15 Ways to Transform Leftover Holiday Meats
The holiday roast was amazing. With these easy recipes and tips, your leftover ham, turkey, and beef might be even better.
In my family — and I’ll bet in yours, too — the holiday season features our favorite, once-a-year dishes as well as exciting new ones. And we tend to cook so much food, there’s always plenty to refrigerate for another day. Sometimes we’re happy to eat leftover meat in a form that harkens back to the original recipe, but I can only eat so many open-faced turkey sandwiches with all the trimmings. That’s when I turn to easy recipes that take the centerpiece of the holiday meal, the meat, and turn it into something new.
For maximum flexibility, some recipes are more like formulas. They’ll work with almost any cooked protein. With one of these clear-out-the-fridge recipes, you can turn a few cups of chopped or shredded meat into fried rice, frittatas, curries, stuffed peppers, soup, or pad Thai. Or use smaller amounts of leftover meat to top standbys like salads, pizzas, and burrito bowls.
I love those loose options, but sometimes I want someone to offer specifics, to suggest a combination of ingredients they know will work. That’s when I turn to recipes like the ones you see below — they’ve all been developed to work with a particular kind of leftover meat.
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How to store leftover meat safely
The first rule of food safety: Get your leftovers into the fridge within two hours. Throw away anything that sits out for longer. You don’t want meat to spend much time in the “danger zone,” the temperatures between 40°F and 140°F where bacteria thrive.
How to cool meat quickly
Just divide large amounts of cooked meat into shallow airtight containers or wrap portions tightly in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate immediately. I used to think you had to let food cool off a bit before putting it into the fridge, but today’s refrigerators are powerful enough to handle piping hot food without bringing down the internal temperature too much.
How long does cooked meat last?
Stored tightly wrapped in the fridge, cooked ham, turkey, and beef will stay fresh for three or four days.
How long does cooked meat keep in the freezer?
If you’d like to use your leftover meat later, tightly wrap it and place in the freezer. If kept frozen, it will maintain quality for two to four months. After that it will still be safe to eat (fully frozen meat will stay safe indefinitely), but you may notice a difference in flavor or texture.
How to thaw frozen leftover meat
To thaw frozen cooked meat, your best bet is to transfer it to the fridge one day before you plan to use it. That gives it a chance to defrost slowly and evenly. Don’t have that luxury? Pop it in the microwave. You’ll have to rearrange the food frequently to prevent some spots from overheating while others are still frozen. Or put it in a leakproof package and place the whole thing into a larger container of cold tap water. Change the water every 30 minutes. Depending on how much you’re defrosting, it could be ready in less than an hour. Once you thaw frozen meat, use it within three or four days.
Delicious holiday leftover roast recipes
Few things make me happier than opening the fridge and finding ready-to-use, fully cooked meat. With that one item, I can take dinner in almost any direction — and quickly.
Leftover ham recipes
Ham stars in many a Christmas dinner, Easter too. These ham recipes turn what’s left of your festive holiday meal into brunch, appetizers, soup, and dinner.
Soup recipes don’t get much heartier (or tastier) than this one. The ingredients list is simple: Your leftover ham (feel free to double it if you have a lot), some aromatic veggies, split peas, dried herbs, and chicken broth. The bowl that results is anything but. That crunchy bacon on top makes all the difference.
A brush with garlicky butter sauce turns these bite-sized grilled cheese and ham sandwiches into a fantastic appetizer or light meal. This recipe is so easy to make, you’ll want to have leftover ham every week. Oh, and if you happen to have leftover caramelized onions? They’d be amazing here.
Why not transform the holiday meal’s leftover ham into the next morning’s breakfast? The best part of this recipe is that you assemble everything the night before. In the morning, just pop it in the oven about 40 minutes before your family is ready to gather at the table.
Great for brunch, lunch, or a light dinner, this easy quiche starts with leftover ham and a prepared pie crust. It couldn’t be simpler to make: You assemble a quick custard of eggs, milk, and cream; add ham and two kinds of cheese; and pour it into the crust. Bake, cool, and serve.
I often turn to pasta recipes when I have a smaller amount of leftover meat. This one, for instance, only needs eight ounces of ham. In just 20 minutes, you’ve got a creamy, tomatoey, crowd-pleasing Italian dinner. The half-cup of Parmesan in the sauce adds real oomph.
Leftover roast turkey recipes
Even a small turkey is pretty big, so there are usually plenty of leftovers. Just look at all the yummy things you can make with them.
Don’t let the long-ish ingredients list scare you away from this sophisticated, mushroom-filled, sherry-scented pot pie. There’s relatively little chopping involved, and the patchwork technique for the puff pastry means you need no pastry skills whatsoever.
How lovely it is, during the busy holiday season, to come home to a crock pot full of cozy, warming soup. Using wild rice and brown rice along with 4 cups of cooked turkey gives this easy recipe just the right heft for a simple supper.
Five ingredients — turkey, cranberry sauce, baby spinach, Swiss cheese, and tortillas — and 15 minutes are all you need for a stellar appetizer. Pro tip: Freeze some of your leftover Christmas turkey and make these a week later, for New Year’s Eve.
Spaghetti, mushrooms, and leftover turkey baked in a sauce made with three kinds of cheese (cream cheese, Monterey Jack, and Parmesan)? Heck yeah. Tetrazzini is shockingly easy when you cook it in the Instant Pot. The recipe makes the final run under the broiler optional, but I highly recommend it. You’ll be fighting over those crispy bits.
Holiday meals yield much more than just meat leftovers. Odds are, you’ll also have side dishes to play with. When you have leftover mashed potatoes, I can’t think of a better use than shepherd’s pie. Because you start with cooked turkey and taters, this comfort food main dish comes together in no time.
Leftover roast beef recipes
I saved my favorite for last. Because my family doesn't necessarily save roast beef and pot roast for special occasions, I use leftover beef recipes year-round.
This recipe builds on a special (and terrific) Yummly recipe for pot roast, but it’ll work with your family’s traditional version, too. The soup uses a clever, clever trick: It has you boost beef broth with store-bought ramen broth, which tends to have a more complex flavor, and adds an umami punch from miso paste. A few fresh veggies, some noodles, some leftover beef, and you’re slurping in less than 30 minutes.
I’m a relatively recent convert to hash, but now that I see how irresistible that crispy crust gets, I realize it’s a can’t-miss way to use leftover roast beef, corned beef, or pastrami. This version’s red flannel name reflects the fact that it uses beets — but if you have leftover cooked sweet potatoes and red potatoes ready to go and don’t feel like fussing, skip the beets and just enjoy a good ol’ regular beef hash.
Just look at the words in the name of this recipe: BBQ. Beef. Bacon. Grilled cheese. I mean, come on. In just 10 minutes total time, you’ve got the kind of crunchy-soft-sweet-savory mess I dream about. These easy beef sandwiches make me want to get a beef roast or pot roast going, like, right now, just so I’ll have leftovers.
Classic beef stroganoff features pieces of tender beef and loads of mushrooms in a mustardy sauce made with sour cream, all served over egg noodles. If you opt for a leftover roast beef stroganoff (or go with leftover prime rib), you can skip the recipe steps that have you cook the meat — so this easy version will be ready in about half an hour.
I love tacos as much as the next person, but when I’m jonesing for something hearty, I go for enchiladas every time. And enchiladas don’t get much easier than this 30-minute version. It has just six ingredients: leftover roast beef or leftover pot roast, canned green chilies, corn, enchilada sauce, and shredded cheddar cheese. It satisfies all my yearnings for spicy, cheesy, beefy Mexican flavors.
More creative ways with holiday leftovers
In these next articles, keep exploring what to do with all those leftovers — including treating yourself to some good gravy. There are plenty of easy dinners to keep the whole family happy.