Leftover turkey has life

Blue corn tortilla chips and sour cream accent a tamale pie.

Cast-iron turkey tamale pie is a great way to remember that gobbler

Regular readers of this column know there is always one turkey recipe each spring to go with the turkey season. Only once before have I added a second turkey recipe, but I’m going to do it again. It’s a turkey pie, cooked in a cast-iron pan, that can be cooked in the oven or taken outside to the grill in the warming May weather. It makes a lot, too, so there will be plenty for lunches for a few days.

This recipe should be in time to be used with one of those late-season birds while they’re still fresh.

It’s rare to have much for leftover turkey, but this recipe is tasty enough that you might consider being sure there is a little. It uses turkey that has been cooked, and it is a really good way to use the legs, wings, back meat and other small pieces. Several folks who used to only breast out their turkeys admit they now save the wings, legs and other carcass meat after trying this. It’s a tasty, feel-good kind of meal and can be finished outside on a covered grill. The prep work can also be done on the side burners of most larger grills.

I like doing this outside but was forced inside for the accompanying pictures as my deck isn’t covered and rains came.

Yellow grits are an important ingredient to fold into the pie.

It might require a light jacket, flannel shirt or sweatshirt to enjoy being on the deck or patio on a cool May evening, but when this pie comes off the cooker, no one will complain. Part of that is the fine taste of wild turkey, but part of it is a treatment for extended cabin fever. This recipe really is tasty enough to help cure minor cases of Seasonal Affective Disorder caused by winter being so stubborn and refusing to leave.

Cast-iron turkey tamale pie

This recipe is about as simple as it gets, except that it requires a deep, cast-iron skillet. It uses several canned ingredients, and it just happens that certain sizes of cans hold the right amount. The prime ingredient is previously cooked turkey, and it isn’t particular about how that turkey is cooked. There may be some left from preparing a whole turkey for another meal or you might simply boil some to remove it from the bones. Those odd pieces, like wings, legs and back or other carcass meat work well for this. The turkey should be skinned before chopping, especially if the turkey was fried.

The sausage patty adds a little flavor and just enough grease to wilt the onions. You can use a domestic pork patty, but if you have venison or feral pork (even bear) sausage in your freezer, it was made to your preference for spice and/or heat.

The recipe calls for beans, and I prefer black beans; however, it can be done with red, chili or white beans, depending on personal preference. Each will change the flavor just a little, but all are good.

The little bit of ground chipotle pepper is just enough to give a hint of the smoky chipotle flavor without adding any heat. Folks who like a lot of spice will add more when they fix this in the future. I suggest even those who don’t like much spice, try it with the chipotle first. You can leave it out later if you don’t like it, but I don’t think you will. Salt helps kick the chipotle heat and l don’t add much salt. If you prefer more salt, be aware it helps accentuate the spice of the ground chipotle.

As with any of my recipes, feel free to adjust it to your personal preferences. Add more cheese if you like and increase or decrease the amount of onion. I like yellow corn, but you might prefer white corn. I haven’t done it yet, but I keep thinking one time I’ll replace the tomatoes with Rotel.

A cast-iron skillet is a must when cooking this turkey tamale pie, which uses many parts of the wild tukey that some cooks discare.

This recipe has been southernized and works well using coarse-ground, yellow grits. An authentic Mexican tamale pie recipe would call for polenta or masa flour, but I prefer it with the yellow grits. Experiment if you’d like; and both should taste pretty good. Whatever you do, don’t try this with white grits. It’s not the same. Regular readers know I’m pretty flexible about substitutions and varying spices, but save yourself some time and effort by taking my word for it that you want yellow grits, polenta or masa flour for this.

This recipe offers a unique way to use turkey and even works with domestic turkey or chicken. There are a few minutes of prep, but it’s really easy and allows for visiting with family and friends while it cooks and that’s another reason to prepare it outside under a nice starlit spring evening. Give it a try, I believe you’ll enjoy it. When you cook it again, you’ll know you did.

TIP: Many cooks believe grits need lots of salt, but I start with only a little, knowing that more can be added, but it’s impossible to remove.


  • 2 cups chopped/shredded cooked turkey
  • 1 sausage patty, venison or feral pig
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 small to medium sweet onion
  • 1 large (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 small (11 ounce) can sweet yellow corn kernels
  • 1 regular (15.5 ounce) can beans (red, black or white)
  • 1 small (4 ounce) can green chilies
  • 1 cup coarse-ground yellow corn grits
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground chipotle pepper
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh salsa
  • sour cream
  • blue corn tortilla chips


Chop the onion and chop/shred the turkey. Lightly brown the sausage patty in a deep, cast-iron pan, remove and crumble. Sauté the onion in the sausage drippings until opaque. Add 1 cup of chicken broth, drained tomatoes, chili powder, ground chipotle pepper, sugar, salt and pepper and cook on low for 8 to 12 minutes. Stir in the sausage, turkey, corn and beans. Once blended well and warmed, reduce the heat to warm.

Preheat the oven (or grill) to 400 degrees. Cook the grits in 3 cups of chicken broth and a pinch of salt until they have thickened and are almost finished. This is less liquid than suggested on the package and will require frequent stirring. Add the butter and cheese to the grits and mix well. Pour the grits over the top of the mixture in the large, cast-iron pan and spread evenly. Cook in the oven (or on a closed grill) for 25 to 30 minutes. Begin careful not to allow the grits’ crust to scorch. Remove the pan from the oven (or grill) and allow to stand for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Serve with salsa, sour cream and blue corn tortilla chips.

A lettuce wedge or green salad is a nice start to this meal and those wanting dessert will find that fried plantains or flan top it off well.