Put down that plate of turkey, take your hands off the microwave, and slowly back away. Instead of settling for nuked leftovers or your umpteenth turkey sandwich, take a cue from these Triangle chefs who teach us how to turn Thanksgiving leftovers into dishes so good, that Turkey Day dinner just might be more fodder than feast.

Thanksgiving Turkey Burgers, Gray Brooks, Jack Tar and The Colonel’s Daughter

Gray Brooks, the chef and owner of modern diner Jack Tar and The Colonel’s Daughter, is known for elevating comfort food classics with top-notch ingredients and a dose of whimsy. For Brooks and his family, Thanksgiving is as much about the leftovers as it is the main event. So, when he buys his Thanksgiving turkey, he purchases an additional three or four hindquarters (thighs and legs).

He cooks the breasts separately, on the bone, then makes a confit with the dark meat by slowly cooking the meat in duck fat. The following day, he shreds the confit turkey and folds it with leftover chanterelle dressing, a savory, mushroom bread-pudding-esque dish. After forming the mixture into patties, Brooks sears them in a hot skillet till crisp then finishes the burgers in the oven.

“Then [we] put ’em on bread or a burger bun, with, of course, some gravy, and some leftover cranberry sauce. And we find an old movie on television,” Brooks says. “It’s a cool Thanksgiving turkey burger. It’s a sloppy sandwich, but it’s okay because you’re at home in your pajamas.”

If you don’t happen to confit your turkey, Brooks suggests chopping leftover dark turkey meat and mixing it with leftover dressing or stuffing to make the patties. Cozy PJs optional.

Sweet Potato Pudding with Pecan Crisp Crumbles, Tonya Council, Mama Dip’s

As the granddaughter of Mildred Council, Tonya Council grew up in the kitchen of Chapel Hill’s iconic Southern comfort food restaurant, Mama Dip’s. Council still works at the Rosemary Street eatery a few times a week while running her own companies, Tonya’s Cookies, and Sweet Tea and Cornbread, a North Carolina-centric gift and specialty food store at Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley Mall.

“For my family, Thanksgiving starts early,” Council says. “By the time the official Turkey Day comes, we have eaten our share of the roasted bird, dressing, gravy, and Grandma’s sweet potato pudding.” 

Their Thanksgiving meal can feature just about anything else, with steak making a frequent appearance.

This year, Council plans to pay homage to her grandmother, who passed away last Spring, by making a dessert inspired by Mama Dip’s beloved sweet potato pudding.

She’ll use some of the surplus sweet potatoes they always have on hand to make the pudding, then augment the recipe by baking it with a layer of her own Tonya’s Cookie’s pecan crisp cookies (inspired by her grandmother’s pecan pie). Get the recipe at indyweek.com. Mama Dip may not have a seat at the family’s table this year, but she’ll be in their hearts.

Cocotte, Lionel Vatinet, La Farm Bakery

At age sixteen, Lionel Vatinet joined France’s prestigious artisans’ guild, Les Compagnons du Devoir, and became a Maître Boulanger (master baker). In 1999, Vatinet and his wife, Missy, opened La Farm Bakery in Cary, earning a loyal following for his signature sourdough boules and white chocolate baguettes. Even though Vatinet didn’t grow up with the American tradition of Thanksgiving, he’s since embraced the feast—and its leftovers—whole-heartedly.

“I really fell in love with Thanksgiving when I moved here, and Missy and I started celebrating with family. It has become one of my favorites because it’s all about bringing everyone together around the table for simple, yet delicious food,” he says. “And Thanksgiving seems to be a time when there are always a lot of house guests, so we began making this cocotte-style casserole dish with leftovers. It’s an easy way to keep feeding all those you love the day after.”

A cocotte is a layered, baked egg-cheese-and-bread dish like an Italian strata or savory bread pudding, where cubes of slightly stale bread soak up egg custard and are baked until puffy and golden. Though Vatinet’s recipe calls for sausage, ham, and mushrooms, he points out that the recipe is very versatile, and ingredients can be subbed in according to what’s left over from your own Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just the thing to serve for Black Friday brunch—get the recipe at indyweek.com.


Correction: This post originally misspelled the surname of Tonya Council.