Carnitas-style turkey tacos made with leftover turkey


As the Thanksgiving meal draws to a close, the compliments of the dinner turn to questions of, “Does anyone want the leftovers?” No matter how good the meal — or how carefully quantities are planned —  the amount of Thanksgiving leftovers and what to do with them can be a little daunting.

However, with this recipe for carnitas-style turkey tacos made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey, inspired by Serious Eats, your turkey troubles are toast.

Using the leftover turkey and spicing it up is a tasty and delicious way to use up the turkey. Since roasted turkey can get kind of ho-hum, serving the leftovers with a different seasoning helps keep boring at bay. Oranges, onions and bay leaves build a savory and citrusy layer into the meat.

MORE: Leftover turkey casserole

There is also a nutritious bonus benefit to making this turkey “carnitas” recipe: you will also end up with some rich bone broth for your freezer.

Using the turkey bones releases the nutrients collagen, glutamine and glycine, all of which can aid in the rebuilding of the stomach lining and infuse the body with vital minerals… which, after a Thanksgiving meal, we all probably need. Bone broth helps in other ways, too, like joint flexibility, cellulite reduction and boosting the immune system.

When you reimagine your Thanksgiving leftovers into a delicious south-of-the-border meal, there’s no need to worry about who is taking home the leftover turkey. With this recipe, everyone will be fighting for the leftovers!

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Boil the extra meat and bones with oranges, onions and bay leaves

Oranges bring a sweet and acidic taste to the roasted meat. Fill a pot with water about halfway, and simmer the turkey meat and bones until the meat is tender and falls off the carcass, about one hour.

Boil the extra meat and the bones with oranges, onions and a couple of bay leaves

Drain the stock and set aside

Once cooled, pour the stock into quart-sized reclosable bags for easy use in other recipes. You can use the broth for cooking rice or vegetables, or simply use as your next soup base. Remove bits of bone and aromatics and shred the turkey meat.

Drain the stock and set aside

Crisp the turkey

Heat oil in a frying pan until it shimmers and place the turkey in a single layer on the bottom of the pan. Do not stir! In order to achieve that beautiful crispy taste characteristic of carnitas, the shredded turkey meat needs to develop a crust. Stirring doesn’t allow the meat to form a crust. Trust us on this.

Crisp the turkey

Stir the turkey

After about five minutes the bottom develops a brown and crusty bottom. Now it’s okay to stir the turkey. Stir the turkey and try to scrape up the bits of brown bits stuck to the pan. Those are the delicious parts so don’t skip it or give up.

Season with salt and continue stirring until the meat is as brown as desired. Remove the meat to another plate and continue the frying process in batches until all the meat is crispy.

Stir the turkey

Assemble the turkey tacos

Place the browned meat and in a soft tortilla. Top with shredded cabbage or lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, salsa or pico de gallo, and lime wedges.

Assemble the carnitas

MORE: Simple, smoky leftover turkey corn chowder with bacon

Makes a gorgeous platter!

Makes a gorgeous platter!

MORE: Scrumptious and simple leftover turkey Shepherd’s pie

These carnitas-style turkey tacos are absolutely delicious

These carnitas tacos are absolutely delicious

Healthy, savory and tasty…you can’t go wrong!

Healthy, savory and can't go wrong!

Carnitas-style turkey tacos


  • Any amount leftover cooked dark-meat turkey
  • 1 orange per pound of leftover turkey meat, preferably sour
  • 1 medium onion per pound of leftover turkey meat
  • 2 bay leaves per pound of leftover turkey meat
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or turkey fat per pound of leftover turkey meat
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 4 ounces pico de gallo
  • 2 limes, cut in wedges
  • 12 corn or wheat tortillas
  • Cilantro sprigs


  1. Combine turkey (with bones), orange, onion and bay leaf in a stockpot. The mixture should fit snugly. Add enough water to cover halfway up the sides of the pot.
  2. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until turkey is fall-off-the-bone tender, about an hour.
  3. Drain stock and save for another use.
  4. Discard orange, onion, bones and bay leaves and place turkey and place in another bowl.
  5. Shred turkey with a couple of forks
  6. Heat oil, or fat, in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer.
  7. Working in batches, add turkey and spread into an even layer. Cook, without moving, until meat is well-browned and crisp on the bottom, about five minutes. Stir turkey to incorporate the crisp bits and introduce new soft bits to the bottom. Continue this process until the turkey is as crisp as you like. Season with salt.
  8. Assemble turkey tacos by heating tortillas, then adding toppings: crisp turkey, red onion, and pico de gallo. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the turkey and garnish with sprigs of cilantro.

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