Your Burning Questions

How Many Pounds of Turkey (and Potatoes) Per Person?

By • November 19, 2014 • 0 Comments

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There are so many great conversations on the Hotline -- it's hard to choose a favorite. But we'll be doing it every day leading up to Thanksgiving to spread the wealth of our community's knowledge -- and to help you host the least stressful Thanksgiving yet. No promises on the crazy relatives.

Today: The definitive once-and-for-all rules for how much turkey and potatoes you need per person. Tomorrow we're breaking down the basics of brining.

Turkey

It’s inevitable. Every Thanksgiving you question how you’re supposed to choose the size of your bird. Was it one pound per person? Or two? And what about the mashed potatoes? There has to be a better method than just dumping bagfuls in a pot and hoping there’s enough to go around. 

The pounds-per-person questions get asked on the Hotline every year, so it’s time to draw your line on the scale:

The Pros Propose*

  • Steven Raichlen plans on 1 1/2 pounds of turkey per person: "This will make you feel properly overfed (as you should at Thanksgiving) and leave you with welcome leftovers. For me, a 12- to 14-pound turkey is ideal. For large gatherings, I’d rather cook two 12-pounders than one 24-pound monster. (It’s easier to control the cooking.)"
  • Virginia Willis shares all of the numbers you need to know: "In terms of turkey, it’s best to think about 1 1/2 pounds or 24 ounces per person of on-the-bone turkey. About half of that weight will be bone, so that takes it from 24 ounces to 12 ounces, and you will lose about a quarter of that when cooking, so that results in approximately 9 ounces of cooked turkey per person -- plenty for dinner and a bit extra for leftovers and sandwiches the next day. In regards to potatoes, my general rule of thumb is 1 1/2 medium Yukon gold potatoes per person, or since I am a big sweet potato fan, I estimate 1 sweet potato per person. In terms of gravy, I am a firm believer in there is no such thing as too much gravy."
  • Our Head Recipe Tester Stephanie Bourgeois starts with 1/2 pound of uncooked potato per person, but thinks as long as you have space for leftovers, there is no harm in going over.
  • Amanda Hesser uses 1/3 pound potatoes per person. (Want to know her proportions for perfect mashed potatoes? To serve 6 people, she cooks 2 pounds of potatoes then mashes in 1 cup of milk, 4 tablespoons of butter, 1/3 cup of heavy cream, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. )

Potatoes

  • For holidays, boulangere usually counts 1 1/2 potatoes per person: "Everyone gets as much as they want, and you have those heavenly leftovers. At a more sane time, I go with 1 per person."
  • According to Reiney: "It really depends on how large the potatoes are, and how much mash you want to serve -- if you're talking the large russets, 1/2 to 1 each would probably be fine, with no leftovers. I usually err on the side of too much because they do seem to go quickly."'

Potatoes

The Bird

  • Nutcakes' general rule is 1 pound per person, but argues that larger birds yield more, so you could plan for 3/4 pound per person.
  • Darksideofthespoon goes for 1 pound per person too, but then adds a few extra pounds to ensure there's enough turkey for leftovers.
  • Vittoria figures on 1/2 pound per person, but also adds more for the sake of leftovers.

Tell us: What guidelines do you follow when deciding how much you'll need per person?

Photos by James Ransom

*You've earned yourself an extra slice of pie if you recognize this as a homage to Elizabeth Schneider!

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Tags: hotline, holiday, best question, turkey, thanksgiving, potatoes, pounds per person

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