Chefs Explain How to Make the Most of Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Fans of the turkey-and-stuffing-centric Thanksgiving repast often consider the feast’s abundant leftovers the best part of the holiday. The famous “leftover sandwich” (made by piling turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and other favorite side dishes between two slices of bread) is a pop-culture icon for good reason … but if you’d like to try a more adventurous way of repurposing your post-Thanksgiving smorgasbord, we’ve got you covered. We asked 7 chefs to share their favorite methods of repurposing their Thanksgiving leftovers, and they provided us with these creative and delicious-sounding ideas.

Mashed Potato Pancakes

Leftover mashed potatoes prove especially versatile, and one of the most popular ways to give your Thanksgiving taters a second life involves forming them into pancakes and frying them on the stovetop. That’s how culinary director Jordan Davis of Farmer & The Seahorse in La Jolla, CA likes to handle the morning after the big feast: “I find that using the leftover mashed potatoes to make a potato cake results in an awesome breakfast. Take the potato cake and add some warmed turkey, gravy, and a fried egg it’s the only way to go!”

alternative thanksgiving leftovers potato pancakes
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Thanksgiving Breakfast Strata

An egg dish in the same category as the quiche and the frittata, a strata is essentially a fully loaded breakfast casserole … which makes it a prime candidate for a Thanksgiving-leftovers glow-up. Executive chef Aaron Cuschiei of The Dearborn in Chicago tells us that “I love to make breakfast strata the day after Thanksgiving because it uses all the leftovers, literally; from Thanksgiving stuffing, yesterday’s rolls, leftover fresh veggies, and gravy. I’m always tempted to make sure there are a ton of leftovers just so I can make my famous breakfast strata.”

To replicate Cuschei’s Black Friday brunch specialty, mix torn-up rolls and stuffing, along with any leftover veggies you’d like to use up (give them a quick sauté in a pan if they’re raw).  Next, add cheese, any seasonings you’d like, and a mixture of creme fraiche, milk, and eggs. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and spread the mixture in a baking dish. Top with extra cheese and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 minutes. Meanwhile, use your leftover gravy to make a strata sauce by adding breakfast sausage, white wine, cream, and gravy to a saucepan and cooking on medium for four to five minutes. When the strata is baked, cut and top each slice with an over-easy egg and a drizzle of sausage gravy. 

Thanksgiving Poutine

The French Canadian specialty known as poutine consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, so it’s a great way to use up the remaining contents of your gravy boat after Thanksgiving dinner ends. Director of food & beverage Severin Nunn of The Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Virginia whips up a mean leftovers-based poutine by “ serving the leftover turkey, giblet gravy, and cranberry sauce over crispy sweet potato fries and melty cheese curds. Or, sometimes, I sub out the cheese curds for blue cheese crumbles.”

alternative thanksgiving leftovers poutine
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Turkey “Carnitas” Tacos

Thanksgiving turkey doesn’t have a reputation as an especially flavorful type of roasted meat, but executive chef Laura Licona of Fairway Market amps up the taste quotient of her leftover turkey with bold seasonings inspired by those used in pork carnitas. Licona explains her method as follows: “Transform your delicious leftover bird into something totally new by cooking the turkey meat off of the bone in a stockpot with water, bay leaves, and onion. Add a little orange if you like. Remove the turkey meat, shred it, and then crisp the shredded meat in a hot cast-iron skillet with oil as you season with salt and pepper to taste. Assemble tacos by heating corn or flour tortillas and filling them with crispy turkey and cranberry salsa. For the salsa, chop jalapeños, cilantro, orange zest, and very small diced onion [and add] to fresh, frozen, or canned cranberry. Season to taste.”

Thanksgiving Shepherd’s Pie

A savory pie with a mashed-potato top crust and a meat filling? Sounds a lot like a classic Irish shepherd’s pie … but in the hands of executive chef Christian Graves of Citizen Rail in Denver, CO, this dish format turns into a hearty and satisfying way to reuse Thanksgiving leftovers. “Thanksgiving provides a variety of great staples (not to mention flavor profiles) with which to create a savory meat pie. It’s fairly simple to do; simply line the bottom of the casserole dish with thin slices of stuffing. I then make a roux by heating equal parts fat, flour, and milk and stirring consistently until a creamy consistency is achieved. Next, add the roux, turkey, and chicken stock to the stuffing base. Top with mashed potatoes, cover, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes (give or take, depending on your oven). If you’re going for a sinful, caloric dish, top with pork rinds or Funyons,” Graves explains. 

alternative thanksgiving leftovers shepherds pie
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Holiday “Hot Pockets”

The iconic stoner-food classic known as the Hot Pocket is surprisingly conducive to a Thanksgiving makeover, according to executive chef Stephany Burgos of The Wilson in New York City. To make Burgos’ Thanksgiving-leftovers “Hot Pockets,” “Buy your favorite pastry sheets/dough (Pillsbury crescent rolls, croissants, etc.) and cut into the desired size. Mix and match a few different choices of fillings. Place the fillings in the middle of the dough, fold over, and press all sides so the filling is sealed in. Bake until golden, usually 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.” 

Sweet Potato Waffles

If your family enjoys sweet potatoes as an accompaniment to their Thanksgiving turkey, then you’ll be happy to know that the leftovers make excellent sweet-and-savory waffles for the next morning. Top Chef champion (and Morton Salt ambassador) Richard Blais of Juniper & Ivy and The Crack Shack in San Diego insists that “the go-to at my house is to take dinner’s leftover sweet potatoes and turn them into breakfast waffles. My kids are big fans of this, too! It’s the ultimate comfort meal and works for brunch, lunch, or dinner — even dessert!” To find Blais’ recipe, click here

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