Holiday

How Much Turkey Per Person?: The Thanksgiving Dilemma

August 12, 2019

How much turkey per person? It's the age-old Thanksgiving dilemma. But it doesn't have to be such an ordeal. Just account for about 1 pound per person—unless you want leftovers, in which case you should account for about 1 1/2 pounds per person. For more intel on the subject, read on below.

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.

Thanksgiving Turkey

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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."'

Dry-Brined Turkey

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 an homage to Elizabeth Schneider!

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I like esoteric facts about vegetables and think ambling through a farmers market is a great way to start the day. My first cookbook, available now, is called Cooking with Scraps.

6 Comments

Tabassum '. November 23, 2019
Since we will have 2 small roast chickens and brisket, we are making a 15lb turkey for 25 guests. Hope that’s enough!
 
Sandra R. November 17, 2019
We get the smallest turkey possible because there are only 4 of us, one doesn’t touch the turkey (that’s me)so there is a ridiculous amount of leftovers. Wish turkeys were smalleror my family would be satisfied with a chicken. It’s about the vegetables!
 
Karen A. November 14, 2019
We always have 12 or more for Thanksgiving and I usually cook one medium sized turkey and two 6 to 7 lb. bone in breasts. The whole turkey graces the table for traditional carving while the breast are sliced in the kitchen. White meat eaters always out number dark meat eaters at our house and we have plenty left for guest to take home and for ourselves.
We make 5 or six pounds of potatoes. We all love sausage stuffing and I make plenty as well as other sides. These vary from year to year depending on what guests request.
It’s a once a year meal and too much is never too much!
 
zoemetro U. November 17, 2019
hi karen. your turkey + breasts is a fabulous idea! we sometimes have 5 people and sometimes up to 19. for smaller groups, we do a turkey roulade with the stuffing inside. it is always a winner. my favorite part of thanksgiving is having each guest tell what they are most thankful for so far this year.
 
ronyvee August 14, 2019
Why so many Thanksgiving posts lately?
 
Auntie November 17, 2019
Duh