The Ultimate Turkey Salad Recipe (That Rescues Leftover Turkey)

~ This Turkey Salad Recipe is absolutely jam-crammed with vibrant tastes and textures! A lightened-up dressing hack slashes calories without sacrificing creamy, delicious flavor … plus we’ve got serving suggestions to take you beyond the “basic” Turkey Salad Sandwich. No doubt – it’s the perfect solution for all that leftover Thanksgiving turkey (and it’s so outstanding, you’ll be making it with leftover chicken the whole year ’round, too)! ~

This Recipe Is:     Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Gluten Free (see note) 

Two finished sandwiches, stacked on top of each other on parchment, with the bowl of extra turkey salad in the background.

What’s simultaneously one of the very best … and also the very worst things about Thanksgiving? 

Leftovers!

Oh.so.many leftovers piled in the fridge.

Feels like a great opportunity, doesn’t it? Like you don’t have to cook anything more for days and days because there’s all that food, ready and waiting for you. Awesome. 

Except, it also just feels kinda boring.

Especially after that first hopeful plate, filled with not-quite-as-good-the-second-time-around piles of reheated meh

If only you could figure out how to make it exciting and magical all over again. Turn it into something everybody actually wants to eat.

Hmmmm … especially that cold, dry turkey. Seemed like a great idea to make a little extra. But … now what??

Don’t worry! We’ve got this!

Oval, white serving bowl full of the finished salad recipe, with a spoon tucked into it and sandwich bread and leafy lettuce in the background.

How to Reinvent That Boring, Leftover Turkey

Rescue that lackluster turkey with this decked out, festive Turkey Salad! It’s bursting at its seams with:

  • Sweet-tart dried cranberries
  • Crunchy pecans
  • Juicy apples
  • All draped in a deliciously lightened-up dressing, with just a hint of savory, seasonal thyme

That leftover turkey isn’t feeling so boring anymore, is it?

In fact, this Turkey Salad is exactly the kind of recipe that’ll actually make you want to buy a bigger turkey (just so you’ll have leftovers)! 

The kind of recipe you’ll look forward to every year on the day after Thanksgiving. And heck … on the day after that, too!

And Lucky You … This Can Be a Cranberry Chicken Salad, Too!

Yep! It’s so delicious that you might just find yourself whipping this up all year long, with leftover chicken instead of turkey.

Works great that way, too, I promise!

Closeup of a sandwich on parchment, with the top slice of bread sliding back so you can see the turkey salad piled inside.

(In fact, I shot these photos using store-bought rotisserie chicken, instead of turkey – since I took them for you back in early October, before I had heaps of leftover Thanksgiving turkey in my fridge.)

You don’t have to make any changes to the recipe at all – except swapping in chicken instead of turkey. 

Any leftover, cooked chicken breasts will work just fine, as long as they aren’t seasoned or marinated with ingredients that would compete with the flavors we’ve got going on here.

A plain rotisserie chicken is a great bet. Or, just cook up a couple of extra (plain) chicken breasts whenever you’re grilling, sautéeing or baking chicken for other recipes. Then, use the extra meat to make yourself a delicious Cranberry Chicken Salad to enjoy later in the week! Smart, huh?!?

How to Make Turkey Salad … That Really Showcases Your Leftover Bird

The key to re-inventing that hum-drum leftover Thanksgiving turkey is to surround it with fresh flavors and textures that elevate it beyond its shoved-to-the-back-of-the-fridge leftover status.

For this recipe, I turned to other ingredients that have a cozy, classic Thanksgiving vibe and perfectly complement turkey …

  • cranberries
  • apples
  • pecans
  • and celery

Collage of two method photos showing the ingredients for this recipe prepped on a chopping board, and then piled together in a bowl before mixing.

Right out of the gate, you’ve got sweet and tart, juicy and crunchy, refreshing and crisp. So many vibrant tastes, textures, and colors!

Just a tiny sprinkling of dried thyme is the ideal seasoning. It’s a quintessential Thanksgiving herb, so it’s a beautiful accent. I like just a little hit of it – so it’s not too strong, but sort of lurks irresistibly in the background, making you wonder vaguely what that “I can’t quite put my finger on it” flavor could be.

The Tricks for Making Our Lighter Turkey Salad Dressing

And then there’s the wonderfully creamy, lightened-up dressing.

Overhead photo of the dressing ingredients in a glass bowl, unmixed but with a spoon in it, with other turkey salad ingredients scattered nearby.

It beautifully laces all the other ingredients together, without adding loads of fat and unwanted calories. (Because, you know … the day or two after Thanksgiving isn’t really the time you’re hoping to feel even more over-stuffed and groggy!)

A couple of handy little tricks come into play here.

1) Greek Yogurt

I was able to use nonfat Greek yogurt as the base of the dressing, just like I do in our Healthy Chicken Salad with Grapes, Apples and Tarragon-Yogurt Dressing and our popular Healthy No Mayo Coleslaw.

Through the years, it’s become one of our go-to substitutes for mayonnaise here at THK.

When I first started this blog (about 8 years ago), mayo was such a huge nutritional no-no, all loaded up with less-than-healthy fats. In contrast, Greek yogurt is lean, clean, and simple.

Sometimes, I can get by with subbing in Greek yogurt to entirely replace things like mayo and sour cream, if I can get the balance of other ingredients tweaked so that the signature Greek yogurt flavor works with the recipe, and not against it.

For example, depending on the exact flavor profile of the recipe, ingredients like honey can help hide the telltale tang of the Greek yogurt. And additional ingredients like vinegar and Dijon mustard can round it all out perfectly into a quick, light dressing.

2) But Not ONLY Greek Yogurt

In some recipes, though, like this Turkey Salad, I find that the Greek yogurt can’t quite get the job done without a little old-school help. The dressing still needs just a tiny additional tweak … a little additional complexity and roundness. For this recipe, combining the Greek yogurt with a bit of mayo does the trick.

An oval, white bowl of the salad ingredients, with a drizzle of dressing spreading across part of it.

Wait … what?

Didn’t I just say that I loved substituting Greek yogurt in place of mayo?

Well, yeah. I did say that.

And it used to be 100% true, all the time.

But old-school, store-bought mayo has come a long way in the last few years, since my early days of blogging – back when mayo still had a seriously “bad boy” rep.

New mayo formulations are lighter and use healthier fats like olive oil.

So now I feel ok using a bit of mayo here and there – especially in recipes like this one, or in our fabulous Mexican Street Corn Salad, where Greek yogurt alone isn’t quite the right solution.

Serving Ideas (Beyond the Turkey Salad Sandwich!)

In terms of serving ideas for this Ultimate Turkey Salad recipe … it might seem obvious: pile it onto bread, and off you go.

And I guess it really can be that easy. But I’ve got a couple more tips and suggestions for ya.

1) First, let’s talk about perfecting this as a sandwich, which means choosing a great bread. Because this is such a hearty Turkey Salad, with lots of texture, it’s great on a more substantial bread that can really hold its own. I’d skip the wimpy white bread and pick one with mild flavors but whole grain texture. Or, grab a fresh bakery loaf with a nice, chewy crust, maybe flecked with nuts or oats. Yum!

2) You can also spoon this into a whole grain wrap. Great for munching on-the-go (maybe as you dash out the doors to hit a couple Black Friday sales).

3) Or, for a lower-carb option, try simply wrapping your Turkey Salad in a large lettuce leaf. It’s truly delicious without any bread at all!

Overhead photo of two options of this turkey salad recipe served as a sandwich, and also plated as a salad on top of green, leafy lettuce.

4) And speaking of lettuce, you can also serve this Turkey Salad as … well … as a salad. Eat it straight-up on its own, or spoon it over a bed of fresh, leafy greens. Refreshingly light after an indulgent Thanksgiving day eat-a-thon!

Make-Ahead Tips

Those days after Thanksgiving can be a blur of shopping (online or in person!), decorating, and holiday planning (gotta start picking out which cookies to make this year, right?!?)

Here again, this easy Turkey Salad recipe has got you covered.

  • Toss it all together earlier in the day, or even a couple of days ahead – whenever you have a spare moment.
  • Keep it stashed in the fridge for dinner, or for quick, meal prep lunches to refuel all weekend long.

Closeup of a white, oval serving bowl filled with the finished turkey salad recipe.

Plenty of extra time for making shopping lists and decking those halls – you’ve got a meal or two already done (especially if you rummage in the fridge for some of those leftover Thanksgiving side dishes to serve along with it)!

More Ideas for Using Up Leftover Turkey (That Are Also Totally NOT Boring)

So, let’s say you’re one of those people who somehow end up with a 20-pound bird when a 10-pound turkey would’ve been more than plenty. And so, you’re also one of those people who always has enough leftover turkey for days. And days.

Even making a triple batch of this Turkey Salad recipe isn’t gonna see you through the colossal platter of leftover turkey that’s staring at you every time you open the fridge.

Then you are definitely the sort of person who should also make our:

Consider your “leftover turkey” problem solved!

One finished sandwich, made with grainy bread and leaf lettuce, held together by a curly bamboo toothpick and sitting on parchment.

(Although Aunt Betty’s jell-o salad and that lumpy gravy that just couldn’t be fixed … ummmmmm … we’re gonna have to tackle those another day, friends. Sadly, not all leftovers are better when they’re made into an “ultimate” sandwich! 😉 )

Closeup side view of one turkey salad sandwich with grainy bread and lettuce, held together by a curled bamboo toothpick.

The Ultimate Turkey Salad Recipe

Yield: 5 cups
Prep Time: 12 minutes
Total Time: 12 minutes

An easy Turkey Salad recipe bursting with fresh, vibrant flavors and textures. Truly the ultimate way to enjoy leftover Thanksgiving turkey!

  Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Gluten Free (see note)  

Ingredients

  • 2 cups diced, cooked turkey (or chicken, see note)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup diced apple (preferably a crisp, sweet-tart apple such as Honeycrisp)
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup healthier mayonnaise (such as an olive-oil-based, reduced-fat mayo or other healthier mayo of choice)
  • 1/4 cup nonfat milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • optional for serving: lettuce and whole grain wraps or bread for making sandwiches; or lettuce leaves as a gluten free wrap or as a base for a salad plate

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine turkey (or chicken), cranberries, apples, celery, and pecans, stirring gently to combine.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, salt, thyme, honey, and mustard.
  3. Pour dressing over chicken mixture and gently stir to combine evenly.
  4. Serve as desired – as a sandwich, wrap, or salad plate.

Notes

Turkey/Chicken: Nearly any leftover turkey meat (preferably breast) or boneless, skinless chicken breasts will work in this recipe, as long as they're not overly flavorful from spices or marinades. We recommend simply cooking a slightly larger turkey breast or a couple of extra chicken breasts whenever you're making them for another purpose, so you have extra meat leftover for this recipe without any extra work. A store-bought rotisserie chicken is another easy option, and the skinless breast meat from one rotisserie chicken should be approximately the right amount for this recipe.

Gluten free suggestions: Although most mayos are gluten free, if that's a concern, do be careful to purchase a mayonnaise that's clearly labeled as gluten free. Also, select a gluten free bread if you're making sandwiches, or try our suggestions in the post to serve this over salad greens or wrapped in a large lettuce leaf.

Make-ahead tips: You can prepare this salad a few hours or even a day ahead, and refrigerate until serving. Leftovers can be refrigerated for two or three days.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10 servings Serving Size: 1/2 cup of salad
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 157Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 23mgSodium: 253mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 2gSugar: 14gProtein: 10g

Nutrition information is calculated based on using turkey breast, and is provided for turkey salad only (and not for optional lettuce, wraps, bread, etc. that may be used for serving, as nutrition can vary for these). Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may additionally vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.

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34 thoughts on “The Ultimate Turkey Salad Recipe (That Rescues Leftover Turkey)”

  1. Such a delicious way to repurpose Thanksgiving leftovers! And in my case, to repurpose dinner from a few nights ago. So delicious, so flavorful, and will be making this one again!

    Reply
    • I’m thrilled to hear it, Candice! And for sure … there’s no need to save this little gem just for after Thanksgiving. ANYtime you’ve got leftover turkey (or even chicken), this is a perfect solution. So very glad you enjoyed it – thanks for the lovely feedback! ~Shelley

      Reply
  2. This is absolutely delicious!!! Such a great way to use up leftover Turkey. I tried mine with chicken and it was incredible! Love the cranberries and apples, looking forward to making a massive batch after thanksgiving!

    Reply

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Published on
Updated on August 1, 2021
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