Thanksgiving leftovers and your waffle iron are a match made in holiday heaven

Once you've exhausted turkey sandwich and soup options, raid your leftovers and ask, "Will it waffle?"

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published November 29, 2021 3:00PM (EST)

Waffle made of leftover mashed russets and sweet potatoes, topped with bourbon cranberry sauce (Photo courtesy of Erin Keane)
Waffle made of leftover mashed russets and sweet potatoes, topped with bourbon cranberry sauce (Photo courtesy of Erin Keane)

One of the results of cooking fairly often is that, every few months, I become freshly enamored with a piece of cookware or a kitchen gadget. For a stretch, it was my Dutch oven; there was a lot of braising, I became a "soup person" anew and even bugged J. Kenji Lopez-Alt about the secrets to making a crispy no-knead loaf in one. Over the summer, it was my mandolin for all-shaved everything, from peppery wisps of radish to the kind of simply dressed summer squash that could inspire a sort of epiphany

But when Billy, a family friend (who also happens to be a tremendous woodworker) asked me the other day how I was planning on using up the inevitable leftover odds-and-ends of Thanksgiving leftovers, I had two words for him: waffle iron. 

Don't get me wrong, I love the Thanksgiving leftovers go-tos almost as much as the meal itself. 

RELATED: The best ways to use up leftover sweet potatoes

A turkey sandwich on thick, white bread, stacked high with random bits from the fridge and a smear of cranberry mayonnaise, provides one of the best first bites of the year. While living in Kentucky, I learned to love a Hot Brown, a mess of an open-faced sandwich that's smothered in velvety mornay sauce and topped with a single ruby slice of tomato. Turkey soup is a seasonal comfort, while a leftovers-packed burrito is a stoner's delight (though, if you have the wherewithal, you really should pickle your leftover cranberries for a relishy-salsa accompaniment). Writer Maggie Hennessy's updated turkey rice supreme sounds divine. 

However, one of my absolute favorite uses of Thanksgiving leftovers is simply asking, "Will it waffle?" 

Most folks know this, but your waffle iron is multi-use beyond breakfast. As long as you make sure your waffle maker is well-oiled, most carby things tend to crisp up really, really well; I like using PAM nonstick spray for baking, which uses both oil and flour. 

By the way, this guide first appeared in The Bite, Salon Food's weekly food newsletter. If you want early access to special essays, recipes and holiday guides, be sure to subscribe. 

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Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes 

Mashed potatoes, sweet or regular, can be whisked together with an egg, a little flour and a few add-ins — crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, minced onion and garlic — to create crisp, almost latke-like potato waffles. Top them with gravy, some leftover cranberry sauce or serve them alongside sour cream with some chopped chives. 

Stuffing and Macaroni and Cheese

Whether cornbread or sourdough-based, the stuffing is the Thanksgiving side I look forward to most each year. It's also one of the better leftovers because it reheats pretty well, though is all the better when done so in the waffle iron. Want to immediately up your leftover sandwich game? Top it with a disc of crispy stuffing. The same goes for macaroni and cheese. Is it a little extra? Sure, but after weathering the holidays, you deserve it. 

Cranberry Sauce 

So, cranberry sauce itself decidedly does not waffle. It's a fabulous mix-in for standard waffle batter.

Leftover Pie Dough 

Leftover pie dough, however, does waffle. Roll out a round of pie dough to fit your waffle iron and sprinkle it with brown sugar and a generous amount of cinnamon. Top it with another round of pie dough and cook it. It's amazing as-is, but if you want to be a little extra, serve them alongside some cream cheese icing. 

Fried Rice 

This isn't so much a suggestion for transforming your leftovers, per se, as it is for a vehicle for serving said leftovers. Leftover rice — which is bound with whipped egg, some soy sauce and sesame oil — can be cooked in a waffle iron until crisp. Use that as the base for your open-faced leftovers sandwich. Gravy and crispy rice? Another umami match made in heaven. 

More ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers: 

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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