the easy way to waffle goodness, try Real Food by Dad’s leftover sandwich. It turns stuffing into a waffle by mixing in just a bit of egg and chicken broth. After crisping the mixture in the iron, top it with turkey, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and anything else your heart desires.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup chicken broth, divided
  • 2 cups stuffing
  • 8 turkey slices
  • 2 cups mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup gravy
  • 4 slices jellied cranberry or 4 scoops of cranberry sauce

Directions: Preheat waffle iron. Meanwhile, whisk eggs with ¼ cup chicken broth. Pour egg mixture over stuffing in a medium bowl, and mix to combine, adding additional broth, 1 tablespoon at a time, if needed. Mixture should be moist.

Using your hands, form stuffing mixture into eight 2-inch-wide, 1-inch-thick patties. Place one patty on waffle iron, and cook until crisp and golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining stuffing mixture.

Build sandwiches by topping one waffle with potatoes, gravy, cranberries, and turkey. Close with another waffle and repeat with remaining ingredients. Serve.

4. Barbecue Pulled-Turkey Sandwiches

pulled pork sandwich, barbecue

Barbecue pulled-turkey sandwich | iStock.com

For a true turkey transformation, think barbecue. We like Bon Appétit’s saucy sandwiches with creamy slaw. A little bit of bacon gives the barbecue sauce a hint of smoke, which helps recreate the flavor you get from backyard cooking. If you smoked your Thanksgiving turkey, these sandwiches are probably the best way to use up the leftover meat.

This recipe involves a bit of cooking, but it’s all very simple. Blaming the turkey for making you feel tired is no excuse to be lazy. The Washington Post explained other foods contain just as much or more tryptophan than the actual bird, so get cooking.

Ingredients:

Slaw

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon celery seeds
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups thinly sliced green cabbage

Sauce and assembly

  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup tomato purée
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2⅓ cups shredded cooked turkey
  • 4 soft sandwich rolls

Directions: Whisk mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, and celery seeds in a small bowl to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Add cabbage, and toss to coat. Cover bowl, and chill.

Sauté bacon in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat until crisp and brown, about 5 minutes. Add tomato purée, vinegar, water, brown sugar, chili powder, and cumin. Bring sauce to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir turkey into sauce, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until turkey is heated through, stirring occasionally.

Split and toast rolls. Divide turkey and slaw among rolls, close sandwiches, and serve.

5. Thanksgiving Leftover Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese

Grilled cheese | iStock.com

Turning Thanksgiving leftovers into a grilled cheese sounds so delicious, you may find yourself wondering why you haven’t tried it before. Instead of pondering all the years you wasted on a sub-par sandwich, make up for lost time with this melty sandwich from Serious Eats. More of a method than an actual recipe, you can use any type of melting cheese and whatever leftover sides you please.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 bread slices
  • ½ pound mixed Thanksgiving leftovers, such as turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, etc.
  • 2 slices cheddar, Swiss, jack, or American cheese
  • ¼ cup leftover gravy, warmed

Directions: Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet set over medium heat. Once melted, add bread slices and swirl to evenly coat with the butter. Cook, shaking pan occasionally, until bread is golden on one side, then transfer to a cutting board, browned-side facing up.

Top browned side of one bread slice with one slice of cheese, followed by leftovers, then another slice of cheese. Close with second bread slice, browned-side facing in.

Heat ½ tablespoon butter in same skillet over medium heat. When melted, add sandwich. Cook, moving occasionally, until golden and crispy, about 3 minutes. Remove sandwich, melt remaining butter, then return sandwich to the pan. Cook until second side is browned. Serve with gravy.

6. Turkey and Corn Quesadillas with Guacamole

quesadilla, guacamole, salsa

Quesadillas | iStock.com

OK, so this isn’t exactly a sandwich. Still, it’s pretty close, and quesadillas are always a good choice for fast and delicious meals. This one from Fine Cooking ups the ante with a homemade guacamole and the sweet pop of corn kernels. You can even turn leftover cranberry sauce into a makeshift salsa by adding some onion, jalapeño, lime juice, and cilantro.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe medium avocados, halved and pitted
  • ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 medium lime, half juiced and other half cut into wedges
  • 1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups shredded roast turkey
  • 2 cups cooked corn kernels
  • ½ cup packed, coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 (7-inch) flour tortillas
  • 2 cups grated pepper jack cheese
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided

Directions: Position rack to the center of the oven, and preheat to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, mash avocado with a potato masher or fork. Stir in the onion, 1 tablespoon lime juice, chile, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. If needed, season with additional salt and lime juice. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface until ready to serve.

In a large bowl, toss turkey, corn, and cilantro with 1 teaspoon salt. Top half of each tortilla with ⅛ of the turkey mixture and ¼ cup cheese. Fold in half.

Heat 1½ teaspoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add 2 quesadillas, and weigh down with a lid. Cook until golden and crisp, about 2 to 3 minutes. Use a spatula to gently flip each quesadilla, and cook until second side is golden and cheese is melted, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer to a baking sheet, and place in the oven.

Wipe out skillet, and repeat with remaining ingredients. Cut quesadillas into wedges. Serve with guacamole and lime wedges.