How Much Turkey Do You Need Per Person?

Updated: Apr. 30, 2024

Sick of being unsure of how much turkey you need per person? This handy rule will make your Thanksgiving planning so much easier.

No matter how often you host Thanksgiving, one big question remains the same: Exactly how much turkey do I need to make? Turkey size is important since it will determine how big of a helping each guest gets—not to mention how much will be left for Thanksgiving leftovers.

Once you know the exact number of attendees, use this formula: Number of guests x 1.25. You’ll want to plan on about 1.25 pounds of turkey per person. That means if you’re expecting 12 guests, plan for a 15-pound bird.

To make things simple, we’ve created a guide to help you pick the perfect-sized turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner menu.

How to Figure Out How Much Turkey Per Person

Number of Guests
Turkey Weight
4 5lbs
6 8lbs
8 10lbs
10 13lbs
12 15lbs
15 20lbs
20 25lbs
25 32lbs

Download Chart

If you have a large number of kids coming, simply round down when calculating your turkey. The kids usually go for the rolls and Thanksgiving side dishes anyway—filling up their stomachs with mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cheese and crackers off of a Thanksgiving charcuterie board.

What if I’m feeding a large group?

If you have a large family, try dividing your number by two, and buying two smaller birds instead of a single bigger one. This will allow them to cook faster and more evenly.

If you are serving vegetarians or vegans, make sure you have an alternative Thanksgiving main dish as well, such as roasted pumpkin lasagna or sweet potato tortellini.

If your family and friends simply don’t love turkey, you could make a smaller turkey plus a different type of meat, such as a spiral ham or an orange-glazed pork loin.

Light Meat vs. Dark Meat

If your guests have a strong preference for light or dark meat, grab a few extra cuts to make sure you have enough of the desired kind. Pick up extra turkey breasts for light meat lovers, and extra legs or thighs to have more dark meat available.

If your group only likes one kind, consider skipping the whole turkey altogether and only preparing turkey breast or turkey legs, depending on your crowd’s preference.

Choose a Great Turkey Recipe

It’s time to think about turkey prep. While there are many ways to season a turkey, here are two simple recipes to get started:

Once you’ve chosen the perfect turkey recipe, make sure you know how to prepare it! This handy guide tells you exactly how long to cook a turkey.

How to Serve the Turkey

Once out of the oven, let the turkey rest for 20 to 30 minutes before carving (here are some tips on how to carve a turkey). Arrange the meat on a platter so your guests can choose which piece they like. A good rule of thumb: For every pound of turkey, you’ll get about 7 ounces of cooked meat. Some guests will eat less than that, some will eat more. Don’t forget leftovers—and know how to reheat turkey correctly to keep it nice and juicy!

More Thanksgiving Dinner Tips

How do you choose a turkey?

We have a whole guide full of tips for buying turkey, because there’s a lot to consider! Here are a few top-level tips:

  • If you plan to brine a turkey at home, make sure the bird is not labeled as kosher, enhanced or self-basting. These labels indicate that the turkey has already been brined.
  • After you figure out what size the turkey should be based on how many people you’re serving, double check that the bird will fit into the roasting pan you have at home. Here’s how to know what size roasting pan you’ll need.
  • When you’ve got the type of turkey and desired weight figured out, look out for flat spots on the bird. You want to make sure that the breast is especially rounded, which means you’re more likely to end up with juicy meat.

How much stuffing do you need for Thanksgiving?

Plan to serve about 3/4 cup of stuffing per guest. That amounts to roughly 4 cups of prepared stuffing for 5 guests and 7-1/2 cups for 10 guests. However, if you have grand plans for using leftovers in Stuffin’ Muffins or turkey potpie with a stuffing crust, feel free to make a little bit more. For more info, check out our guide to Thanksgiving portions.

When it comes to stuffing recipes, you can go savory or sweet—or both. Whichever you choose, we recommend cooking stuffing outside of the turkey. But don’t let that empty cavity go to waste! Vegetables, fruits or herbs are the things you should put inside the turkey for added flavor.

How many side dishes should you have on Thanksgiving?

Well, that depends! You’ll need to consider your guest list and oven space, plus any family traditions. (One Taste of Home contributor always has her Grammy’s famous walnut, sausage and apple stuffing on the menu). We suggest making 2 to 4 of your family’s favorite sides, then encouraging guests to bring any other must-haves. Rolls and cranberry sauce are easy to outsource.

How long does it take to thaw a turkey?

Defrosting a turkey typically takes anywhere from several hours to a few days. Once you’ve bought the perfect bird, decide whether you’ll thaw the bird in the fridge or in cold water.

The refrigerator method requires 24 hours of thaw time for every 4 pounds of bird, but you can wait a day or two after thawing to cook it. The cold water method requires less time but a little more math. Thawing takes as little as 30 minutes per pound, but you’ll need to change the water frequently and cook the turkey immediately after thawing.

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