45 Brilliant Uses For Thanksgiving Leftovers
Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated meals of the year. But the day after? Leftover central. Instead of pushing untouched stuffing and turkey into the depths of the fridge, try out these Thanksgiving leftover ideas to spread Turkey Day cheer a little bit longer.
1. Shepherd's Pie
Stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and turkey can come together for a quick shepherd's pie that clears out multiple side dishes all at once. And unlike pot pies, there's no need to roll out a crust—just top with extra gravy for a complete meal.
Stir-fry can easily be tailored to whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. Turkey and Brussels sprouts work well together, but any vegetables will do. Leftover wine can be used as a turkey marinade, making use of half-empty bottles that could otherwise go bad. The key to making a great leftover stir-fry is having a hot pan, and using meat that has warmed at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Thanksgiving pizza quickly clears out leftovers—that’s because many recipes call for mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey. Substitute gravy for marinara, and don’t stress about making a crust from scratch; refrigerated dough (perhaps from any unmade crescent rolls) makes this leftover innovation a much faster meal.
The classic casserole is one of the easiest ways to get rid of leftovers, and that’s because it can be thrown together quickly and baked with little oversight (a much-needed cooking style after a big Thanksgiving meal). Even leftover casseroles (like green bean casserole) can be worked into a new dish. The trick for casserole success is creating layers, similar to lasagna, instead of blending all ingredients together.
Thanksgiving dinner can easily make its way to the next day's breakfast without picky eaters even noticing. Muffins made from sweeter leftovers, like whole or sauced cranberries, offer up a seasonal flavor while clearing out the fridge. And cooks can even sneak in a few veggies, such as carrots, for an added nutritional boost.
6. French Toast
Turn carb-heavy dinner breads or dessert loaves into breakfast treats with a stovetop or baked version of French toast. This quick-cooking breakfast calls for any leftover bread, and can use up cranberry sauce, too, when used as a topping or filling.
7. Potato and Stuffing Cakes
Leftover mashed potatoes can be repurposed in many ways, but what about stuffing? Two cups of stuffing, an egg, and butter are all it takes to make stuffing cakes—à la potato cakes—that fry up for a lunchtime snack. If you want to carbo-load for a second day in a row, you can mix mashed potatoes and stuffing for a similar pan-fried patty.
In the 1940s, spudnut shops popped up throughout the U.S., making tasty doughnut snacks from dried potatoes. While it's hard to find a modern spudnut spot, you can recreate this decades-old snack using leftover mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes work just as well when paired with leftover cranberries.
Pumpkin pie can be transformed into pancakes for an easy breakfast following a big day of cooking. Beat two slices of pie into pancake batter for festive fall breakfast, and top with leftover fruit or cranberries.
10. Dessert Crisps
Fruit crumbles and crisps became popular during World War II, when food rationing made it difficult for home cooks to craft elaborate desserts. Luckily, these recipes are perfect for after Thanksgiving, because they require minimal effort and few ingredients, all while using up leftover cranberry sauce, apples, and other fruit dishes.
11. Day-After Pies
Sure, Thanksgiving is known for its standard pies: pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato. But chances are, those pies don't make it to day two. Clear out your leftovers stash and fulfill a sugar craving with a cranberry pie—a lighter, whipped version with marshmallows is easy to make after a whole day of cooking, or a slab-style pie hits the spot if your oven's still begging for attention.
12. Pie Smoothies
If you somehow have leftover pumpkin and sweet potato pies but no whipped topping, no worries. Pie smoothies are as easy to make as they are to sip: Simply toss leftover pie, sans crust, into a blender with milk or yogurt for a smooth way to savor Thanksgiving leftovers.
After a long day of fielding personal questions from distant relatives, you may need a stiff drink. And yes, you can use Thanksgiving meal remnants to unwind. Candied yams, Cognac, and hazelnut liqueur combine for a "Candied Yam Libation," while a "Turkey Tippler" blends turkey-infused bourbon, bitters, and celery for garnish.
14. Sipping Vinegars
Like other home-brewed drinks, sipping or drinking vinegars are beginning to see some popularity—and they're easily made at home. Combine leftover fruits (cranberries or fruit tray leftovers are a great option) with apple cider vinegar in a jar, leaving the mixture to ferment for a week before straining out fruits and sitting for another seven days. After two weeks, a small amount of drinking vinegar can be mixed with soda water for an effervescent treat that's ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Thanksgiving.
15. Infused Liquors
If you're up for experimenting (and a bit of a wait), leftover fruit can be put to good use infusing and flavoring alcohol. Fruits like cranberries, apples, and pears work best, and even ingredient scraps like orange peels can be used to flavor vodka for homemade seasonal liqueurs.
Soups are one of the easiest ways to clear out a refrigerator bursting with leftovers. Turkey is easy to add to almost any soup and can be frozen until you're ready to cook again. And, leftover soup can even be frozen for another cold day, though broth-based soups without pastas or creams store best.
17. Sobaheg Stew
Soup purists know that there's a difference between soup and stew; stews generally contains less liquid than a soup, have a thicker mixture of ingredients, and have a longer cook time. And while any combination of leftover vegetables and meat can make a great post-Thanksgiving stew, consider trying out Sobaheg, a dish culinary historians believe could have been served at the first Thanksgiving. Turkey meat, beans, hominy, green beans, and squash make up this historical stew.
Instead of dumping leftover vegetables and meat bones in the trash, toss them into a stockpot with water for a hearty homemade stock. Even better: fresh stock can be frozen for the upcoming wintry days that require a hot bowl of soup.
19. Quick Dips
Hosting family or friends for the entire holiday weekend? There's no need to worry about having extra snacks or appetizers on hand. Turn leftover beans or sweet potatoes into spreadable, hummus-style dips by blending with olive oil and seasonings of your choice.
20. Leftover Fritters
Uneaten green beans don't have to sit in the fridge. Instead, toss in a cornmeal batter before frying for a crunchy leftover snack. As many Midwestern state fairgoers know, the deep-frying doesn't have to end there. Get creative and toss leftovers into oil for a hodgepodge of Thanksgiving fritters. Don't forget the ranch dip!
Roasted turkey is easy to add to anything—including tortilla chips. While you can opt for traditional nachos with melted cheese and a turkey garnish, there's another option to clear out your fridge even faster: a Thanksgiving-style nacho using leftover gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. Mashed potatoes take the place of refried beans, and gravy is substituted for melted cheese, while stuffing creates a thicker base layer (along with the chips).
22. Freezer Meals
If you've spent all day in a hot kitchen basting a turkey, chances are after the big meal's served, you're already tired of looking at it. But don't let those pounds of extra meat and sides go to waste. Instead, package up plated meals for the freezer, which can be quickly defrosted and reheated on a day you really don't feel like cooking. Many Thanksgiving side dishes freeze and reheat well—including stuffing (or dressing), cranberry sauce, and breads. For best results, avoid freezing dairy-heavy dishes and casseroles with crunchy toppings that have a tendency to get soggy (such as green bean casserole).
23. Swap Leftovers With a Friend
Does a friend have a great recipe that you love … but you won't get to gorge on thanks to Thanksgiving meal logistics? Consider sharing it the next day. Swapping a plate or dish with friends or family is one way to share a meal together, while also saving you from a week's worth of grandma's famous potatoes.
24. Send Everything Home With Friends and Family
If you're dining with a large crowd, consider letting friends and family clear out your fridge space. Etiquette says it's up to the host to determine if leftovers will be dished out and shared, so don't be afraid to prepackage leftovers for guests, or simply let them have at it themselves. After all, Thanksgiving is all about sharing with family and friends—both the love and the food.
25. Turkified Waldorf
The famous Waldorf salad, which New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel first created in 1896, is a perennial favorite for salad lovers. Turkify it and add seasonal apples, grapes, nuts, and celery root to the mayo-yogurt dressing. The salad is certainly healthier than drinking straight gravy (and it tastes so good).
In the early 1900s, chef Ernest Arbogast supposedly invented the Italian casserole tetrazzini and named it after opera star Luisa Tetrazzini. However, the Knickerbocker Hotel in New York City claims to have been the originator. Either way, the alfredo-like casserole—which contains wine or sherry, turkey, mushrooms, spaghetti, and heavy cream—will hit the post-Thanksgiving spot.
27. Green Bean Shakshuka
Use leftover green beans (or green bean casserole) to make a healthy breakfast dish. Sauté the green beans and add arugula, whole eggs, and garnish with Middle Eastern spices.
28. Savory Waffles
After Turkey Day, add protein—and a savory flavor—to waffles. Mix turkey with cheeses and spices and place in a waffle maker. You can add more turkey on top, and instead of syrup you can drizzle either warmed up or cold cranberry sauce, or—wait for it—gravy on the turkey.
29. Everything Bagel Breakfast Sammies
This bagel sandwich has it all: cranberry cream cheese, mashed potatoes, turkey, poached eggs, and stuffing piled on an everything bagel (according to the recipe, it needs to be the everything variety). It’s like Thanksgiving dinner for breakfast.
30. Pumpkin Pie Wontons
What should you do with leftover cans of pumpkin puree? Mix it with cream cheese, sugar, cinnamon, all spice, ginger, and maple syrup—kind of like pumpkin pie. But instead of making a pie crust, stuff the filling into wonton wrappers and fry them up. Pair them with a caramel apple sauce and whipped cream.
Not enough Americans serve baked Spanish custard for the holidays, but they can remedy that and reuse mashed sweet potatoes and rum at the same time. Plus, it’s a nice alternative to pie.
If you’re doing Thanksgiving right, then you won’t have leftover wine. But if you happen to have an extra bottle of dry white wine available, pour it into a cider-based sangria along with brandy, Concord grapes, apples, pears, and sparkling cider.
33. The Moist Maker From Friends
On the December 10, 1998, episode of Friends, aptly entitled “The One With Ross’s Sandwich,” Ross Geller (David Schwimmer) creates a Moist Maker sandwich from Thanksgiving leftovers. He brings it to work and someone eats it. “Just a sandwich? That sandwich was the only good thing going on in my life,” he exclaims to his friends. In real life, chef/filmmaker Andrew Rea adapted the recipe on his website Binging With Babish. It’s complicated to make it from scratch, but if you already have leftover turkey, gravy, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, it’s quick to assemble. (Just maybe don’t take it to work like Ross did.)
34. Hot brown
The Louisville-invented open-faced sandwich is basically broiled gravy and turkey on bread, with additional mustard, cheese, and bacon. Not only will you be eating one of the best sandwiches in the world, but you’ll also paying homage to Kentucky.
35. Turkey Sloppy Joes
“Classic sloppy joes get a healthy makeover,” the recipe reads. Substitute leaner turkey for beef, and then add carrots, onions, sweet relish, and tomato sauce. Instead of placing the mixture between a bun, the recipe suggests pouring it over toast.
Put that turkey (or goose, or whatever bird you ate on Thanksgiving) into a five-ingredient quesadilla. Place the turkey, Monterey jack cheese, and some leftover veggies like green beans and mushrooms into a tortilla and melt it. If you’re feeling adventurous, serve it with a side of cranberry salsa. Or for a more gourmet quesadilla, add sage and cranberry sauce.
37. Turkey and Wild Rice soup
Put that leftover turkey, the rice, veggies, soy sauce, half-and-half, turkey stock, and herbs in a pot and let it all simmer together.
38. Gumbo That's Worth the Wait
Give New Orleans gumbo an unconventional post-Thanksgiving update in adding turkey (and traditional Andouille sausage), gravy, mashed potatoes (for serving), The Holy Trinity (onion, bell pepper, celery), cranberry sauce, and, gasp, Brussels sprouts. The ingredient list is long, and the roux takes around 30 minutes to make, but you can let the gumbo simmer for hours and do other things while waiting.
39. Potato Balls
If you have leftover mashed potatoes, transform them into potato balls. These balls make a good appetizer or side dish. The key to the recipe is using a lot of cheese, and bacon (if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or kosher, leave the bacon out). Shape the mashed potato mixture into spheres, coat them with egg and bread crumbs, and drop them into a deep fryer. If you want to go a healthier, less fun route, then you can bake them instead of frying them.
40. Stuffing Bites
Knowing that some of the best foods are bite-sized, and that stuffing is one of the best parts about Thanksgiving, chef Sunny Anderson created a recipe for fried stuffing bites. All you do is squish the stuffing into cubes, coat the cubes with an egg wash then dredge with bread crumbs, and fry them until they’re golden brown. Serve the fried goodness with a cranberry-pesto dipping sauce.
41. Egg Rolls
Whoever thought of putting Thanksgiving leftovers into egg rolls is a genius. Place mashed potatoes, cranberries, stuffing, and turkey into an egg roll wrapper. The tricky part is folding the wrapper together. Once sealed, fry the egg rolls and serve them with gravy, of course.
Vegetarians and vegans have a difficult time navigating the meat-heavy holidays, but the Food Network offers them salvation with vegetable samosas. Take puff pastry and fill it with mashed potatoes, any leftover veggies, curry powder, and other spices. Bake—don’t fry—the samosas, and if you feel like it, mix yogurt with leftover cranberry sauce for dipping.
Similar to egg rolls, the nice thing about piergoies is you can shove whatever you want in there, including leftover stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cheese, sweet potatoes, veggies, and meat. You might not feel like making pierogi dough from scratch the day after Thanksgiving. Fortunately, it’s not time-consuming. These are good either as an appetizer, side dish, or full meal.
44. Donate Your Leftovers
More than 42.2 million Americans live in food insecure households, so that means the holidays can be a difficult time for those who don’t have access to food. If you find yourself with more leftovers than you know what to do with, consider donating the vittles to a food pantry, a food bank, or homeless shelter. Do your research so you know if your local food bank can handle what you're dropping off.
After a day or two of gut-busting meals, salads can help clear out your system. Leftover greens need to be used up before they wilt, and when topped with shredded turkey, nuts, and veggies like roasted carrots, a post-Thanksgiving salad just needs a stellar dressing to top it off. Luckily, using up leftover cranberries to make a vinaigrette takes about 10 minutes and clears the fridge at the same time.
A version of this story was originally published in 2018; it has been updated for 2021.