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How much turkey do you need per person for Thanksgiving?

Don’t wing it when it comes to cooking a turkey on Thanksgiving. Here’s exactly how much you need to buy.
Man carving fresh roasted turkey at home
I’m afraid I’m going to run out of turkey. Help!The Good Brigade / Getty Images stock
/ Source: TODAY

As Thanksgiving inches closer, the day-of stress may be mounting — and much of it may come directly from the bird.?If you’re hosting a Thanksgiving feast for your loved ones, one of the biggest questions is how much turkey to make per person. Before choosing between a wet or dry brine and whether to stuff the bird or serve the dressing on the side, you need to buy the right size turkey for your crowd.

Cooking a turkey can feel overwhelming — no doubt — but it doesn't have to take away the joy of your festive feast.

If the turkey is sending you into a tailspin, don’t panic! Here’s what you need to know about cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year when it comes to the big bird.

How many pounds of turkey per person for Thanksgiving?

As a rule of thumb, account for one to 1? pounds of turkey meat per person.?Chef Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, co-founder of Pili Group and Chef Hui, tells TODAY.com that the most important part of determining how much turkey to buy is accounting for the fact that your turkey will shrink as it cooks.

“You’re going to lose twenty to thirty percent,” he says.

Noguchi, who has been a chef for more than two decades, says an easy way to shop is to buy one pound of raw turkey for every person you plan to feed.

“One pound of raw whole turkey will equal about eight ounces of raw, usable meat,” he says. “With moisture loss, that is about five to six ounces of cooked meat per person.” Keep in mind that if some of your guests are vegetarian, you can purchase a smaller bird.

Consider your crowd’s preferences for light meat versus dark meat, too. If your guests tend to eat more dark meat, you may want to stock up on additional turkey thighs and drumsticks to serve on the side. Alternatively, if everyone tends to pluck light meat from the platter, roast a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.

How many people will a 12-lb. turkey feed?

Considering that about 1? pounds of turkey meat will feed one person, a 12-pound turkey will feed eight people.

How many people will a 14-lb. turkey feed?

By the same math, a 14-pound turkey will feed nine to 10 people.

How many people will a 20-lb. turkey feed?

A 20-pound turkey will feed between 12 and 14 people.

How many people will a 25-lb. turkey feed?

Hosting a large crowd? A 25-pound turkey will feed approximately 18 to 20 people.

How much turkey per person for leftovers?

As much as we look forward to the feast on Thanksgiving Day, we get just as excited about eating Thanksgiving leftovers throughout the weekend. “I love leftovers,” Noguchi says, adding that to maximize leftovers bump up the raw poundage per person to 1? to two pounds per person.

What to do with leftover turkey

While reheating a plate or building a sandwich made from Thanksgiving leftovers is always an option, don’t shy away from getting creative in the kitchen. Use leftover turkey and vegetables to make these crowd-friendly fritters, make a pot of turkey chili, whip up a frittata or shred the turkey and make a batch of soup.

I’m afraid I’m going to run out of turkey. Help!

Noguchi said it’s normal for home cooks to be nervous about running out of turkey on Thanksgiving, in addition to all of the other holiday planning.

“I think all of us that love to cook, we all have a little bit of anxiety. If you’re worried about running out of food — we all do,” Noguchi says. “Even chefs do.”

Between all of the other appetizers, side dishes and desserts that will be served on Thanksgiving, your guests won’t go hungry.

When should I thaw my turkey?

Most turkeys are sold frozen and if you’re shopping in advance, it’s a good idea to keep the bird frozen until it gets closer to Thanksgiving. So, how long does it take to thaw a turkey??The USDA recommends one day for every five pounds when it comes to thawing a turkey. That means if you purchased a 20-pound bird, you should start thawing it on Saturday or Sunday so that it’s ready to brine and bake by Thursday.

“If you can, do not thaw your turkey with warm water,” Noguchi says. “You want to take your frozen turkey out, put it in a cooler and let it thaw through the week. Don’t rush it.” Alternatively, you can thaw the bird in the refrigerator by resting it in a roasting pan or a large stockpot.

3 Thanksgiving cooking tips from a chef

Preparation is key.

Just like football coaches who are preparing for the big Thanksgiving Day, home cooks need to make a game plan for the feast.

“Think about what you’re making and write a list of all the dishes,” Noguchi says. Once you have decided on a menu, make a list of what ingredients you have in your pantry and what you need to purchase.

Use a separate baking sheet for each dish on the menu to keep ingredients organized; label each baking sheet with masking tape and a permanent market (i.e. mashed potatoes, turkey brine, apple pie, etc.) and lay out the ingredients that you need for each dish. Better yet, pre-measure them in individual bowls or resealable bags to save yourself prep time on the day, following a technique known as mise en place.

Making food ahead is OK.

“We have this idea that we have to make it the day-of to be the freshest or tastiest,” he says. “You can get your yams together or your stuffing prepped. Make your life easy.”

Prep our go-to all-butter pie crust recipe for apple, pumpkin and pecan pies and store it in the freezer for up to three months.

If you’re planning to dry-brine the bird, make the seasoning mix in advance and store it in an airtight plastic bag.

Other prep work that you can get a head start on include peeling and chopping vegetables, making homemade cranberry sauce and whisking up a batch of gravy (just reheat it on the stovetop before serving).

Don’t let the stress of cooking the turkey put you in a “fowl” mood.

“The whole point of the holiday is to be thankful, so let’s not forget about why we’re all gathering,” Noguchi says. “It’s about spending that time.”

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