How Many Pounds of Turkey Should You Order Per Person?

Be sure there's plenty of turkey to gobble up.

October 17, 2019

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

By Erin Hartigan for Food Network Kitchen

When purchasing a turkey for the big day, there are a lot of considerations in planning out portions. It’s not just about the turkey — you’ll have sides and dessert, not to mention grazing on dips and small bites for hours ahead of the big meal. But let’s be real — the turkey is the main event, and most of us look forward to Thanksgiving leftovers as much as we do the actual feast. So you don’t want to skimp and leave yourself without feast fixings for the coming days.

The general rule is to plan for 1 1/2 pounds per guest. To buy the right size turkey for your party, simply tally up the turkey-eating guests. Add a few pounds on for bones and you've got your turkey weight. For example, 8 hungry people will require at least 12 pounds, but you might want to skew to a 14-pound turkey to be safe. If you know the majority of your guests may prefer white meat, skip buying the whole bird in favor of purchasing separate breasts and legs, and roast them separately. If you're buying boneless meat, assume about 8 ounces per guest.

How much is too much turkey?

Though the pound-and-a-half range is standard, some pros — read: chefs — opt to go bigger, to be sure there's enough for all. Chef Neal Fraser, of Redbird in Los Angeles, budgets for even more meat, recommending two pounds per person. Rocco DiSpirito, executive chef at The Standard Grill in NYC, seconds the two-pounds-per-person rule. “So, for 10 people you should prepare a 20-pound turkey. Home cooks should expect to yield 40 percent of a cooked bird, and between dark meat and white meat preferences, the yield will shrink even further.” That plan also ensures that you have enough white or dark meat, if you unexpectedly find guests gravitating to one and leaving the other on the platter.

Consider the bird

Be sure to invest in a good-quality bird. Derek Herre, chef de cuisine at Asheville’s Rhubarb, recommends buying fresh versus frozen turkey. “As far as flavor, it’s like a canned vegetable versus a fresh vegetable,” he explains. “Fresh meat will always taste better, as we humans have not done anything to compromise the integrity of that meat.” In terms of size, opt for one that’s not too big, not too small. Fraser suggests opting for turkeys in the 16- to 18-pound range.

Your choice of bird — heritage versus conventionally farmed birds — may vary depending on your diners’ preferences. The classic conventional bird has a bigger breast, offering ample meat for those who prefer white meat. Heritage birds pack more flavor into the meat, but tend to be smaller, without as much white meat. And since recipes typically account for conventional birds, home cooks tacking a heritage bird may want to adjust timing and keep close eye.

Make the best of the bird

With your bird selected — if not in hand — it’s now time to source out the best turkey recipe to ensure that it’s properly prepared. If you’re not sure where to start, this mix-and-match turkey guide can help.

One big early question is whether or not to brine your turkey, which takes advance planning, but helps ensure that the meat doesn't dry out.

If you prefer not to mess with brine, one good option is the butter-blanketed turkey, a recipe that uses butter-soaked cheesecloth to create a gloriously crisp and golden exterior, with richly juicy meat just underneath.

Prefer only white meat? Order a turkey breast on the bone, and play around with flavors based on this guide. We also have sheet pan turkey recipes, fried turkeys, North Carolina-style barbecue turkeys and Cajun ones (like Bobby's beautiful Cajun Brined Turkey-Two Ways, pictured up top) so dig around and find your favorite to ensure that guests devour every last pound you carve. After all, you know you'll have more than enough turkey, so you might as well ensure that it tastes just the way you want it to.

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