Use Leftover Turkey Breast For The Best Day After Turkey Dinner Sandwiches Ever

leftover_turkey_sandwich07The most exciting part of turkey dinner for me is not the turkey. It’s not the stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or even gravy. It’s not even the pies. In fact, it’s nothing that is offered at the dinner itself.

It’s leftover turkey meat for the next day to use for entirely new dishes. Sure, you could reheat your turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, and cranberry sauce for a reenactment of the traditional dinner from the night before. But roasted turkey meat is very versatile. As a leftover it can be used in a variety of exciting culinary ways the likes of which can be even better than classic turkey dinner. Plus, since you just had it presumably 12 to 24 hours beforehand, why eat the same meal when you can eat an entirely awesome new one instead?

The go-to use leftover turkey meat in our house? Sandwiches. They’re a big deal for us throughout the year as it is. But come turkey dinner, and you will notice us looking at a roasted bird in a manner that totally looks like we’re plotting to do something to it later. Something different.

Choose white meat over dark

For turkey sandwiches, white meat from the breasts is the way to go. While the dark meat from the legs and thighs is more flavorful, white meat beats it out in a sandwich for number of reasons. For one, form factor. Turkey breasts are large and can be sliced in a way that can be laid across the entire face of a slice of bread. Leg and thigh meat will give you more chunks that won’t fit as well. But flavor is another aspect. The lean, clean, straight forward flavor of turkey breast is perfect in a sandwich, giving balance to the rest of the items you choose to put into it.

Sliced white turkey meat and whole dark meat. [Photo: Food Network]

Sliced white turkey meat and whole dark meat. [Photo: Food Network]

Since I tend to be the carver at turkey dinners, I actually intentionally plan for the leftovers to be all white meat. I’ll carve off all the flavorful dark meat for guests to devour first, along with one side of turkey breast. After dinner, when everyone’s too full to think about taking home leftovers, I’ll gladly offer to remove the cooled down remaining breast, slice of a chunk allowed by the host for me to take, and smugly be on my way.

“Isn’t breast meat from a roast turkey always dry, though?” you may be wondering. Depends on how you cook your bird. Yes, in general, breast meat tends to be drier than dark meat. But that’s not a problem with white meat. It’s a problem with the cooking procedure. Breast meat needs to be cooked to around 155 F to be cooked through but no more than 160 F to not become dry. Since traditional roasting of turkeys doesn’t have anything to do with checking the internal temperature of the bird’s meat, chances are you’ve had your fair share of dry white meat in the past.

But the days of blind turkey roasting are gone. People are embracing more scientific oriented cooking, such as employing the use of a thermometer. As long as a cook is employing proper thermal monitoring of their turkey, they’ll produce breast meat that is succulent and juicy.

Leftover turkey bread meat from a dry-brined salted turkey breast. So moist it gets the cutting board wet. [Photos: Saqib Shafi]

Leftover turkey bread meat from a dry-brined salted turkey breast. So moist it gets the cutting board wet. [Photos: Saqib Shafi unless otherwise noted]

Add to that the fact that brining, pre-salting meat through a liquid solution or dry-rub cure, have becoming increasingly popular as a way to prepare roast turkey. Salt affects the nature of the meat to hold onto moisture better. So even if a turkey is slightly overcooked, since it’s 2014 and brining and temperature checking are now more of a norm, chances are the breast meat in your turkey will still be plenty juicy.

In fact, I actually prefer white meat to dark meat for poultry. When properly seasoned and not overcooked, it is awesome. And what’s best, it makes for great sandwich meat.

In comparison to cold cut turkey meat

Also, it should be noted how different turkey breast off of an actual roasted whole bird is from cold cut deli-style turkey. Deli-style turkey is clearly the king of lunch meats. Even at Halal meat stores, everyone seems to add a pound or two of the stuff in addition to their weekly orders of chicken, lamb, and beef.

[Photo: Tami Hardeman/Running With Tweezers]

[Photo: Tami Hardeman/Running With Tweezers]

I have no major issues with formed deli meats. But that stuff can be a little high on sodium and has poor texture. Plus, after a few days in the fridge it tends to get wet, slimy. With an actual real turkey breast, you have natural, distinctly meaty-meat in your sandwiches. Deli meat, however, is made by forming together various chunks of meat into a shape, adding some proteins and emulsifiers to get them to bind to each other, then cooked until a solid mass is formed. If I can have the natural version, I’ll take it.

How to slice turkey breast

Here’s a turkey breast that was not attacked at turkey dinner that I want to start slicing against the grain. We want to get guy prepped for sandwiches. I start by removing the skin.


Then I’ll examine the fibers on the breast to see which way the grain of the meat goes.


The way you slice meat can make a difference in its tenderness in your mouth. The key is to slice against the grain. That way, the bunches of muscle fibers that make up the meat are cut at the fibers that hold them together. This leads to meat that falls apart easier in your mouth. The same applies to turkey breast. Whichever direction it goes in, I’ll aim to slice it in a perpendicular direction. This first slice will set the way for all remaining slices to be cut.


A long slicing knife is the way to go for long clean cuts that don’t taper off at the ends. Just make sure your knife is long and sharp.

The Good Loaf

The key to a great sandwich is in great bread. If you’re advanced, you could make your own. But great artisan-style bread, the kind with a more distinct crust and irregular instead of uniform crumb (the term for the inside of a slice of bread) is super easy to find nowadays. It’s better than the packaged super-soft sandwich bread from your supermarket. Almost every grocery store sells these in their bakery departments and not in the bread aisle. If it’s whole, you can ask the bakery to slice it for you.

A classic country loaf, with its clean straight forward bready flavor is perfect for the clean flavor profile of turkey. Want more flavor? Go with a sourdough. Whole wheat is a good option for some foods, but with white turkey meat’s mild profile, a white bread may be better.


[Photo: Panera Bread]

A personal favorite introduced to me by my in-laws is buying from Panera Bread. Simply go in a little before lunch and order one of their breads with a regular sized slice (not thick). You go there for sandwiches, why not just get their bread? Because they do sell them. While it’s not as good as a truly artisanal bread, it’s baked fresh everyday, consistent, and miles ahead of other options.


Our favorite is an extra large sourdough loaf. It’s about $4.50 to $4.75, but is pretty big and can last well over a week for a small family. If you get it and feel it’s too big for you, just wrap half of the loaf tightly in plastic wrap and pop it in the freezer. When your first half is just about done, bring out the frozen half to thaw. Your new half will be like new.

Sandwich toppings and ingredients

Properly seasoned breast meat from a salted or brined turkey is so juicy you really don’t need much in your sandwich at all. But here’s where you can get creative for added flavor.


For a classic, add lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and dijon mustard (look for a brand like Maille or Kroger Private Select for a dijon made with white wine vinegar instead of just white wine). Cheese should be swiss, but provolone works well, too. My favorite lettuce is leaf lettuce, but iceberg is what we had and provides a nice crunch.

Want to remix turkey dinner from the night before? Add some cranberry sauce along with spicy mustard.  Or turkey, a bunch of sharp cheddar, and dijon mustard and fried in butter on both sides for a killer turkey grilled cheese sandwich.

My favorite? Turkey, swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, freshly ground black pepper, spicy brown mustard, and mayonnaise combined with a secret condiment: Russian Dressing. The world famous Zingermann’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI offers an excellent creamy Russian for their sandwiches.


We found Wishbone sells a Russian dressing in almost every grocery store. But it’s not creamy like Zingermann’s. Simply mixing with an equal portion of mayonnaise makes for an excellent home version of their spread. Along with the intense zing of brown mustard, the sweet spread is excellent on turkey.


There you have it. The leftovers will last in the fridge for a little under a week, if they actually last that long before being devoured. But if you’ve got leftovers after a sandwich and are getting a little turkeyd out, you can freeze the meat in a zip-top bag and freeze for a few months. When the craving strikes again just thaw it and start sandwich building again.

See how excited I get thinking about leftover white turkey meat? You will, too, once you bring home this ultimate sleeper leftover and make yourself a great sandwich. It’s the best way to finish the first half of your long November weekend. Eat turkey dinner Thursday night, sleep-in and wake up late on Friday morning, go to Jumu’ah prayer, and come back to one of the best sandwiches you’ll ever have all year. Until next year, that is.

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