Everything You Need to Know About Cooking a Small Turkey This Thanksgiving

Here's a handy guide to buying a small turkey: how much turkey to buy, where to shop and how long to cook a smaller bird.

Whether you’re hosting a small group or just want to focus on the side dishes, cooking a small turkey for Thanksgiving can seriously simplify your hosting duties. Here’s what you need to know about buying and roasting a small bird.

The Pros and Cons of a Small Turkey

When it comes to Thanksgiving turkeys, bigger isn’t always better. Large turkeys are heavy to lift in and out of the oven. They’re also difficult to cook through without drying out parts of the bird—too often, the white meat is overcooked and almost cottony before the slower-to-cook dark meat reaches a safe temperature. (Here’s our guide to cooking turkey for the best results.)

Cooking a small turkey is, quite simply, quicker, giving you a greater likelihood of juicy meat and crispy (not scorched) skin.

The cons, of course, are that you’ll have less meat to serve—if you’re hosting a small group, refer to our guide below to see how much meat to buy. Also, you’ll have less turkey to enjoy in leftovers.

How small of a turkey can you buy?

Frankly, even a small turkey is fairly sizable; it’s never going to be like cooking a Cornish game hen. Most “small” turkeys range from 10 to 12 pounds, though you may be able to find one smaller. Kroger grocery store even carries a five-pound bird.

How much turkey you’ll need for a small group

  • Four guests: 5 lbs.
  • Six guests: 8 lbs.
  • Eight guests: 10 lbs.

If you’re hosting a vegetarian-leaning group, your family and friends prefer side dishes or you’re serving an alternative Thanksgiving entree, then you may want to buy a tiny turkey even if you’re serving a larger group.

Want to go even smaller? Consider buying a turkey breast, which is a breeze to roast and generally ranges between three and four pounds.

How Long to Cook a Small Turkey

Turkey takes about 15-20 minutes per pound to cook, assuming that you’re beginning with a defrosted but still cool from the fridge bird. Roast at 325ºF until the interior temperature reaches 170º to 175º. (You’ll need an instant-read thermometer to check.)

Where to Buy a Small Turkey

As we mentioned, Kroger grocery stores should stock a range of smaller turkeys, even some as small as five pounds. Trader Joe’s may have turkeys as small as 12 pounds; they also sell cooked, brined turkey breasts. Whole Foods also sells a bone-in turkey breast that weighs about six pounds. Online sources include D’artagnan, which sells organic, free-range turkeys from eight pounds.

Don’t have one of those stores near you? Call your local grocery store and find out what they offer. If you know you want a specific size turkey, contact your butcher ahead of time and they’ll do their best to accommodate you.

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Kelsey Rae Dimberg
A former in-house editor at Taste of Home, Kelsey now writes, cooks and travels from her home base of Chicago. After going gluten-free over a decade ago, Kelsey turned to home cooking and baking as a way to recreate her favorite foods. Her specialties include gluten-free sourdough bread, pizza and pastry. When not wrangling her toddler, she enjoys reading, watching old movies and writing. Her debut novel, Girl in the Rearview Mirror, was published by William Morrow in 2019, and her second is forthcoming.