What do you do with leftover turkey?

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picked over thanksgiving turkey
Photo: EThamPhoto (Getty Images)

A lot of people cherish their Thanksgiving leftovers almost as much as they do Thanksgiving dinner. But turkeys are big, and so is the rest of the yearly spread. The average turkey weighs in at about 30.5 pounds (damn), but even the small ones are bound to yield a ton of extra meat. You know what question’s coming next: What do you do with your leftover turkey? I asked five chefs around Chicago, and then I threw my own suggestion in there too.

Turkey lettuce wraps

My top favorite way to repurpose leftover turkey is to cut the breast meat into pea-sized pieces and sauté them in oil until the exteriors are crisp and golden brown. I season it liberally with fish sauce, lime juice, and dried chili powder (make sure it’s strongly seasoned; make it tart, salty, and hot). If I have some green onions on hand, I slice them up finely and throw that in; if not, I don’t worry about it.


Then I serve the salad slightly warm in an ice-cold iceberg lettuce cup (don’t try to be fancy and use other types of lettuce; you want the crunch), wrapped up into a single-bite salad. If I have some roasted peanuts or cashews, I top the salad with those. Crumbled up kettle cooked potato chips work too. This isn’t really Thai. I mean, it’s Thai-ish. But more than anything it’s really, really good. —Leela Punyaratabandhu, cookbook author of Simple Thai Food

Turkey noodle soup, version one

I have a friend from high school whose dad would make turkey soup with the leftover meat and carcass. I just remember it really fondly, so that’s normally what I do. I use leftover meat scraps to bulk the soup, and roast the bones and make a stock. Add in celery, carrots, onions, mushrooms, and baby bowtie noodles. Finish with a little chili oil. —Dave Park, chef and co-owner, Jeong

Turkey noodle soup, version two

It’s pretty unsexy, but I’m a sucker for turkey noodle soup—and might even look forward to it more than the actual Thanksgiving turkey itself. I love to make it the way my mom used to, with too many egg noodles cooked way too long and a shit ton of black pepper and frozen veggies. It’s the ultimate Midwestern comfort food. Basically casserole in a bowl. —Eve Studnika, founder and chef, Dinner at the Grotto

Stuffing bowls, aka Harlem Avenue Ramen

I take the cold turkey, shred it by hand like a badger, and let it gently poach in warm gravy to reheat. Then I layer a bowl with a mound of leftover stuffing and top it with the gravy-poached turkey meats. I top it with hot giardiniera and crispy bacon. I call it Harlem Avenue Ramen, and it bangs. Jeff Mauro, host of the Food Network’s Sandwich King and the podcast Come On Over, and meat purveyor at Mauro Provisions


Chinese taro cake, Thanksgiving style

A play on woo tau goh, Chinese taro cake, but with the mashed potatoes and turkey topped with leftover uncooked shaved Brussels sprouts, herbs, a dressing from the cranberry relish, and aioli, of course. Whatever bread is left over that hasn’t been turned into stuffing. It’s the holidays. One must have extra bread laying around. Nothing specific. Well... just not cinnamon raisin bread. Weirdos. —Ethan Lim, chef and owner of Hermosa


After two or three meals of unadulterated leftovers, I start getting tired of them. And the turkey breast is always the very last thing to go. The idea of more cooking isn’t any fun, so I usually choose the taco route. Specifically, tossing shredded turkey in copious amounts of prepared store-bought red mole paste before wrapping it up in corn tortillas and adding a shitload of diced onions and chopped cilantro. The mole is complex enough to distract me from my turkey fatigue, I’m not doing any real cooking, and the raw onions and cilantro add that fresh bite that most Thanksgiving meals don’t have. —Dennis Lee, staff writer, The Takeout