12 Days of Turkey or 12 ways to use Thanksgiving Leftovers

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope it was wonderful, that you over ate and were surrounded by loved ones (even if they’re annoying.) And I hope you had help with the dishes. This little post is to help you with the “fall out” and figure out what to do with all your Turkey Leftovers and how to make clean up a breeze – and best of all, at the bottom are many of my favorite recipes to use up that left over Turkey! If you had Ham, please see my 12 Days of Ham posting. If you want to get right to the recipes, scroll to the bottom.

ThanksgivingTurkey x

For me, besides spending the Holiday with family and friends, leftover turkey is the best part of Thanksgiving, and leveraging those Thanksgiving leftovers into more great meals is one the most frugal things you can do. I love the opportunity of using the turkey for a rich, beautiful stock. I also pick up more turkeys at rock bottom prices and throw them in my freezer for meals throughout the year – one of the cheapest proteins you’ll find.


First of all, remember the two-hour window for leaving food out at room temperature. When you bring your turkey back to the kitchen, break it down and refrigerate it as soon as possible. Let someone else do the dishes and clear the table. I find it’s always hectic, messy, and I’m tired, but the leftovers are the best part of a Turkey Dinner – treat them right so you never have any doubt about food safety.

Organization and Clean Up

A few things to make cleaning up easier:

  • Make sure you have tupperware/plastic containers and Ziploc bags on hand both for leftover storage and for sending food home with the guests – or that your ask people to bring some with them if you’re giving out leftovers. Start saving containers from products you buy so you won’t end up giving away your good stuff.
  • Have the garbage container out and lined, with an extra liner handy as a back up.Make sure it’s empty and someone runs it outside before dinner, then clean up time is a breeze. Remove the lid from the garbage, if possible. No one wants to deal with a huge, soggy, bag of messy garbage, over flowing and stuffed to the gills.
  • Clean up as you go along, and always rinse messy items at the very least – washing them is better.
  • Run the dishwasher and empty before dinner so it’s ready to load; make sure the sink is clear of all items before dinner, if possible.
  • Before the dinner, make sure your dish towels, rags and sponges are ready to go and clean and you have plenty. If you’ve run through all yours preparing, run a quick load of laundry early enough to be done by clean up time.
  • Assign chores – everyone can do something to pitch in. Give instruction! Especially for items that need special handling – the antique carving set, fine china, crystal glasses. Make sure there is a place for those items to be set somewhere.
  • Set out a container of warm soapy water for the silverware to be dropped into as it comes into the kitchen. A big pot is great. A short soak makes silverware so much easier to deal with.

Two Ways to Speed Clean up Along:

  • Assign every one a chore and make sure clean up is handled through all the steps: Someone clears, someone scrapes, someone rinses, someone loads. Someone puts away leftovers. Instruct on what to do with things that don’t go in the dishwasher like wine glasses, etc. Scrape dishes off into the trash with a rubber spatula – it makes rinsing and loading (or washing) a lot easier and you won’t have to mess with the garbage disposal. Pull the garbage container right next to a counter, and as each dish comes in, have it scraped and stacked by type and then bunches of the same item can be handed to the rinser. It speeds up loading the dishwasher and helps it to be loaded to its maximum. Don’t stack willy nilly and every inch of your counter space won’t be covered in dirty dishes.
  • In my family, everyone brings in their plates, silver and glasses, scrapes them in the garbage which I’ve made sure was empty and in a convenient spot, drops their silver in the soapy water, then steps to the sink and rinses their dishes and loads them in the dishwasher. Dealing with the silver slows things down, so that’s where the soapy water comes in. Then they get out – I love them, but my kitchen just isn’t all that large. I run it like an assembly line, and they’re all well-trained. Company generally just falls right in line. Not stacking makes clean up so much easier.

As For the Turkey:

Big old turkeys don’t fare well in the fridge: They’re hard to wrap well, it’s hard to find room, and even if you’ve accomplished both those things, they get pulled in and out, nibbled on, rewrapped poorly and shoved back in to dry out and shrivel up. Often by the time someone deals with it, its to pick it up and dump it in the trash. Such a waste.

First of all: Break it Down. If not already done, slice off the breast meat and Ziploc for sandwiches or casseroles. Slice off any other available meat and put in containers. Get it in the fridge and you can deal with it later, and know it is safe.

If you’re making planning on making turkey soup, consider preparing anything that you need for the stock ahead of time – things like onion, carrots, etc., can all be ready to go in a large Ziploc and then the carcass and your vegetables can be dropped right into a large pot and be simmering away for several hours. By the time its done in the evening, hopefully there’s been time to recoup from the day, and it can be finished off and put away.

If you’re planning on making stock later in the week, wrap the carcass as best you can and find a place for it in the fridge.

I don’t like to keep my turkey for more than two or three days in the fridge – it tends to dry and taste gamey. I do assess (usually the next day) what I have and figure out what I want to make with the leftovers. Portion out what is needed for a recipe (or two or three) and label and stash back in the fridge or in the freezer. If it goes in the freezer, make sure it’s for very short-term only – a week or two is probably all you have before it begins to dry out.

Here’s a few recipes we love to use those leftovers in; I hope you’ll find a recipe or two that you and your family will love, too.

12 Days of Turkey:

Best chicken or turkey stockBest Chicken or Turkey Broth, Ever – All you need are few scraps and bones, plus a little time for a wonderful chicken broth. Make your own and freeze for when you need it, in handy sizes.

classic-chicken-noodle-soup2Chicken or Turkey Noodle Soup – It is easy to forget what an experience a good home-made Chicken (or Turkey) Noodle soup can be. Hearty, rich, tasty, it’s really a meal in itself.

artichoke chicken casserole xArtichoke Chicken or Turkey Casserole: For brunch or dinner, this is one beauty of a casserole! Fresh and vibrant it’s a wonderful dish for company or family. As it, it serves 6, but doubles easily.

Uncle Ben's Wild Rice Casserole xUncle Ben’s Wild Rice and Turkey Casserole: This is the best version of this after Thanksgiving casserole. I think it’s the wine that makes it – or maybe the pecans. It is a classic.

Wild Rice & Smoked Turkey Chowder3xWild Rice and Smoked Turkey Chowder – An amazing chowder, chock full of vegetables, this soup can be made with Chicken, too. Truly a meal in a bowl, it’s easy and freezes well.

Turkey Tetrazzini1 xTurkey Tetrazzini: What more can I say? This is an “oldie” but a “goodie,” a classic for using leftover Turkey from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Chicken works just as well in this dish.

DSCN8352xChicken Pot Pie Like You Wish Your Grandma Would Have Made!: The name says it all. A bit of work – no strange short cuts here like cream cheese or soup, but it is all so worth it.

Cheesy Chicken3Cheesy Chicken or Turkey Casserole: I’ve been making this for over 35 years and it has always been a family favorite It’s a down home casserole but has a surprising number of veggies.

Elegant Mushroom Lemon Basil SoupElegant Mushroom Lemon Basil Soup with Wild Rice – Not the ubiquitous gloppy Wild Rice Soup that has become both loved and reviled, this is a bright, fresh , and elegant! Meatless, but turkey is a perfect add in.

Light Hot BrownsLight Hot Browns: Another great way to take advantage of any leftover Turkey or Ham, Hot Browns are layered with meat, a little bacon and vegetables and blanketed with a Cheese Sauce.

Hot Broiled Sandwich xHot Broiled Sandwiches: A fun way to rework leftovers from a Thanksgiving Turkey or a Holiday Ham. Raid your fridge and layer ingredients on a an open-faced sandwich,

Barbecue PizzaTurkey Pizza? You Betcha: This Pizza uses Tyler Florence’s pizza dough and his method of throwing the dough on a preheated pan – no soggy bottom, but a beautifully crispy crunch.

turkey-or-chicken-newberg-xxxTurkey or Chicken Newburg: This is a perfect dish to throw together from leftovers. Classically made with mushrooms and peas, feel free to use what’s on hand.

Chicken Chowder Chipotle xChicken Chowder with Chipotle – A fantastic chowder based on a Cooking Light recipe, streamlined to get dinner on the table with little fuss or bother. This is a new favorite!

DSCN8539xFilled WonTon Cups: Bake off the shells and fill with a mixture of leftover turkey and barbecue sauce. Top with cheese! Num!

Use the tag for Turkey Leftovers for more great recipes.

This year I’ll be bringing these leftover ideas to Fiesta Friday and Throwback Thursday. Check the links to see lots of holiday ideas!

4 thoughts on “12 Days of Turkey or 12 ways to use Thanksgiving Leftovers”

Comments and discussion always welcome - tell me what you think.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s