12 Ways To Upgrade Canned Turkey

There are always those foods that get pushed to the back of the pantry, only for you to realize months later that they're back there, just waiting to get used in a recipe. That's certainly true of canned foods, including canned turkey. Sure, canned turkey seems like a convenient ingredient to have on hand, but what are you really supposed to make with it, anyway? Unless you want to open it up and eat it straight out of the can with some dry crackers, it may not seem like something that'll be too useful in the kitchen.

In reality, though, canned turkey is one of the best-canned goods you can have on hand. While fresh turkey can be tricky and time-consuming to cook, canned turkey is already completely cooked through. Therefore, it's easy to add it to dishes without a ton of extra work on your part. That's why we've compiled this list of easy ways to upgrade that canned turkey you have in your pantry. By utilizing these ideas, you can ensure that you'll take advantage of your canned turkey to the fullest. Once you're done looking through this list, you'll never have to wonder what to do with a can of turkey again. Here are some of our favorite canned turkey meal ideas.

Turn it into turkey bolognese

You have pasta, tomato paste, onion, celery, and carrots in the kitchen. You do not, however, happen to have any ground beef or pork, which you may consider essential ingredients in cooking a bolognese. You could run to the store and pick up the ingredients you're missing, of course, but if you're pinched for time, on a budget, or just don't feel like leaving the house, you may want to utilize that canned turkey. Yes, it's a much lighter flavor than the typical beef or pork, but that can work well if you want a dinner that's not quite as heavy as the original.

We also love this turkey bolognese solution because it's so much easier to cook than raw meat. You don't need to make sure that the protein is cooked through because you know it's already cooked when it comes out of the can. That cuts down on a lot of the guesswork you may otherwise have to do. With such a simple and easy hack, pasta night just became quicker than ever.

Give your chili a protein boost

Chili is one of our absolute favorite dishes to make on a cold winter night, and although you can make it with beans alone, you may want to make yours a bit heartier. After all, chili is supposed to be warming and filling, so a bit more protein can go a long way. Luckily, adding a can of turkey to your chili is an ultra-simple addition that can transform the meal. Even just a small amount can add a ton of flavor, but a larger portion will up the protein content in your dish, making it a good option for those who are always looking for a way to add more protein to their diet.

If you want your turkey to impart as much flavor as possible in the dish, make sure you add to the chili while it's simmering. That way, the turkey will mix and meld with the other ingredients in the chili. However, you can technically put the canned turkey in at the last minute if you happen to forget about it until right before you're ready to serve dinner. Since it's already cooked through, all you have to do is heat it up, and you'll have turkey chili.

Add canned turkey to a soup

When was the last time you made a soup from scratch? We love making soup when we have a bunch of leftover ingredients sitting around in the fridge. That leftover cabbage, that random carrot, the frozen okra you never thought you'd use: All of it will work well in a soup if you make a flavorful broth. One way to add even more flavor, nutrition, and texture to your soup is by adding a can of turkey. Unlike using fresh, raw turkey, canned turkey doesn't take a lot of prep work — you won't have to cook it beforehand or even season it before adding it to the mix.

One thing you should be aware of if you're adding canned turkey to your soup, though, is the fact that canned meat tends to contain a lot of salt. Therefore, you may want to think about how much salt you're adding to the soup before you put the turkey in. Make adjustments depending on the sodium content of your canned turkey, and you'll have a supremely flavorful soup simmering on the stove in no time.

Make stock with canned turkey meat

If you've purchased pre-made stock or broth at the grocery store lately, then you know how expensive it can be. That's especially true if stock is an ingredient you use on a regular basis. Since it's needed for such a wide variety of recipes, you may find yourself picking up cartons of the stuff from the grocery store all the time. If you want to save some money (or just want to save yourself a trip to the grocery store), why not try to make your own stock with canned turkey meat? All the juices in the meat will leak out into the stock, creating a flavorful ingredient you can freeze or add directly to soups, risotto, and more.

Keep in mind that you'll probably want to use other ingredients to make your stock. Save leftover vegetable scraps from other recipes to include in the stock base. The leftovers of carrots, onions, celery, and more can be used to give your stock even more flavor. Who knew you could make homemade stock so easily?

Swap with canned chicken for turkey salad

When you have a can of chicken on hand, what do you think of doing with it? If you're like a lot of people, you probably imagine making a chicken salad. After all, canned meat is the perfect base for a mayo-spiked chicken salad. However, it may not occur to you to make the same kind of salad with canned turkey. It is a completely different meat, and turkey isn't something that most people generally put into salads.

However, when you really think about it, turkey and chicken have very similar flavors. Sure, turkey can be a bit drier than chicken, but you can easily adjust for that in your turkey salad recipe. We recommend adding a bit more mayo to your turkey salad, but other than that, you can prepare it in much the same way you would a salad using a can of chicken. It's a quick solution to using up that can of turkey in your pantry, and it's even better because it requires no cooking on your part.

Make a turkey pot pie

Another great way to use canned turkey? Try making your own turkey pot pie. That may sound complicated, but trust us when we say that it's a cooking task that almost anyone can take on, especially when you decide to use canned turkey. The main benefit of using canned turkey in this recipe is the fact that you won't have to worry about cooking the meat all the way through before it's added to the pot pie. Since it's already been cooked, you can simply break it up in the can and then add it to the pie before placing it in the oven.

This is an especially good use of canned turkey because the broth and juices from the vegetables really help keep the meat moist. The juices from the turkey will also integrate with the rest of the broth, creating a heartier, more savory flavor. For a Thanksgiving-inspired dish, you can even add stuffing to your recipe.

Combine it with creamed corn to make delicious turkey burgers

Yes, you can use canned turkey to make turkey burgers if you're looking for something you can throw on the grill. But if you've worked with canned turkey before, then you've probably already realized that it can be quite dry. This isn't ideal, as it can make the burgers difficult to work with. In fact, without the proper binder, they may just fall apart, leaving you with a meaty mess that you'll have to clean up before you try the recipe again.

While you could always use eggs as a binder, there are other solutions you can turn to if you don't have eggs at home (or you're allergic to them). One easy solution we love to add to our canned turkey burger mix is creamed corn. Although this might sound like a strange addition, hear us out: The canned corn contains fat that you won't find in lean turkey. This helps bind the other ingredients together so your burgers won't fall apart the second you put them on the grill. The next time you don't think you have anything in the house to eat, take a look at your pantry and go through the canned foods you have on hand. You might just be surprised at what you're able to throw together with some canned turkey and creamed corn.

Make turkey quesadillas

Quesadillas are one of our favorite meals for those times when we don't really feel like cooking but are trying to avoid ordering takeout yet again. They're incredibly easy to make, and they don't require many ingredients. In just a matter of minutes, you can make a quesadilla with some cheese and any other ingredients you have in the fridge or pantry and call it a day. So, why not make quesadillas with that canned turkey you have lying around? Just like you can make chicken quesadillas with canned chicken, you can do the same with turkey.

Heat up your pan, and place your tortilla on it. Then top it with a sprinkling of cheese, and add whatever other ingredients you want to include, like onions, spinach, peppers, or whatever else you have on hand. Open up the can of turkey, break it up, and spread it out over the tortilla. Wait until that cheese starts to melt, then close the tortilla and continue to cook until everything is heated through and the cheese is melted. Whether you decide to eat your turkey quesadillas as a snack or an easy meal, you're not likely to be disappointed by this combo.

Put your canned turkey on pizza

Sure, ordering pizza delivery may be the easiest way to get your pizza fix, and picking up a frozen pie at the store is a simple option as well. But if you want to save money and use up what you already have at home, you may want to consider making your own homemade pizza. If you have some flour, tomato sauce, cheese, and a few other toppings, you have everything you need to make a simple pizza without even leaving the house. 

One of our favorite toppings for homemade pizza is canned meat, with canned turkey providing a light addition to the dish. Place some on top of the pizza before it goes into the oven, and you'll get your protein-packed pizza fix in no time. Don't want to make an entire pizza from scratch? Update a frozen cheese or vegetable pizza by adding some canned turkey before you put it in the oven.

Make turkey meatballs

If you're making meatballs, you generally want to pick up some minced meat — this is perhaps the easiest way to form the meatball correctly. Turkey is a great option when you want the heartiness that a meatball provides without a flavor that's quite so heavy. But did you know that you can make turkey meatballs with canned turkey as well? If you've never tried it, you may want to give it a shot the next time your fridge is empty, and you want to make dinner with ingredients you already have in the house.

Admittedly, meatballs made from canned turkey won't stay together quite as easily as those made from ground turkey do, but if you add a binder to the meatball mix, you should be able to pull it off without a problem. Just make sure you use some sort of binder that contains fat, as that will help give the meatballs more flavor in addition to binding them together. Plus, because the turkey is already cooked through, you just need to make sure the meatballs are properly heated. It may not be the most conventional method for making meatballs, but it's a solid option when you're in a pinch.

Toss it with some pasta and Parmesan for an easy meal

You don't have to go all out to make your canned turkey into a delicious meal. Sure, you could incorporate it into other, more complicated recipes, but maybe you don't want to spend that much time making your canned turkey appealing. Luckily, there are simple, uncomplicated ways to make your canned turkey taste amazing by combining it with a few other ingredients. One of the best ways to use canned turkey is by simply tossing it with some pasta. The possibilities are endless here. You can use a longer pasta, like spaghetti if you want more of a twirlable pasta situation, or you can use a shorter pasta if you want an easier-to-eat pasta dish. Cook the pasta, and sauté the canned turkey in a pan, heating it up and crisping it slightly to get that perfect crunchy texture.

Next, transfer the cooked pasta into the pan with the turkey. Make sure to add some of the pasta water you used to yield the creamiest possible results. Finish it off with some olive oil and seasonings, and that's really all you need to bring this simple pasta dish to fruition. Of course, you shouldn't be afraid to add other ingredients to up the flavor ante a little bit more. Parmesan, for example, adds a creamy texture and a salty, umami flavor that can really enhance the dish, and some sort of green, like spinach, can provide an extra boost of nutrition.

Make a Thanksgiving leftover casserole

It's the day after Thanksgiving, and you have a fridge that's absolutely packed with leftovers from all the side dishes you made. There's plenty of stuffing, mashed potatoes, roasted vegetables, and even cranberry sauce. The only thing you don't have any more of? The turkey itself. That may feel like a bummer — after all, what are you going to do with a bunch of Thanksgiving sides if you don't have any of the main course left over? But if you have a can of turkey on hand, you can easily transform those leftovers into something special.

We love making a casserole with our leftovers because it's such an easy way to use up what wasn't eaten the night before. Plus, working with Thanksgiving leftovers, in particular, is a great option because all of the flavors work pretty well together. Therefore, you can just layer those sides in a baking dish, adding in the canned turkey as you go. Make sure you break up the turkey into small pieces so you don't have to deal with any particularly large chunks. Finish assembling the leftovers, put them in the oven, and in a few minutes, you'll have a casserole of leftovers that taste like new again. For best results, use some of the leftover gravy to finish off the casserole.