How to Use Leftover Meat

by Sherri Brooks Vinton

Published: 4/09/19, Last updated: 4/09/19

Meat can be a nutritious part of a delicious meal. And for many, it’s part of the daily menu, often leaving eaters with leftover meat to use up. But red meat, such as beef, bison, goat and lamb, can also be expensive to buy and, as we discuss in our report, The FoodPrint of Beef, extremely resource intensive to produce. It’s important environmentally, economically and ethically to make sure that we enjoy every bite of the meat we buy and leave nothing to waste. Whether it’s half a burger or the last of Sunday’s roast, there are quick, scrumptious solutions that ensure that every last morsel of the meat you buy hits the spot, not the waste bin.

The FoodPrint of Beef

For in-depth information on beef and its sustainability issues, read our report, The FoodPrint of Beef.

Learn More

How you use up your leftover meat depends largely on how it was initially cooked. Cook-all-day cuts have rich flavor, fork-tender texture and often come with luscious pan drippings or braising liquid that you can incorporate into a whole new dish. Cuts such as steaks and roasts that are served less done in the middle can toughen if not reheated gently. And leftover chopped meat has a roster of delectable and versatile uses. Cooked meat, cooled covered and stored in the fridge will stay wholesome for three to four days. Plenty of time to dig into these dishes.

Using Up Slow-Cooked Meat

Leftover meat from long-cooked dishes such as braised roasts, shanks and short ribs don’t mind spending more time in the pot. You can easily chop up leftover portions and throw them into soups and stews. You can also take advantage of their fork-tender texture by shredding the meat and using it in these recipes.

Leftover Meat Tacos

Sauté an onion in olive oil, toss in the leftover shredded meat and some spices such as chili powder, cumin and coriander. Add some liquid such as water, stock or leftover braising liquid and simmer until heated through. Stuff into soft, warm tortillas and dress with toppings like sliced radish, a few shreds of cabbage and a squeeze of lime. Hot sauce optional but highly recommended.

Leftover Meat Ravioli

Soft, shredded, leftover meat tucks neatly into ravioli wrappers that you can make yourself or substitute with store-bought wonton wrappers. Drop the ravioli in boiling water and scoop them out when they begin to float. Use some rewarmed pan juices left over from your roast to lightly glaze your ravioli and shower them with wisps of parmesan. Or float your leftover meat ravioli in a shallow pool of stock (made from the roast’s bones if you’re up to the task) for an “en brodo” presentation.

Using Up Cooked-to-Temperature Meat by Gently Heating

Steaks, chops or roasts such as prime rib that are cooked to a desired doneness can toughen under additional fire. You want to reheat such cuts very briefly, adding them to the dish right at the end of cooking to protect their tender texture. Remove any bones and excess fat and cut the meat into thin slices or strips then proceed with these ideas.

Leftover Meat Stroganoff

The missing piece in many leftover recipes is the “fond,” the brown, caramelized bits that form on the bottom of the pan when meat is cooked. Starting with meat that has already been prepared means that you won’t have the opportunity to create this flavorful foundation. Fortunately, the mushrooms sautéed in the beginning of this Stroganoff recipe create a fond of their own so your finished dish will not lack the depth of flavor that this element provides.

Smothered Leftover Meat

In Cajun and Creole cuisine “étouffée,” which is French for “smother,” refers to a rich, roux-based dish that is commonly served over rice. “Smothered” is used more broadly in Southern cuisine to describe the process of braising meat or vegetables, partially covered, in a flavorful base until tender. While it’s not a good idea to braise steak cuts, you can create a tasty “smother sauce” (see below) and add the sliced leftover meat just at the end to gently reheat it.

Using up Cooked-to-Temperature Meat without Heating

Cold slivers of steak or roast can be just as tasty without reheating. Allow the sliced meat to sit at room temperature while you prepare the rest of the elements of the dish to avoid an ice-cold bite. Cold diminishes the intensity of food’s flavor.

Leftover Steak Salad

Steak salad feels decadent but is a frugal way to use up leftover meat. Peppery or bitter lettuces, such as arugula or radicchio offer a necessary edge that cuts through the buttery meat.

Leftover Steak Sandwich

Steak, bread, spread, done. A slather of spicy mayo (just add a dash of sriracha and a few drops of ketchup to your mayo) or mayo and mustard on some good bread is a great start to the perfect steak sandwich. Add in whatever you have in the fridge; some greens, cheese, chopped onion or tomato. Or press your steak, spread, cheese combo and toast it up for homemade panini.

Using Up Leftover Chopped Meat

Leftover cooked chopped meat or burgers are the easiest to fold into recipes. You can crumble up the meat and sneak it into a grilled cheese or quesadilla, scramble some up with your morning eggs, or try it in one of these (slightly) more ambitious preparations.

Leftover Meat Bolognese

This Italian meat sauce can easily absorb your leftover chopped meat. Sauté an onion and some garlic. Add the chopped meat, some canned tomatoes and herbs such as thyme, oregano and basil and your sauce will be ready by the time you boil your pasta.

Leftover Meat Shepherd’s Pie

This mashed potato crowned casserole is a tradition in the UK where it is traditionally made with ground lamb. Any leftover ground meat will be at home in the dish’s savory gravy.

Recipe: Leftover Meat Smother Sauce

This bacon and onion gravy is a handy trick to have on hand for using up leftover meat of any type. Because you add the meat at the end there’s no risk of toughening up your great steak or sliced roast. This recipe can be doubled to feed a crowd.


4 slices of bacon
1 small onion, diced
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups stock
Pinch of dried thyme
Salt and pepper
2 cups leftover meat, sliced thinly


  1. In a medium pan, render bacon over medium low heat, turning occasionally, until crisp and brown, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the bacon from the pan and set aside.
  2. Add an onion to the bacon drippings and sauté until translucent, 3-5 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle flour in the pan and stir for about a minute to cook of its raw taste.
  4. Whisk in the stock, a little at time, blending after each addition.
  5. Crumble the bacon and return it to the pan.
  6. Add the thyme, a bit of salt and a healthy amount of pepper. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about five minutes.
  7. Add the leftover meat and stir just until reheated, about a minute. Serve over rice, pasta or mashed potatoes.

More Reading

Can Legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill Help Tackle Food Waste??

June 15, 2022

Lean on Friends For Help Completing the Reduce Your Foodprint Challenge

January 12, 2022

8 Ideas for Eco-Friendly Gift Wrap For Food Gifts

December 9, 2021

From Kimchi to Sauerkraut, Fermented Vegetables Have Gone from Taboo to Wellness Darling

November 11, 2021

These New Cookbooks Help Reframe the Concept of Zero Waste

October 7, 2021

The FoodPrint Seasonal Eating Challenge

September 1, 2021

The FoodPrint Guide to Reducing Food Waste

May 17, 2021

Keep Your Extra Scoby From Going to Waste with These Recipes & Ideas

April 15, 2021

How to Use Turnip Greens and Beet Greens

October 1, 2020

40+ Easy Ideas for Using up Chickpeas and Aquafaba

July 31, 2020