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Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope it was wonderful, that you over ate and were surrounded by loved ones (even if they’re annoying, sometimes!) 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 Left Overs and how to make clean up a breeze. If you had Ham, please see my 12 Days of Ham posting. If you had goose or duck, sorry, you’re on your own, but I hope to do Roast at some point. If you want to get right to the recipes, scroll to the bottom.

turkFor me, besides spending the Holiday with family and friends, left over turkey is the best part of Thanksgiving, and leveraging those Thanksgiving left overs into more great meals is one the most frugal things you can do. I love the opportunity, especially of using the turkey for a rich, beautiful broth or stock. I often pick up more turkeys at rock bottom prices and throw them in my freezer for more 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 left overs 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 left over storage and for sending food home with the guests – or that your ask people to bring some with them if you’re giving out left overs. 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 – of course 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, but make sure clean up is handled through all the steps: Someone clears, someone scrapes, someone rinses, someone loads. Someone puts away left overs. 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 thing 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 left overs. 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 left overs in; I hope you’ll find a recipe or two that you and your family will love, too.

12 Days of Turkey:

Bear with me as I update these links…

Best Chicken or Turkey Broth, Everturkey – all you need are few scraps and bones, plus a little time for a wonderful chicken broth. Chicken broth is so expensive at the store, and if I may be frank, not always the best tasting stuff. Plus it is full of a lot of unsavory ingredients. Make your own and freeze for when you need it.

051Chicken or Turkey Noodle Soup – It is easy to forget what an experience a good home-made Chicken Noodle soup can be. Hearty, rich, tasty, it’s really a meal in itself. A good bread and/or a few saltines don’t hurt. This one is made with a home-made broth and egg noodles. So go ahead – make your Grandma proud! And if you want to use frozen or packaged egg noodles, no one will tell…

Artichoke Casserole Artichoke 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, making it perfect for a buffet or potluck. This is a great dish to serve to overnight guests who are staying for an extended Holiday Weekend.

005Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice and Turkey Casserole: We make this sometimes with curry and top with almonds, and sometimes we omit the curry and add dried cranberries and a pecan topping. Either way, in my own mind, anyway, this is one of the better versions of this traditional after Thanksgiving casserole. It’s the wine that makes this. Or maybe it’s the almonds. Perhaps the curry? Ok, it’s all of the above.

Wild Rice and Smoked Turkey Chowder044 – An amazing chowder, chock full of vegetables, this soup can be made with Chicken, as well. I often use left over chicken or turkey and add a few drops of liquid smoke to the soup instead of smoking or buying smoked poultry. Truly a meal in a bowl, it’s an easy soup to make and freezes beautifully.

Turkey Tetrazzini: 032What more can I say? This is an “oldie” but a “goodie,” a classic for using left over Turkey from Thanksgiving or Christmas. Chicken works just as well in this dish. A fancy name for a noodle casserole, it can be made simply with a “cream of” soup or with a beautiful, home-made white sauce and sautéed mushrooms. A bit of Sherry is a wonderful touch in this dish.

Chicken Pot PieChicken Pot Pie Like You Wish Your Grandma Would Have Made!: The name says it all and its true. A bit of work – no strange short cuts here like cream cheese or canned soup, but it is all so worth it. You’d pay big bucks for a dish like this in a restaurant. This is every bit as good made with left over turkey as it is made with chicken.

Cheesy Chicken (or Turkey) Noodle CasseroleCheesy Chicken or Turkey Casserole: I’ve been making this for over 35 years and it has always been a family favorite – this one makes one large or two smaller casseroles, so it’s perfect to make one and freeze one or make one and bring it to a friend in need. It’s a down home casserole using Velveeta, but has a surprising number of veggies and is a dynamite casserole.

Elegant Mushroom Lemon Basil Soup with Wild Rice Elegant 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 soup, a bit elegant, and is reminiscent of a Greek Soup. Living in Minnesota, I’ve probably have had every version of Wild Rice Soup out there, and this one’s a long time favorite.

hot brownLight Hot Browns: Another great way to take advantage of any left over Turkey or Ham, Hot Browns are layered with meat, a little bacon and vegetables and blanketed with a Mornay Cheese Sauce, then broiled to a browned and bubbly perfection. A favorite is Turkey, Tomato, Bacon and a Cheddar Mornay, but it’s great with Ham, instead, and wonderful with Asparagus instead of Tomato.

Hot Broiled Sandwiches: 052A fun way to take a few left overs from a Thanksgiving Turkey or a Holiday Ham. Raiding your fridge and layering ingredients on a an open-faced sandwich, adding favorite condiments and a bit of cheese, then broiling the whole works until hot and bubbling turns a sandwich into a meal.

082Turkey Pizza? You Betcha: If you haven’t though about making Pizza with your left overs, it might be time to think again. Try Turkey and Artichoke or a Barbecue Pizza using turkey standing in for pulled pork. The crust is from Tyler Florence – super easy, spread out on a preheated hot pan it is absolutely outstanding…I generally use the whole crust recipe and freeze half.

058Turkey or Chicken Newburg: This is a perfect dish to throw together from left overs from Thanksgiving. For starters, use the turkey, perhaps save a half a cup of cream out from your whipped cream, and then take it a few steps further. While classically made with mushrooms and peas, since this dish relies on already cooked veggies, why not add in what veggies you have left over? Then, perhaps, serve it over your left over biscuits or rolls.

017Barbecue Filled Won Tons: Delicious little appetizers, these baked Won Ton Cups transform almost any type of left over meat or poultry. So simple and easy, just heat up left over turkey with a little bbq sauce, dollop in the cups, add cheese and bake. So easy, so simple and so addictive! No left overs? Make these with one of the barbecue meats from the deli section.

049Chicken Chowder with Chipotle – A fantastic chowder based on a Cooking Light version that’s been floating around for years. This one is streamlined to get dinner on the table in 45 minutes or so with little fuss or bother; even less time if you have a food processor and left over or precooked chicken. This is a new favorite.

    Use the tag for Turkey Left Overs for more great recipes.